Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 MFF Film #15 - Make Believe

USA, 2010
English/Japanese/Khosa with English subtitles
Director: J. Clay Tweel

The world of magic has long been a fascinating and mysterious subject, and good magicians thrill their audiences, but they all have to start somewhere.  Make Believe explores the world of young magicians, spotlighting six talented teens, all of whom have years of practice under their belts.  Their special talents and hard work earned them coveted spots in the finals of the World Magic Awards where they will compete to become Teen World Champion.  The magicians who place in the top three rankings are nearly guaranteed a certain amount of fame in their field, so the stakes are high to win in order to further their careers.

The kids featured in Make Believe come from a couple of different countries: three from the United States, one from Japan and two from South Africa, and there are five males and one female.  Though their talents, ages and home towns vary, they are all great kids with very little ego among them, and all have very different personalities.  Krystyn, from Malibu, is a Type-A overachiever (think Election's Tracy Flick without the meanness), Bill from Chicago is outgoing, clever and affable, Derek from Littleton, Colorado is wide-eyed, confident and sweet, Siphiwe and Nkumbuzo from South Africa are goofy, energetic and positive, and Hideo Hara from Japan is elegant, quiet and sweetly humble. 

Director J. Clay Tweel clearly has a love for magic and affection for his subjects.  Make Believe is wonderfully edited and fast paced, without compromising any  of the activity of the film, particularly with the kids' preparations.  Though the climax of the film is the WMA competition, it is not drawn out, rather, the audience gets to see how the kids got where they are, and showcases the amazing talents they have.  There were many times when the audience gasped and murmured over the tricks being performed, and most of the time, it was just sleight of hand stuff that kids were doing without thinking about it while addressing the camera.

Because we get to know the subjects so well, the competition becomes more personal, and when the winners are announced, particularly the first place winner, it is a very emotional moment.  The kids support one another, despite their success at the event, and it is inspiring, particularly since they are all kind of outsiders in their own peer groups. 

I loved this film, and it reminded me a lot of another documentary I really like, Jeffrey Blitz's 2002 film Spellbound.  You don't have to be a magic lover to enjoy Make Believe  it's so much more than that.  I highly recommend it for all ages, particularly if you want to simply enjoy something with a look of fascination and a goofy, happy look on your face. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

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