DVD Review: Make Believe (2010)

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When she was four years old, Krystyn Lambert asked her mom if she was from another planet. She knew she wasn’t like everyone else but once she found her people and indulged her passion with endless practice, patience and perfectionism, Lambert encountered a lot of fellow Earthly oddballs called magicians who spring into action with a deck of cards and a sense of wonder.

Magicians, she discovered, can do something nobody else can do and in so doing shatter worldviews, remove obstacles, right wrongs, and (most importantly) connect to other human beings without barriers of culture, class or conversation thanks to the universal language of make believe.

One of six teens profiled in J. Clay Tweel’s winningly endearing documentary centering on entrants to the art form’s equivalent of the Olympic Games via the World Magic Seminar competition staged at The Orleans in Las Vegas, Krystyn Lambert is the only female in the mix and a clear front-runner complete with education and vast experience as well as industry mentors and an “in” at The Magic Shop.

Known as the group’s “Malibu Barbie” due to her looks, which refreshingly equal her intellect, Lambert isn’t the only subject who spends all of her free time devoted to her craft.

In Make Believe, we’re quickly led behind the curtain and into the homemade magic factories, laboratories, lairs, theatres, practice rehearsal spaces, after-school jobs, auditoriums and hobby shops haunted by a painfully shy Littleton, Colorado longer who goes from introverted to extroverted in a matter of minutes, coming to life when he starts to perform.

Journeying to the windy city before taking us abroad, we’re riveted by the subtle family dynamics at play in the portrait of a nineteen year old Chicagoan who postponed college for a year specifically to figure out the best way to create, shuffle and incorporate faux iPods into his act to prepare for the Vegas event.

And in his chronicle of the select few that professional tricksters will invite to compete at the World Magic Seminar, Tweel sheds new light on situations most of us only see a fraction of on the evening news by taking us on a touching coming-of-age tour of countries and cultures through the lens of illusion.

This feat is particularly apparent onscreen in Make Believe when the filmmaker leaves the comfort of American suburbia to visit the budding magic scene in Cape Town, South Africa where the art of make believe provides a much-needed means of escape by way of escapism as we meet performing arts students who indulge their love of showmanship through the academic curriculum that keeps them out of the ultraviolent slums.

Amazingly ambitious for an independent documentary feature -- let alone a directorial debut -- Tweel seems to take a cue from his guileless, optimistic daydreaming leads, traveling from Cape Town to an idyllic, remote Japanese locale where a young man renews our faith in the power of creativity, graduating from a single nearly worn-out videotape of a single magic special to inventing his own tricks with nature serving as his muse.

Through subtitles or sleight-of-hand, the meaning is always clear as we discover the role that magic has played in not only helping these six adolescents unravel some of life’s biggest mysteries but also figure out who they are along the way as Earthly oddballs with an out-of-this-world hunger to make you believe in the impossible… if only for an instant.

And in the case of Tweel’s terrific film, he manages to make this feat last far more than just an instant, keeping us utterly captivated for the entire 91 minute running time of this film festival circuit sleeper from the producers of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.