Admittedly, the only reason I requested a screener for “Make Believe”, a documentary about teenage magicians competing in Las Vegas, is because I wanted to send it along to Can (pronounced Jahn), my wife’s nephew in Istanbul, who is a practitioner. After watching this movie that opens in a couple of weeks around the country, I can happily report that this is a winner. While it is a genre film like “Spellbound”, a 1999 documentary about a spelling bee national championship, it transcends the genre by providing some fascinating and dramatic insights into the typically maladjusted teen that gets involved in magic. Apparently such youth can be found everywhere as we see finalists from a remote mountain village in Japan (the winner) to a couple of Black South Africans from the slums of Capetown (another winner.)
Watching these kids perform throughout the film is far more exciting than watching “real magic” being performed in the latest Harry Potter fiasco that was one of a handful of 2010 screeners that I simply could not watch to the conclusion. When you see a 13 year old produce cards out of thin air, it is much more compelling than watching Harry Potter flying about town on a broomstick in CGI fashion. I would add that although the film appears geared more to adult audiences than to the typical Harry Potter fan, it will certainly entertain young and old alike.
As is generally the case with documentaries versus fiction films nowadays, the latter suffer by comparison since they are so poverty-stricken in terms of character development. By definition, a documentary deals with the real problems of real people so it has a leg up to start with.
The film begins wordlessly as we see Hiroki Hara, an 18 year old from the tiny village of Kitayama, sitting on a bus as it wends its way down a mountainous road, a the while fiddling idly with a deck of cards. Nonchalantly he makes the cards disappear and reappear at will. After a while, he grins at the camera as if strutting his stuff. Like just about every principal in this marvelous film (and like Can in Istanbul), this is how such kids feel validated.
Hiroki was at a disadvantage starting out in a tiny village in Japan where there were no magic training academies (interestingly enough, there was one in Capetown where the other winners got their start). So he got started with a used book from the town’s only bookstore. Once he got the hang of it, he began developing tricks using the natural objects he found all around him, like pebbles from the beach.
The thing that becomes clear after watching Hiroki and the others at their craft is how much it is like a fine art. In developing the concept for a new trick, you have to think creatively and in order to pull it off you need to practice, practice, practice like the old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall put it.
Screening information is here.