Determination, success and honor are on the curriculum in “Senior Year,” an engaging look at mainland Chinese students’ grueling preparation for college entry exams. Crowded conditions and battle-cry educational rhetoric may surprise Western viewers, but the high school’s slyly charismatic head teacher enlivens this depiction of the school year. Documentary fests looking for an insider’s view or educational focus will find this particularly edifying. Pic picked up a Humanitarian Award for Documentaries at the Hong Kong fest.
According to Wuping Middle School head teach Wang Jinchun, education is the only road out of the peasant lifestyle endured by most residents in a remote area of Fujian province. Docu shows Wang and his colleagues pushing — and often haranguing — his charges and their parents toward academic success. Visits to local Communist Party meetings reveal that a solid education has additional pressures and benefits besides a university degree. Helmer Zhao Hao largely adopts a cinema verite approach, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions on the benefits of the demanding study program. Tech credits meet typical low budget DV standards and English subtitles, though occasionally rough, are efficient enough.