The thin line dividing an exploited childhood from a fulfilling career in “show business” is explored in the offbeat “The Dream of the Child Acrobat,” a beautifully lensed docu shot by Lebanese helmer Philip Aractingi in Morocco. The dreamlike story of 11-year-old Mustafa, who tours small towns with a troupe of kiddy gymnasts, evokes terribly mixed reactions and forces the viewer to consider the pros and cons of this special kind of child labor. The exotic setting and engaging tykes make it a riveting watch, eminently suitable for small screens. It won a special jury award at the recent Beirut fest.
Like the other members of the troupe, Mustafa is practically sold to the acrobatic group by his parents, who collect the money he earns on his tours. He is proud of helping them and obviously enjoys his work, despite the severe training and harsh living conditions on the road. The boys are slapped awake at 5 a.m. and have to walk up to five miles a day to reach the next town. A scene showing the kids cruelly whipped by their acrobatic teacher is a shocker, but Mustafa immediately reflects through his tears that this is the “master” who teaches him the most. His dream is to become so good he can perform abroad.
There is much to feel strongly about in this docu, not least the splendid acrobatic numbers that the rubber-bodied boys perform in their bright red costumes to the amazement of locals and tourists. Backdrops of Marrakech and mountain villages are finely captured by Pierre Milon’s fluid camera.