Fame High: Tribeca Review

Scott Kennedy
Conventional but involving doc follows four teens hoping to make it in the performing arts.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy's documentary offers an inside glimpse into a performing-arts high school in L.A.

NEW YORK — An ordinary look at four extraordinary kids, Scott Hamilton Kennedy's Fame High sticks firmly to convention but will please viewers who can't help but want the doc's sympathetic teens to escape the heartbreak most would-be artists face. Small screens are the most appropriate venue for this look at a performing-arts high school in Los Angeles.
Following four students through a single school year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Kennedy offers a satisfying balance of student and parent interviews with fly-on-wall looks at classes that barely resemble those in conventional schools. His subjects are remarkably driven, whether that drive comes from parents -- freshman pianist Zak seems almost forced into performing by his father, who sees jazz stardom as a means of escaping borderline poverty -- or in spite of them -- like Grace, whose Korean-American parents say they'll only keep supporting her ballet dreams if she's accepted to Juilliard after high school.
Singer/instrumentalist Brittany's parents, touchingly, believe in her talent so strongly they've temporarily split up to support her -- Mom moving from Wisconsin to live with Brittany in L.A. while the rest of the family stays behind. They keep in touch with daily phone calls while trying to figure out how the budding songwriter can go pro. Compared to this, redheaded actress Ruby -- whose parents are both performers themselves -- seems to have it made.
All four are likeable kids who demonstrate impressive gifts, and it's easy to imagine any of them succeeding. Though the year holds no major disasters for them, little challenges show how easily a budding career might flounder -- even voluntarily, as when Ruby lands a professional theater gig only to hate how it forces her to spend time away from friends.
A couple of the subjects flirt with failure, offering minor but compelling drama, but the most involving narrative strand here is Grace's longing for a romantic life her parents won't allow. The parallels with challenges she faces as a dancer, tending to be stiffly perfect instead of freely passionate, are so clear you'd think a screenwriter sketched them out.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, World Documentary Competition
Production Companies: Black Valley Films, Whitewater Films
Director-Director of Photography: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Producers: Leilani Makuakane, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Executive producers: Rick Rosenthal, Chip Rosenbloom, Leilani Makuakane, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Music: Doug DeAngelis
Editors: Jillian Moul, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Sales: David Garber, Lantern Lane Entertainment
No rating, 97 minutes