Monday, June 14, 2021

Curtain Up! - 2021 AAAFF Documentary Review

The Documentary: Curtain Up!

The Directors: Hui Tong and Kelly Ng

The Story: A group of kids in New York's Chinatown prepare for the musical production of "Frozen Kids" and begin to discover their identities. Behind the scenes, they face Asian stereotypes, families' expectations and uncertainties post-graduation.

The Review:
Wow, what a fun and inspirational documentary. In just over an hour of run time, directors Hui Tong and Kelly Ng give such an insightful and entertaining look at a group of Asian American students whose lives are literally transformed by their participation in putting on a theater show. PS 124 is an elementary school in New York's Chinatown and the students that attend are nearly 100% Asian so an opportunity to put on a kids oriented stage play version of Frozen is a very important thing.

The directors follow the production from the audition phase all the way through to the highly anticipated premier with family and friends filling the auditorium. There's really a lot of ground to cover with this story in terms of representation, culture assimilation, and lack of opportunities for Asian Americans within public education and the entertainment sector although I really enjoyed how the filmmakers stayed focused on the kids and their joy which I think is also very important to see. Even though this is the feature debut for both directors, it is very apparent that they are very fluent in the subject matter and that really shows up in how they interact with the children and also how they are portrayed on screen.

There is a nice balance between intimacy and also preserving the childhood experience which I think allowed the kids to really open up and be themselves during the interview portions of the documentary. The conversations touch on the issues they face without digging too deep and, once the overall narrative plays out, you really get a sense that each of them has a pretty strong sense of who they are as Asian kids in America while also knowing there is a world in front of them that will most likely not give them an equal share of available opportunities.

The Verdict:
Curtain Up! raises timely topics while shining a spotlight on some truly talented children. For these students, putting on a play is elementary when compared to the life they will be graduating in to and the filmmakers deserve a standing ovation for how they deftly detail this stage of that journey.

To keep track of all my reviews and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at 2021 AAAFF.

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