×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Playground

Film is a state-of-the-union address on the sexual exploitation of American children.

With:
With: Jan Hindman, Michelle Brown.

Tackling a topic you can’t film, victims you don’t want to identify and a subject from which most auds naturally recoil in horror, helmer Libby Spears works certain wonders with “Playground,” a state-of-the-union address on the sexual exploitation of American children. Thoughtful, sensitive and broader in its indictments than most treatments of the subject, the doc inevitably will struggle theatrically, but may find a niche on cable and in the educational market. Pic opened Sept. 4 for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run.

Spears, with a roster of producing partners that includes George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh, constructs a quasi-thriller amid the clinical reportage and expert testimonies concerning the 300,000 American kids currently at risk of being sexually exploited and a criminal justice system that deems children too young to have consensual sex, but not too young to be arrested for prostitution (a logical inconsistency that has Spears’ experts incensed).

Over the three years of her filming, Spears searches for Michelle Brown, a perfect human storm of childhood abuse, incarceration and legal malpractice. That she finds Brown alive is a shock in itself, given what we learn about the fate of most abuse victims and their treatment by the system. What we learn about her life is not so surprising.

The docu has a treasure in the late Jan Hindman, a sex-abuse researcher and one of the saner voices on the subject — and on a culture that seems to promote the eroticization of children. It’s not what we’ve done to abusers, she says, that makes them what they are. It’s what we haven’t done — teach them to be functioning humans without a need for instant gratification, who don’t feel entitled to indulge their every whim. She’s sympathetic but common-sensical, in a way that’s both enlightening and refreshing.

Spears takes aim at the political culture, too, one that struggles to limit sex education, then criminalizies young people who act out sexually. While railing against the crimes committed against children and the people who commit them, she also makes the point that larger numbers of people have been categorized as sex offenders for crimes ranging wildly from child rape to public urination.

Production values are tops, notably Yoshitomo Nara’s animated children, who pop up intermittently to add mute comment to the proceedings. They’re adorable, and just a little bit angry.

Playground

Production: A Smokehouse presentation of a BluPoint Films production. Produced by Martha Adams, Jeff Vespa, Libby Spears. Executive producers, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Steven Soderbergh, Abby Disney, Lauren Embrey, Gayle Embrey. Co-producers, David de Rothschild, Arden Wohl. Directed by Libby Spears.

Crew: Camera (color), Spears; editor, Oreet Rees; music, David Robbins; art director, Heather Bursch; supervising sound editor, Vince Tennant; animation, Yoshitomo Nara; associate producer, Julia Ormond. Reviewed at Quad Cinema, New York, Sept. 7, 2009. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Jan Hindman, Michelle Brown.

More Film

  • Brightburn review

    Film Review: 'Brightburn'

    “Superman” meets “The Omen” in “Brightburn,” a watchable but super-silly mix of superheroics and evil-child horror that mashes together singularly uninspired ideas from both. Offering R-rated fantasy competition to “Aladdin” this Memorial Day weekend, it should do OK with undiscriminating audiences seeking familiar, forgettable genre thrills. But the franchise prayers that an open-ended fadeout dangles [...]

  • Aladdin

    Film Review: Will Smith in 'Aladdin'

    Of all the characters in Walt Disney Studios’ canon, is there any more animated than the Genie from “Aladdin”? In 1992, old-school cartooning seemed the only way to keep up with comedian Robin Williams’ rapid-fire sense of humor and free-associative gift for improvisation. Much of the appeal of the original “Aladdin” came thanks to the [...]

  • Cannes: European Auteurs Launch Appeal to

    Cannes: European Auteurs Launch Appeal to Get E.U. Elections Vote Out

    A group of 500 prominent European auteurs – including heavyweights attending Cannes such as Céline Sciamma, Pawel Pawlikowski, and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne – have launched an impassioned appeal to citizens of the 28 European Union nations to get out the vote at the upcoming May 23-26 E.U. parliamentary elections. “It is true, Europe is hardly [...]

  • Photograph by Svetlana Cvetko

    Blitz Films' Eryl Cochran Talks About Indie Film in Challenging Market

    Eryl Cochran heads production & development at production and financing shingle Blitz Films, where she works alongside company founders, filmmakers Nikolay and Sergey Sarkisov. Blitz, launched in 2018, is carving out a niche in the indie world with an eye for emerging talent. Blitz’s slate includes “Show Me What You Got,” directed by cinematographer Svetlana [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content