Friday, September 24, 2010

Make Believe

Make Believe screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Growing up I remember watching every David Copperfield and Penn and Teller special I could find on television. It wasn't necessarily because I was into magic at all. I really didn't have the dexterity or the drive to figure out the mechanics of it all. I really wanted to just see if I could figure out how the tricks worked on their own. Some were easier to figure out than others. After trying to figure out just how fake things were, I started to really like and appreciate magic. Magic and movies work on a similar level. The best magic and the best films have the power to surprise you. Make Believe, a documentary focusing on a teenage magic competition in Las Vegas, is one of those rare films that can combine both.

Make Believe focuses on 6 of the participants in the World Magic Seminar's Teen World Championships. Much like characters in any teen film, all of the different participants have vastly different personalities. Krystyn Lambert from Malibu, California is already largely a success in the magic world and juggles her magic alongside numerous extracurricular activities at school. Bill Koch from Chicago is as highly motivated as Krystyn and will settle for nothing more than excellence, even going as far as creating all the intricate props for his illusions himself. Siphiwe Fangase and Nkumbuzo Nkonyana are two friends studying at the College of Magic in South Africa while living in a place where they can get robbed on a daily basis. Derek McKee is a shy young man from Littleton, Colorado who wants to be a hometown hero and hones his skills by working in a magic shop. Hiroki Hara is a young man living quite literally in the middle of nowhere in Japan (the nearest store is an hour away) who taught himself magic simply by rewinding and slowing down a VHS tape repeatedly.

What works best about Make Believe is that it is the rare entertaining documentary where no one is made out to be a villain. The contestants all seem to get along most of the time and the only real tension in the film comes from the participants own personal reactions. These kids know what they want and they understand the hard work that goes into achieving their goals. From start to finish you generally care about the people on screen, which makes rooting for any of them going into the big finale all that much harder to do.

There aren't many films out there like Make Believe. It, much like magic, is simply there to entertain. What makes it stand out even more is that it is all real. This is a documentary meant to entertain. It isn't made to be a stuffed shirt expose about anything at all. It is simply great storytelling. Considering the state of documentaries these days I really can't think of a higher compliment. Make Believe is one of the best films of the year and one of the few films I have written about in this blog that the whole family can easily enjoy.

Rating (out of 4 stars): ****

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