First Position (Import DVD)
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As young aspiring ballet dancers approach a competition that could make or break their careers, the emotional stakes are so high that it's almost cheating to make a movie about them--the documentarians wisely stay out of the way, because how could anyone not get drawn in by these kids? Fourteen-year-old Michaela survived being orphaned in Sierra Leone, where she witnessed horrific atrocities, and now she fights against prejudice and assumptions to become an African-American ballerina. Eleven-year-old Aran is a balletic wunderkind who rides skateboards and plays video games, but his heart belongs to dance. Joan Sebastian, 16 years old, has come to New York from Colombia, where his family's annual income is a fraction of the scholarship he must win to pursue his career. They and other young dancers are caught between their parents and their instructors, who offer them love and encouragement but demand rigorous, unstinting dedication to one of the most physically challenging and painful art forms ever created. That these kids can sustain any passion for dancing is a miracle--and their dancing is sublime. First Position, like the spelling bee documentary Spellbound, combines fascinating portraits of gifted kids with the nail-biting suspense of fierce competition. Some scenes will make your heart leap; other scenes will make your heart break. It's a beautiful documentary, compelling and compassionate. --Bret Fetzer
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