29 March 2014

American Promise, 2013 - ★★★½


If the point of a film is to make you think and ask lots of questions then American Promise can be called a huge success. Following two Brooklyn boys from the age of five, when they are both accepted into a prestigious private school, through to 18 and looking for college places. The fact that the film even exists is a remarkable achievement and sense of commitment from everybody involved. Throughout the 12 years all kinds of interesting issues are raised: race, parenting, education, growing up, discrimination, diversity, disability, psychology, love, ambition, achievement and life in general.

As a film, American Promise is far from perfect. Cutting down 12 years of filming to two and a bit hours must be incredibly difficult but the end film still feels too long. Early on the film jumps around far too much and lacks focus, which considering ADD is brought up in the film you think would have been resolved in the edit. Perhaps the material would have been better suited to a TV series and given time to breathe.

Personally I think the film would have been better if it had just focussed on Seun. The obvious contrast between the two boys is never really explored and perhaps doesn't need to be. Another reviewer has questioned the authenticity of the film because it doesn't make it clear it's directed by Idris' parents (something I did already know). I think it does make a difference but there's also a brutal honesty to how they are portrayed which raises questions about documentarians and their subjects. I felt slightly uncomfortable knowing the directors (and parents) were at the screening and disagreeing with lots of their actions but that's a whole other debate.

I'm still thinking about all of the issues raised and that's why American Promise is an important but flawed film which I urge people to see,

March 29, 2014 at 10:59AM

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