The Revisionaries: Tribeca Review
Doc about textbook standard-setting in Texas encapsulates controversy without sensationalism.
NEW YORK — Americans inclined to read "Texan" as a synonym for "extremist" will be spellbound by Scott Thurman's The Revisionaries, which both finds another example in which a few Lone Star fundamentalists influence the whole country and demonstrates that, contrary to popular perception, many in the state oppose their views fiercely. Engaging and broadly relevant, the doc will play well to festival auds.
Revolving around the State Board of Education's review of textbook standards, the film opens with a worrisome market-based observation: Since Texas and California are the country's largest purchasers of textbooks, anything unlikely to meet Texas standards may well not get published. And since BOE elections are down-ticket races most voters barely even notice, it doesn't take much for an outsider to become one of the most important figures in the U.S. education system.
Take Don McLeroy, a dentist whose strict interpretation of the Bible holds that the earth was created less than ten thousand years ago. Though his only education experience is teaching Sunday School, McLeroy was the chair of the BOE for almost two years -- a period during which the board examined guidelines for the science texts that would mold young minds for years to come.
McLeroy is a decent fellow, and unlike some of Rick Perry's other political appointees (like Forensic Science Commission officer John Bradley, in the recent doc Incendiary) he didn't steamroll opponents with underhanded bureaucratic maneuvers. But whatever he could do in good conscience to weaken textbooks' presentation of the theory of Evolution, he did.
(Friendly guy or not, Dr. McLeroy deserves to take professional heat for being seen here in his office, pick digging into innocent patients' teeth, while saying things like "Hey, Michael, you ever thought much about evolution?")
McLeroy and other fundamentalists on the board are opposed by activists and academics investing huge amounts of time and energy to keep actual science in the classroom; though they win some fights (like eventually getting McLeroy removed as Chair), they lose many. Thurman's film is clearly on their side, and conservatives may feel he uses one or two too many opportunities to show far-right-wingers at their far-right-wingiest. He doesn't take cheap shots, though, and The Revisionaries takes pains to show opposing sides treating each other with respect where possible.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, World Documentary Competition
Production Companies: Silver Lining Film Group, Magic Hour Entertainment, Naked Edge Films
Director: Scott Thurman
Screenwriters: Jawad Metni, Scott Thurman
Producers: Pierson Silver, Orlando Wood, Scott Thurman
Executive producers: Jim Butterworth, Vijay Dewan
Director of photography: Zac Sprague, Scott Thurman
Music: Mark Orton
Editor: Jawad Metni
Sales: Daniel Chalfen, Naked Edge Films
No rating, 83 minutes.