First Position (2011)

First positions is a 2011 american documentary by Bess Kargman. It subjects are 7 young contender of Youth American Grand Prix (2011), an annual Ballet Competition that will give the winners a chance to win awards for they younger competitiors, as well as scholarships, chances to join and be recruited by the most elite dance company and dance school across the globe for the older ones. The competition opens for international dancers ages 9-19, more than 5000 join the competition at their regional level, but only 300 can join the finale in New York. It’s an exhibit of hardwork and inspiring willpower from each dancer to achieve their success.

The film follows 7 different subjects from different background. The younger ones is 11 year old Aran Bell an american boy who grew up in a military family. There are sacrifices his family made to encourage and support his passion in ballet, and the kid determination is beyond amazing. With Aran, we also met Gaya Bommer Yemini an Israeli girl who is passionate about dancing and only become more committed after meeting Aran in their dance class. In Palo Alto we met the interracial Fogarty family, where sister and brother, 12 years old Miko and 10 years old Jules “J.J” practice their ballet under very disciplined supervision of their Japanese mother Satoko. Miko is homeschooled to ensure she has the maximum time possible allotted for her ballet training. She knows that Ballet is her passion and she did not mind not having the same childhood experience as her peers.

14 years old Michaela DePrince, is a black ballerina. She was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and became orphaned during the civil war. She’s been dreaming about becoming a ballerina since she was a child. Going against stereotype of black dancer as more athletic and not graceful enough, Michaela’s determination was blinding as she chose a  17 years old high school senior, Rebecca Houseknecht is a barbie princess personified in her pink wardrobe and blonde hair. She knows what she want to do in life and was challenged by her peers and constantly finds herself trying to find a semblance of normalcy (eg: joining the cheerleading squad), but her first and foremost passion is ballet, and we can see it in her every nerve. Joan Sebastian Zamora is a 16 year old ballet dancer from Colombia. He’s been away from his family since a very young age and went to New York to learn ballet. His dream is to be accepted to Royal Ballet School in London and to be able to provide a better life for his family.

In the world of competition there’s always heartbreaking narratives of grueling hardships, broken dreams, and victorious achievements. First position is not so different in that sense. But Kargman, manage to put ballet and it’s competitive nature in a positive light. It did not dwell on dramatics, instead it put ballet in an honest yet positive portrayal while debunking common negative stereotypes of anorexic, bitch fights, and back-stabbery. First Position gleams on the competitive nature alright, by showing the hardwork and endless dedication that these dancers put behind each 2 minutes performance that can make or break their career and risks their future. Each and everyone of these kids told a different story. Their only connecting thread is ballet and their passion for it. Everyone of them had the support of their family, with different level of sacrifices and length that must be overcome when it deals with the dreams and passion of their children. And these kids are so serious and passionate about their life in dancing. It’s admirable really to be able to know your passion from such an early age and started planning for the direction started before their teen years even began. Aran and Miko sets an example of how they must grow up differently from their peers in order to aim for their dreams, but they seemed happy with it.

Inspirational story of aspiring young dancers with their obsessive and relentless strive to win and achieve their dreams. First Position deliver a positive message behind the competitiveness in the world of ballet. Don’t let the young age of these subjects fools you, i think you will be able to learn a thing or two from their determination and hardwork.

First Position received numerous nomination in various film festivals. It’s the winner of 2012 Portland Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary, 2012 San Francisco Doc Fest Staff Award, 2012 Dallas International Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary/Feature. Bes Kargman also won the Best Director Award in 2012 Portland International Film Festival. The film has not been released in Indonesia but it is available to order from Amazon or iTunes.



GENRE Documentary
DIRECTOR Bess Kargman | PRODUCER Rose Caiola, Nick Higgins, Bess Kargman, Jennilyn Merten | CINEMATOGRAPHER Nick Higgins | MUSIC Chris Hajian | EDITOR Rodney Ascher | DISTRIBUTOR Sundance Selects | COUNTRY United States | RUNNING TIME 95 minutes | RELEASE September 11, 2011 (TIFF), May 4, 2012
STARRING Michaela DePrince, Aran Bell, Gaya Bommer Yamini, Miko Fogarty, Jules Fogarty, Joan Sebastian Zamora and Rebecca Houseknecht

Stills are from IMDb | Official Site | Trailer


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