This review was updated on Jan. 11, 2007.
Made-for-TV docu “On a Tightrope” tracks a selection of agile orphans from the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province, China, who are learning circus skills from two very different teachers. Although largely focused on the personalities and stories of its cute half-pint protagonists, pic makes solemn points about child poverty and religious persecution by the Chinese government in the aforementioned area. Competently assembled, if a little low on pizzazz, telegenic “Tightrope” should secure small-screen bookings after a short walk around festival big-tops.
Helmer Petr Lom (“Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan”) divides the pic into commercial-break-friendly chapters, each focused on a different tot who lives at Yengisar State Orphanage, such as accomplished girl acrobat Aijamal and less skilled Jumakhun. Tightrope teacher Mehmet Tursun feels threatened when newcomer Yasin tempts his pupils away. Punning title refers not only to how the tykes are literally learning circus skills, but also how they must balance loyalty to their religion and culture with obedience to the anti-religious Chinese state, which imprisons many for their beliefs. Brief running time of the version caught doesn’t allow stories to breathe as well as they should. Tech credits are serviceable.