Here's yet another great movie to come out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, although I have to confess that it completely slipped under my radar. So first of all, let me give big mad props to that audacious fellow, Swedish Philip, for the "hot tip". I am really happy to be able to pass on the tip - MAD HOT BALLROOM is glorious piece of work and I strongly recommend it, if only for the fact that it is a very rare thing in Hollywood - a genuine example of a feel-good movie.
So, on to the nuts and bolts: MAD HOT BALLROOM is a documentary film about a bunch of eleven-year olds from deprived backgrounds in New York City. Many of them are on track for teenage pregnancies and a career in petty crime, and it is heart-breaking to see them speak with such candour and wisdom about drug dealers, adultery and shattered families.
However, this is not a downbeat documentary. In fact, it is one of the most relentlessly upbeat films I have seen all year, but not in an annoying, manipulative, sacharine way. The big heart of this movie stems from two things. First, a lot of the warmth derives from the sheer brilliance of the children on which it focuses. They have wonderful and winning personalities and their musings on life, love and the opposite sex are often unintentionally hysterical. In particular, the little kid on the left in the photo above cracked me up, especially when he got paired up with a ridiculously tall girl at dance class - "She was practically an adult!" he complains, before running away as fast as he can. And then there is a really cool kid called Cyrus who is truly the Zen master of the eleventh grade with a righteous ginger 'fro. Believe me, I don't normally find kids "cute". I am not a warm and cuddly person. And even *I* found this kids charming!
The second reason why this is such a "feel good" movie is that we are witness to a little miracle at work. A group of Latin American ballroom dance teachers have gotten together to run in-school dance classes in around 60 public schools in New York City. The programme runs for 10 weeks and is a complusary part of the school curriculum so even the toughest kids have to take part. At first, the boys are reluctant to dance and the girls think the boys are dumb, but sure enough they start to respond to the attention they are getting from perhaps the only male role models in their lives as well as the joy of dancing itself. The lessons go way beyond how to tango. The kids are learning how to be a partner to someone, how to tuck their shirt in, how to make eye contact, how to have some self-respect. You watch these teachers at work and feel very humble about whatever money-grubbing day-job you happen to be in. And believe me, I don't often get pangs of guilt about my own self-indulgent lifestyle. (You will be pleased to know that they have since passed.)
So what more can I say? It's a film that made me like kids and respect people who choose to earn minimum wage. I call that something of an epiphany. Go check it out, and if you need a second opinion, check out my mate Nik's blog
MAD HOT BALLROOM was released in the US in May, in France and Germany on the 25th October and in the UK and Austria on the 26th November 2005. It is already available on region 1 DVD