×

Resolved

The cultural and intellectual underpinnings of high school debate teams are put under the microscope.

With:
With: Matt Andrews, Louis Blackwell, Jon Brushke, Richard Funches, Sam Iola, Dave Wiltz, Jane Pauley, Juan Williams, Samuel Alito.

The cultural and intellectual underpinnings of high school debate teams are put under the microscope in Greg Whiteley’s engrossing doc, “Resolved.” Full of details that will both shock and induce nostalgia among former debaters, and refreshing in its presentation of American teens as intelligent young adults, pic reveals a fascinating rift inside the debate world that could portend a coming revolution. More cerebral than docs it superficially resembles, like “Spellbound,” pic has a quality fest run in sight and should draw serious distrib and media interest, with best coin in ancillary.

Judging by the opening minutes, Whiteley seems to be going after exactly the type of type-A, grade-A students one might expect to shine in high school debate — in cruder terms, nerdy white kids (mostly guys from private schools). To his credit, though, Whiteley is searching for bigger game and greater meaning than one usually finds in American docs about oddball subcultures.

At Texas’ Highland Park High School, he trails the curious team of Matt Andrews and Sam Iola, the former a brilliant sophomore, the latter a legendary senior on the national debate circuit. Andrews is dubbed “the Boy” for being the youngest on the varsity squad (typically composed of seniors only), while Iola is known for following his own rules and is so bored by most classes that even though he’s ranked in the top 1% of all debaters nationwide, his grades are below average.

By contrast — and the contrast at first looks like an arch storytelling contrivance — Louis Blackwell and Richard Funches lead the debate squad at poorly funded, minority-heavy Jordan High in Long Beach, Calif. Louis is termed as exceptionally smart by his coaches, and Richard, despite a tendency to lose his cool, is every bit his equal.

Pic cleverly explains (aided by some ingenious stop-motion animation by Sean Donnelly) the odd stylistic changes that overtook debating in the 1970s, shifting from normal vocal delivery to a high-speed chatter, a la auctioneers, dubbed “the Flow,” intended to pack as much information as possible within a time allotment. As Cal State Fullerton coach Jon Brushke and others explain, the weapon of pure argumentation was replaced by that of information overload.

In an uncanny way, “Resolved” touches on a key characteristic of contempo life — the avalanche of information and data that threatens to overwhelm users. While “the Flow” has long been an accepted norm, Louis and Richard intend to propose that this form is inherently exclusionary and racist, since it is predicated on a team’s ability to spend huge chunks of time (meaning money) on research and prioritizes formal delivery over meaningful content.

What’s most impressive about this tactic is that it’s based, under the guidance of their heroic coach Dave Wiltz, on the literature of Brazilian educator and writer Paolo Friere (“Pedagogy of the Oppressed”), which argues for teaching methods that stress real-world problems over rote memorization. “Resolved” reaches a peak of intellectual excitement when these two kids from the inner city blow away their more privileged competish with their Friere-inspired approach.

It looks as if Whiteley is heading toward an inevitable faceoff between the Jordan and Highland Park teams, but real life — and a few character hiccups — provide enough complications so that pic follows a far less predictable course.

The results yield a generous helping of ideas and talking points, from the ways today’s youth are grossly underrated by their parents’ media to how racism in American life can be invisible except to those experiencing it. Pic also provides an iron-clad case for the value of high school debate as a life-changing experience (with testimony from Jane Pauley, commentator Juan Williams and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito) as well as a deeply American practice.

Shooting on vid, Tristan Whitman and Liam Dalzell turn a seemingly static activity into one full of filmic interest, with ace editing by Whiteley, Tom Runquist and Brad Barber.

Popular on Variety

Resolved

Production: A One Potato Prods. Productions presentation. Produced by Greg Whiteley. Executive producers, Lisa Vick Kraus, Peter Kraus, Mark Clark, Sarah J. Clark, Marc Stanley CQ, Wendy Stanley, Andy Waters, Liz Waters. Directed by Greg Whiteley.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Tristan Whitman, Liam Dalzell; editors, Whiteley, Tom Runquist, Brad Barber; music supervisors, Rob Kaplan, Craig Romney; sound, Josh Wilkinson; sound re-recording mixers, Brett Hinton; animation, Sean Donnelly, Pastilla Studio; associate producers, Tiffany Haynes, Barber, Erin Jeanne Whiteley. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, June 19, 2007. (In Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Matt Andrews, Louis Blackwell, Jon Brushke, Richard Funches, Sam Iola, Dave Wiltz, Jane Pauley, Juan Williams, Samuel Alito.

More Film

  • So Long, My Son directed by

    Wang Xiaoshuai's 'So Long, My Son' Earns Six APSA Nominations

    Chinese drama, “So Long, My Son,” was nominated in six categories, making it the early favorite for this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The Wang Xiaoshuai-directed drama about separation, secrets, a lifetime of regret, and the consequences of China’s one child policy, had its premiere in February at the Berlin festival. There it won Silver [...]

  • Alan Rickman

    Film News Roundup: 'Galaxy Quest' Documentary Set for Release

    In today’s film news roundup, rescue drama “Not Without Hope” is back in development, a “Galaxy Quest” documentary is set for release, “The Two Popes” wins another award, and Ella Joyce gets cast. PROJECT REVIVED U.K.-based financing-production outfit Goldfinch has bought feature film rights to Nick Schuyler’s “Not Without Hope” and signed “The Fog” director [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds John Krasinkski

    Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski in Talks for 'Imaginary Friends' Movie

    Ryan Reynolds and John Krasinski are in talks to board the fantasy comedy “Imaginary Friends” at Paramount Studios. Paramount recently won the bidding for the property over Lionsgate and Sony. Krasinski will write, direct,  produce and star while Reynolds will co-star if the deals go through. The story centers on a man who can see [...]

  • Willem Dafoe attends the "Motherless Brooklyn"

    Willem Dafoe Joins Guillermo Del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'

    Willem Dafoe has closed a deal to join Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of “Nightmare Alley.” Collider had first reported that Dafoe was being considered for a role in the film, but sources now say the “Lighthouse” star has closed a deal to join the cast. The “At [...]

  • 'To the Ends of the Earth'

    Busan Film Review: 'To the Ends of the Earth'

    “To the Ends of the Earth,” the story of a young Japanese journalist’s experiences in Uzbekistan filming a report for a Japanese TV travel show, was originally commissioned to celebrate 25 years of cordial diplomatic relations between director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s hyper-developed island homeland and the less affluent, landlocked Central Asian nation. As such we might [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content