Monday, July 9, 2012

Movie Review: Life Sport

LIFE SPORT from Elena Molchanova on Vimeo.

Blockbuster Politics 

Yesterday a colleague sent me a link to a short film called ‘Life Sport’.

The official description on the video says it is a “documentary to support the new initiative by SporTT, designed to get young men from “at risk” areas of Trinidad and Tobago involved in various sports”.

The term “documentary” seems to  have been loosely applied  here because Life Sport really  appears to be a 25 minute TV commercial for the Ministry of Sport. And a very bizarre TV commercial at that.

Life Sport is narrated by Mr. Anil Roberts, the Minister of Sport, and the movie opens with scenes of him overlooking Port of Spain from the Lady Young lookout.He’s got a pained expression on his face, like a tortured soul shouldered with the burden of having to fix the exploding crime epidemic down below. All by himself.

In a voice that is part Rosarch, part your drunk uncle who likes to wax philosophic, Mr. Roberts delivers cliche after cliche, all said with an air of authority and without any data or academic analysis to support any of it.

For instance we're told that

“In Trinidad and Tobago there is a preponderance of single mothers, who have made children and the fathers are nonexistent. These women work hard and don't have the time to nurture their children”.

It's not just absentee fathers who are the problem, as Mr. Roberts goes on to add  
“(at risk youths) are told you have no talent, you can only succeed if you are good at maths and english and academic”

Yes. Why aren't  we telling kids that becoming an international sports star is a realistic alternative to  crime and violence or having to learn stuff?

Despite sounding like an authority on the subject, Mr. Roberts does not  suggest that he spends any actual time dealing with gangs or young people involved in criminal activity. In fact throughout the “documentary” he  spends a lot of time  admiring the view from the Lady Young lookout,  leaving only to head back to his office. Perhaps  the view from up there  offers him some special insight into the social causes of gang violence. We can only speculate.

Amazingly where Life Sport really begins to veer into the territory of the absurd is when we are introduced to a young “drug dealer”. The young man, who isn’t identified and whose face is hidden from the camera by a hoodie, informs us that the first person  he saw  killed, “was a snitch right in front of him”. That “gunshots are his alarm clocks”, and he is willing to “take another chance if somebody offered it”, providing it wasn't a “macomere man”.

Our “drug dealer” sounds like a really bad actor, who prepared for his role by listening to a 50 Cent album.

It's obvious that he’s acting, and not just because it’s really bad, but because we also see the same hoodie being worn by someone in a what I can only assume is a dramatic re-enactment of a vicious gang fight a little while later. Our “drug dealer” himself  could be a dramatic recreation.  But if that’s the case why not say so? If this is a documentary incorporating the use of scripted reenactments, then there is an ethical responsibility by the filmmakers to make this clear.

This is especially important because the filmmaker stitches this cardboard cut out “drug dealer” character to a narrative structure of  the testimonies of two other young men. These two other young men happen to be the best and only sane things in this movie.

For some reason their names are not given, so I’ll call them At Risk Youths 1 and 2 (ARY1 and ARY2).

ARY1 tells us how through the help of a mentor he became a professional footballer with Caledonia AIA. ARY2 describes his journey from a wayward youth convicted of robbery to becoming a semi pro boxer representing the army. They both  have had friends who died from gang violence.

Unlike Mr. Roberts and our “drug dealer”, ARY1 and 2 are both soft spoken and exude an air of sincerity and authenticity. They both seem to have ordinary yet compelling and interesting life stories. The filmmakers however, don’t appear remotely interested, and not enough time is spent on them.

The personal story of ARY1 and 2 take a backseat  between the pantomime act of our “drug dealer” and dramatically scripted stylized gang fights, covered with the apocalyptic music from the soundtrack of  the movie Requiem for a Dream.

And everyone appears just as the supporting cast  to the lead role which Mr. Roberts clearly owns.

At the very end of all of this, Mr. Roberts and  the entire cast present us with a question. “What will you do?” The film then lists a series of charitable initiatives the public can get involved with.

Evidently this concoction of contrived scenarios, cliched sentiments, tragic personal stories, and weird self promotion, was all meant to be inspiring.

Life Sport clearly got its tactics wrong.

Making a statement without thinking a word

The purpose of writing this review isn't to question the motives of Mr. Roberts, or that of the filmmaker. I’m sure they both have good intentions.

What interests me is why Life Sport fails as a piece of communication.
For me the failure of Life Sport’s  filmmaker stems from the same place as the failure of  its policy makers; relying on guesses and having no desire for actual facts and analysis.

How can we attempt to curb gang violence and crime, without spending time properly researching the problem?

How can we make effective creative communication if we don’t spend time researching our subject matter, ensuring we tell an accurate story?

This is part of a much wider and serious cultural problem we have here in Trinidad and Tobago. We don’t place importance on the need for statistical or  empirical data or see their importance in helping to solve problems. It’s just easier to guess.

Life Sport was made by an advertising agency, ironically an industry driven by marketing data, analysis,and the need to seem as authentic as possible.

Obviously our local advertising industry is  part of the problem but they can also be part of the solution.

If local advertising agencies can spearhead a culture which emphasizes the importance of using empirical data in creative communication it can reverberate throughout our society.

We may have better documentaries being made as well as better public policy being crafted.

The alternative is staring at the view from the Lady Young lookout.

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