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Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Light It Up

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 1999 at 12:00 AM

At a time when accounts of inconceivable crimes – high school shootings, bombs, how many dead and wounded, how many survivors – seem like a daily occurrence, a film such as Craig Bolotin’s Light It Up takes a risky stand.

Bolotin places the camera inside a high school in Queens, N.Y. (during the accidental shooting of a police officer), looking out at the media frenzy with one question in mind: Now that they have everybody’s attention, what do the teens want? Books? Classrooms without broken windows where they can take off their winter coats, maybe? People who listen before deciding that the kids are, and have always been, guilty?

So many demands, so little time. For the outside world, they’re nothing but a bunch of killers on the loose, gang members with a history of violence, little dark souls beyond redemption. No matter that one of the "killers" barricaded inside the school is a straight-A student with big dreams for the future. No matter that another is a star basketball player, and yet another an artist whose formidable drawings adorn the walls of the school’s attic where he’s found refuge from the beatings he gets from his father.

Those are details, no? Things beyond our interest in sensational crises. The camera frames their preoccupied faces closely, looking deep into places where other people keep their hopes and resolutions. But for these kids here – the urban version of The Breakfast Club – there never was any hope to begin with. It’s a pity that after sketching such remarkable portraits, the film takes the easy way out in a happy end that dwarfs its initial commitments.

La vie en rose after a prison sentence? We don’t think so, and neither do those who, having identified with the film’s protagonists, might have put the gun down and stopped to listen.

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