To Be And To Have (Documentary)
Sound: B- Extras: C Film: C+
There has been more than a good share of programs, filmed
and taped, that have shown great teachers (fact and fiction), great kids and
their interaction as charming. The
recent commercial success of To Be And To Have (2002) in France, where
it became the biggest documentary ever shown in the country to that time (Fahrenheit
9/11 has not finished its run yet) shows the subject is never tired to an
audience, as unlikely a commercial success as it may first seem.
The focus of director Nicholas Philibert’s work is of the
single-teacher, single-classroom educator George Lopez, who has been teaching
children in his “singer class” school.
They range from Kindergarten age to those just ready for Middle
School. The twist here is that such
schools, as you may have guessed it, are dwindling and caring educators like
Lopez are hanging in there to keep them alive.
The students are lucky to get such personalized attention,
especially in an age where so many public schools all over the world are
becoming more and more overcrowded.
Then they get to be in rural areas where they have more peace, all of
which seem to be conducive of a greater leaning experience. Despite all this, Philibert tends to make
this too much of some kind of Dogme exercise, where we see the children too
much, which can be cute, but is a focus that actually works against showing how
effective Lopez is. Though the children
are very for real, the way they are captured and edited becomes a distraction
for what could have been a more biting and powerful portrait in favor of
teaching at a time when the profession is undervalued, union politics
notwithstanding. Still, To Be And To
Have has its rewards, but the work is somewhat overrated in total.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is odd, coming
from a video source that looks not unlike analog PAL. Even if taped digitally, it just distorts the images of everyone
throughout, becoming very distracting and denaturing something very
natural. I constantly wished this were
shot on film. It gave me a new respect
for the camera taping on the likes of vintage Sesame Street. The Dolby theatrical release is presented
here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with some Pro Logic surrounds, with high
doubts the theatrical sound was any better.
This is the strongest feature of the DVD, with the location audio
decent. Extras include two trailers for
this program, four other New Yorker DVD titles, children doing poetry form the
classes and an interview with Philibert on his “film” that goes on for over 20
minutes and seems confused. If this is
cinema, then I guess all the old PBS children’s programming would qualify. Wonder what he’ll do next.
- Nicholas Sheffo