OT: Our Town (2005)

by | Jun 3, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

OT: Our Town (2005)

Documentary film by Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Studio:  Film Movement
Video: Widescreen 16×9 
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1  
Extras: Director’s Commentary with Scott Hamilton Kennedy; 
Theatrical Trailer; Biographies of Director and Main Characters;
Special Bonus Footage;  Short Film:
Annette Solakogulu’s “Borders”
Length: 77 minutes
Rating: ****

Across the country each year, scores of high school drama departments
stage Thornton Wilder’s  classic play “Our Town,” a play about
life, love, and death in small town rural America. None of these
schools, however,  has overcome the odds faced by dynamic young
English teacher Catherine Borek and her determined students at
Dominquez High School in Compton, CA.

Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy met Borek in 1998 and saw promise and
talent in her drama students at Dominquez High. In OT: Our Town, a Film
Movement feature, he presents a moving documentary of their story to
stage the production.

Borek has no budget, little background directing theater, and a group
of at times unmotivated neophyte student actors to complete her
production of Wilder‚s play.  She does have faith in her cast, the
insight to see that her under appreciated class of  minority kids
deserve recognition and praise.

By starting filming just after Borek cast the play, Kennedy captures
the fears and mounting tensions of the first time actors, many for whom
simply being part of a creative endeavor means a great deal in
itself.  His camera rolls as the new actors struggle with the
rigors of the theatrical process. Not surprisingly, the memorization of
lines come slowly, as well as the  numerous rehearsals 
necessary to bring the play together.  Amidst the standard trials
of live theater – assembling a cast, overcoming staging conflicts,
bringing the actors together– Borek rallies her anxious cast members,
exhorting them that she will not “be embarrassed” and that “the show
will be staged” on the timeline she has set.

OT: Our Town intersperses candid interviews with students from
Dominquez, with scenes of the climactic lead up to the play’s
staging.  The individual stories and sentiments from these kids
are heart-warming.

A sterling example is Ebony, cast as the narrator.  Abandoned at
an early age by a prostitute mother, she is adopted by a care giver, a
resolute and resource woman who provides her with a loving home. Ebony
shares her personal need to belong in school; playing such a
significant role in the play becomes integral for her in building
positive self esteem and confidence.  A follow up interview shows
her attending the University of California at Berkeley.  The
charismatic Archie is another highlight in the film.  Proud of his
Mexican heritage, Archie reveals to filmmaker Kennedy that he doesn’t
want to lead an unchallenged life working at a liquor store, removed of
any ambition.  And, with his zeal for performing his role of
George (a central figure in the play) Archie will likely proceed to
other creative endeavors after high school. 

The key ingredient in making Our Town successful though is Borek.  Aware
of the amount of attention the Dominquez basketball team receives, she
dedicates herself to push all students who have signed up for the play to
follow through.   Remarkably, as showtime approaches, all the young
actors do indeed stick it out; their collective sense of accomplishment
and pride is director Kennedy‚s goal here.  Without big name actors and
with a real life story, he has put together a first rate film.  The
sentiments are real; the individual stories of overcoming poor conditions

Both the director‚s commentary and bonus footage˜including a scene of
Archie reciting poetry˜are welcome additions the DVD.  A particularly
noteworthy extra features a short speech given by veteran actor Hal
Holbrook (who played the narrator in the 1977 film of Our Town) Holbrook
saw the documentary, and heaps praise on the student actors for their
gutsy performance.  Sound and picture quality, typical of Film Movement
features, are above average and contribute to the entire viewing

– James A. Fasulo

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