23 April 2012

Reviews for The Revisionaries movie

This is mostly going to be a link round-up for reviews and news related to The Revisionaries movie. I’ll update it I find more review.

23 April 2012

  • IndieWire blog: “Director Scott Thurman always seems to let the right bit of footage speak for itself in these situations: opposition to the teaching of the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson’s placement in the textbook are explained by a representative who prefaces her opinions by saying, ‘I love Jefferson, I'm a huge fan.’ The Apostle Of Democracy, reduced to mascot.”
  • The Wrap blog: “Thurman never turns his film into an advocacy doc the way the way he easily could have done, but he has produced a frightening look at the politicalization of education, and at an arena too often dominated by what one SMU scientist calls ‘a flammable mixture of ignorance and arrogance.’”
  • PoliTex blog: “(Cynthia) Dunbar (former Texas State Board of Education member - ZF) said even though “experts” oppose discussing other views as science, “that’s what they talked about in pre-Holocaust Germany as well.’ ... Thurman, 31, wept when he talked about McLeroy, calling him a ‘warm and kind’ man who cooperated completely.”

Don McLeroy (also former State Board of Education member) is going to be a guest on The Colbert Report tonight, ostensibly to talk about the film. I’m willing to bet there won’t be so much about the film as McLeroy’s religious beliefs.

Additional: Here’s a link to McLeroy on The Colbert Report. As usual, Colbert gets in a good quips: “I believe science can be a personal choice,” and “I have always been a fan of reality by majority vote.”

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Don McLeroy
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive
Additional, 26 April: The Revisionaries received a special jury mention at the Tri-Beca film festival.

Additional, 30 April: Comments from Louisiana State University newspaper and a local Texas television channel. Both are more on the political controversy than the artistic merits of the documentary.

Variety, the movie industry’s publication of record, writes:

"The Revisionaries" doesn’t preach, but it doesn’t need to in order to make its major point.

Thurman bends over backward to maintain something resembling objectivity, and religious belief is never ridiculed. ...

Production values are tops, particularly the lensing by Thurman and Zac Sprague, capturing not only the colorful debate on the board but the often bewildered reactions elsewhere. Jawad Metni's editing is also tops.

7 May 2012: PoliticalOlogy gives The Revisionaries an A+.

Thurman... manages to turn this prolonged policy battle into an suspenseful, engaging and infuriating eighty-three minutes.

18 May 2012: A lengthy discussion in The Guardian focuses on the battles over history rather than science.

Defenders of biological sciences can also fall back on court rulings such as Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District and Edwards v Aguillard, which prohibit teaching of creationism. They also have a wealth of popular treatments of scientific issues to draw upon, such as explanations of evolutionary theory by Richard Dawkins and other scientists.

History, however, is often left to fend for itself.

21 June 2012: Public radio station WBUR has an interview with the producer of The Revisionaries, Vijay Dewan, and Don McLeroy. I always appreciate McLeroy’s honesty in admitting the harm those standards do to teaching evolution (my emphasis):

The science magazine, you know, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported after we passed the standards that new science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution. And really, they're right because what they do is, when they highlight these weaknesses, now the textbooks have to explain these weaknesses.

26 June 2012: On Open Salon, Steve Klingaman bemoans that the film’s promoters have given Don McLeroy more opportunities to spread his views.

Of course he’s a nut case. ... But here’s the deal: when interviewed on Talk of the Nation, his host, Neal Conan, didn’t challenge any of the fundamentals of his presentation. Nor did the documentary’s executive producer, Vijay Dewan, who is, for promotional purposes, temporarily joined at the hip to McLeroy.

4 October 2012: The Dallas Observer, um, observed:

To a point, Thurman does an admirable job portraying McLeroy with some objectivity. The director’s stated goal is to allow us to appreciate the “compassion and complexities of Don’s character,” but by the end of the film, the tenor of Thurman’s coverage shifts perceptibly into the unsympathetic. Granted, there isn’t an easy way to portray certain statements of McLeroy’s in a favorable light. Example: “Somebody's got to stand up to the experts.”

8 October 2012: The Kansas City Star calls the film “compelling.”

Though it’s obvious that Thurman allies with traditional science, he just lets the two sides speak for themselves and chronicles the board’s crucial votes with no narration.

13 October 2012: The Houston Chronicle blog Texas Politics has an interview with filmmaker Scott Thurman, as the film is howing in Houston for a week.

The documentary is more nuanced than Thurman expected before he plunged into the project, which has taken nearly 5 years and $120,000.

His views of McLeroy have evolved.

“I was torn in how to portray someone who’s done so much damage to education and yet is such a sweet person with good intentions,” the filmmaker said.

25 October 2012: A review in Salon:

One of the great things about Scott Thurman’s film — a low-budget but thoroughly watchable documentary, largely funded on Kickstarter – is that it helped me see the world from McLeroy’s point of view, which I might previously have considered impossible.

I think this is my favourite review of the movie to date; it’s very well-written.

29 October 2012: New York Times review:

Interviewing a wide range of concerned parties, Mr. Thurman’s presentation is admirably evenhanded; though he clearly supports the scientists, for example, he avoids the temptation to ridicule the commissioners. Instead, they open up and explain their perspectives.

And the Houston Chronicle reports on a screening and mentions the Times review.

The film director sees his work as a mixture “of medicine and sugar.” Thurman reminded his audience that making a documentary film about the board of education is inherently difficult. It’s important (the medicine part of the story) but sometimes weighty and dry

Additional, 27 January 2013: Reviews are starting up again in anticipation of the showing of The Revisionaries on PBS next week. This one is at Ars Technica:

Enough people describe the whole process as a mess that it’s no surprise The Revisionaries struggles to lay it out in a narrative. The challenge is made larger by the filmmakers' decision to provide little framing for the footage, other than sporadic notes scratched on a blackboard to give some sense of the timing and location of the clips. As a result, the movie really doesn't work if you go into it hoping to get a history of the Texas school board. In fact, it would probably be better if you went in to things with a rough outline of the events (the one in this review would be enough).

But if you've got that, the film is a fascinating glimpse into the sorts of thinking that drive the public controversies that have happened in Texas and elsewhere.

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