When multiracial youth circus troupe the St. Louis Arches set out for Israel in the summer of 2007 for a residence program with the local Galilee Circus, the members were well-prepared physically, but not mentally. Loosely focused docu “Circus Kids” from U.S. helmer Alexandra Lipsitz blithely captures plenty of bad behavior and ignorant talk from the American youngsters, illustrating the gap between their expectations and those of their adult leaders, who insist they are “Ambassadors of Peace.” Still, the youthful high spirits on display as well as the lively acrobatics could make this an attractive package for broadcasters.
The trip is a labor of love for “Circus Lady” Jessica Hentoff, founder of the Arches and Circus Harmony, who aims to teach the art of adult living through circus acts that involve building trust and working as a group. Her pupils, including three of her own children, are impressively daring when it comes to tumbling, juggling and flying on the trapeze, but surprisingly reluctant to embrace the new life experiences that come with foreign travel.
Although the members of the Galilee Circus, formed by Rabbi Marc Rosenstein as a weekly after-school club to bring together the Jewish youth of Karmiel with those of neighboring Arab-Israeli villages, aren’t as performance-focused as the Arches, they come off as more mature and outgoing.
Without a common language except for circus skills, it takes several days for the two troupes to meld. Having to quickly devise acts for a show that will tour Israel during the next week hastens the process, as does the hospitality extended to the Arches when they spend a night at the homes of their Galilee colleagues.
Perhaps because of her background as a producer on the reality TV series “Project Runway” and “Project Greenlight,” director Lipsitz (“Air Guitar Nation”) seems more interested in capturing the warts-and-all aspect of the trip from the youngsters’ perspective rather than presenting it as the story of art transcending ethnic boundaries pitched by the adults. The downside is that observing adolescent bonding rituals, listening to complaints and watching the kids mug for the camera aren’t terribly compelling, and likely to make viewers long for more performance footage.
Shooting and taking sound herself on an HVX 200 digital camera, Lipsitz displays a nice eye for composition, incorporating still photo-like closeups of individual kids against primary color backdrops. The color saturation on the DVD viewed was so beautifully deep that individual frames glowed.