Get Schooled with these DIFF Docs
by Michael Ward
When done well, documentaries have the ability to focus like a laser of some minute topic in the world and then pull back to let the audience see themselves in the story. The documentaries in this group help us do just that. Whether it’s a nostalgic look at a magazine for kids, the turbulence of being a student, or cheerleading in sub-zero temperatures, audiences will find it easy to root for the young people and adults in these stories. After all from acne to dating to bills, we’ve all been there.
44 PAGES: For some kids, leaving the dentist’s office was the best part about visiting the dentist’s office. For others, it was “Highlights” magazine. Yes, that magazine of hidden pictures and didactic morality is featured in this documentary set mainly in its editorial office in rural Pennsylvania. If you watch closely, you’ll see the filmmakers have dropped in a few “hidden” clips that will give adults something to laugh about.
STEP: The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women opened in 2009 with a mandate to send every student to college, despite the barriers that their home lives and community might present. Now, as the first class enters its senior year, the stakes are high to achieve that purpose. The film follows three irrepressible seniors and their “Lethal Ladies” step dance team as they navigate a nerve-wracking college application process and strive to elevate the creative outlet that keeps them united and fighting to reach their goals. STEP hones in on the trials and triumphs of these tenacious young women, as well as their relationships with the women who champion and challenge them: their mothers, an unstoppable college counselor, and a no-nonsense step coach. These mentors are never far, doing all that they can to enable achievement, often with the odds stacked against them. This founding class is wrestling with life at the brink of their independence, always to a contagious beat that is haunting and universal.
CHEER UP: Cheerleading may have been born in the U.S., but the sport has become global over the years. CHEER UP, featuring a cameo of Dallas’s elite cheerleading scene, is the story of a group of young women from Finland struggling with the desire to make inroads in this highly competitive sport while navigating their own tumultuous lives. Ostensibly about the sport of cheerleading, we see more of these women being each others cheerleaders in life.
SCHOOL LIFE (Formerly IN LOCO PARENTIS): SCHOOL LIFE documents a year in the life of two passionate and inspiring teachers (one of music, Latin and math, the other of literature) working at the only boarding school in Ireland for children ages 7 to 12. Headfort School, a huge building set in idyllic surroundings, is their life. John and Amanda Leyden met there in their twenties, married and have since lived their lives on the school grounds. The current headmaster, a passionate and progressive teacher himself, is a former student of John’s. In addition to teaching, John and Amanda serve as mentors, inspirations and surrogate parents for the children. Their workdays are long and they are both getting on in years, so the couple starts making cautious preparations for the end of their tenure at Headfort. But will they be able to live without the school? Filmmakers Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane follow the goings-on of the school in fly-on-the-wall style, to poignant, unpredictable and surprising effect.
DALLAS STAR AWARDBILL PAXTON (POSTHUMOUSLY)
Bill Paxton was an award-winning actor and filmmaker from Texas. In 1992, he landed his first leading role in ONE FALSE MOVE. Paxton went on to star in several hit films including ALIENS (1985), APOLLO 13 (1995), TWISTER (1996) and TITANIC (1997)
L.M. KIT CARSON
DAVID GORDON GREEN
This year’s L.M. Kit Carson Maverick Award Honoree is writer/director David Gordon Green. David Gordon Green’s debut feature, GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) won the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and his second feature, ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) received a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
SHINING STAR AWARDZOEY DEUTCH
This year’s Shining Star Award Honoree is Zoey Deutch. Zoey Deutch is an actress known for VAMPIRE ACADEMY (2014), EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016) and WHY HIM? (2016). Most recently, Zoey Deutch starred in two films selected at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, REBEL IN THE RYE and BEFORE I FALL.