Wednesday, March 2, 2011

OT: Our Town

This is a story about students in Compton, California. We've all heard stereotypes about it. OT: Our Town is about overcoming those. It's not just a ghetto full of gangsters; it's a community with real people and real problems—students trying to escape the stereotype.
The film focuses on a group of students who are putting on a play at Dominguez High School, where nothing has been performed in twenty years. The play is about a town in New Hampshire, and the kids don’t find it very relatable, but the director tells the story by comparing the two. A recording of the play is intercut with footage of the students, their town, and their performance of the play. An introduction of Compton runs parallel to an introduction of the play, and an introduction of the students coincides with the introduction to the play’s characters. This approach is so effective in helping viewers to make connections.
There is a chronological structure with title cards announcing how many days until the play opens, but, more importantly, there is a thematic structure. The play itself has three acts: daily life, love and marriage, and death. It is in this way that the footage and interviews are organized. Daily life gives us glimpses into the lives of the students at home. Love and marriage includes lots of discussion about dead beat dads and how many of their peers get married early or are impregnated and abandoned. Act III shares insights into the suicide of a best friend in addition to other students’ experiences with death. One student participant shares his fear of dying without having done anything. It is during death that the audience fears the play might die, too. The crisis is that the students are not memorizing their lines and they’re skipping practice; the teacher is bringing them down. Things can’t get any worse. So they get better. She apologizes, the show goes on, and they sell out. There was a payoff to the set up.
Confusing parts didn’t exist in the documentary because the director Scott Hamilton Kennedy makes it very accessible. The only thing that was ineffective was choice of music. At the end the music changes to this upbeat song, and it is not fitting for the reflection that, I think, should be happening at the end.
            Overall, though, I did really care about these students because they were sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings on camera. They also live in such a rough place and are going through hard times that you are on the edge of your seat hoping that something good will happen to them. I thought repeatedly showing their chant during practices and before the play were particularly effective because it made me excited. “How good are we?” “DAMN GOOD!” This is cursing at its least offensive. And I didn’t feel manipulated. Kennedy just picked a good subject to film and I feel like its portrayed how it is. The story itself is inspiring; it only relies on editing for clarity not feelings. With that in mind, I do feel like the director puts you on theater’s side by making sports out to be evil. However, the cuts of the interviews seem genuine, and I do feel it was a fair portrayal of the students and the school because the gritty and good are shown.
In the end, not only was the play something to be proud of, but the students could also be proud of their town, and what they had made of it. There is a hope that these kids can go somewhere in spite of circumstances.

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