I'm going to review three documentaries I saw at this year's Toronto International Film Festival today, and I'm going to start with the smallest of the three, a movie that didn't even play at the general screening venue, but at the NFB room across the street, which holds something like 75 people.
"Make Believe" tells the stories of several different young magicians who are all training for a Las Vegas convention where they'll come together and compete for the title of Teen World Champion. This is a style of documentary that we seem to see represented often on the festival circuit, so the key becomes how well the individual stories are told. In this case, J. Clay Tweel picked the right kids, and spent the right time with them. He got them to open up, for good and for bad, and the people around them relaxed, and the result is bracing and honest. These are fascinating kids, all of them looking for something that distinguishes them from their community, all of them reaching to magic as a way of defining identity.
On a recent evening when everyone was at home and working all day, Toshi was desperate for some attention, and he decided that today was the day he was going to become a magician. His idea of a magic trick was to stand in front of you, hold up his empty hands, then yell, "CLOSE YOUR EYES!" at you. Once you did, he would run out of the room, noisily dig through is toy shelves, and then run back in to stand in front of you to yell, "OPEN YOUR EYES!" at which point a toy would "magically" appear in his hand. What made it even better was the way he would add a flourish to each of his "tricks" and the pride he took in having fooled us. It was beautiful, and that's the appeal of "Make Believe," watching these kids find this thing that gives them such joy.