The Austin Revolution Film Festival (ARFF) presented the world premiere of the surprising documentary One Act Play on night two of the festival, which ran from September 18 to 22. ARFF, small but growing, has been honored as one of MovieMaker magazine’s “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2018.” It also earned recognition as the best-reviewed film festival on Film Freeway.
One Act Play was not what I was expecting. The promo read, “a film about high school drama.” That led me to expect a film about teenagers battling over football and prom dates. Instead what played out on the screen was an outstanding documentary about the Texas One-Act Play contest.
What is It
The One-Act Play contest, run by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), organizes similarly sized Texas schools in a competition to present the best 18-40 minute play. The University of Texas at Austin created the UIL in 1910 to provide leadership and guidance to public school debate and athletic teachers. It is now the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world.
There are six levels of competition. Each round of the contest is held on a single day and open to the public. At each level of competition, a judge awards both individual acting awards and selects three productions to advance to the next level. At the highest level, only two advance to the state championship.
Following the Kids
As the story in One Act Play unfolded, I was reminded of last year’s ARFF feature, Four Quarters of Silence, about the football team at the Texas School for the Deaf and the currently-in-theaters NatGeo documentary Science Fair. It’s almost as if the teenagers-struggling-to-do-something-worthwhile movies deserve their own genre.
One Act Play hits the required beats. It follows several different schools in the competition. We see them struggle to achieve mastery of their craft. They work their way up in the tournament. There are setbacks. Lastly, several of the teams make it to the finals. We watch the tension grow on their faces as they wait for judges to make the announcements.
Then, disappointment or exaltation.
This sounds like a string of clichés, but when viewers have connected with the kids and their journey, which One Act Play director Landry Gideon facilitates in a masterful way, you care what happens. You care about the kids. Their victory or loss is yours, too.
The film also spends time acquainting us with the Drama teachers who mentor the students. There seems to be an archetype for Drama teachers. Uninhibited, enthusiastic, dedicated, a bit eccentric, and deeply involved with their students’ success. The teachers in this film reminded me of the drama teachers I had in high school, at the other end of the country, way back in another century.
To find out where and when you can see One Act Play, check its Facebook page. You can watch a trailer below.
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