Review: The Band

"The Band" Resounds With Teenagers' World

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/15/08
by Bob Longino

You know your kids, but you don't really know them.

To get inside their skin, you could, like MTV's "The Real World," hoist a camera, plop them into a controlled environment and monitor the heck out of them.

Or better, like Atlanta filmmaker David Zeiger, you could enter their world, their hangouts, parties, school, football games, band practices and trips, and do what so many parents just can't seem to do with their kids: listen to them.

Zeiger's school-year-long trek into the life of his then 16-year-old son, Danny, became a poignant 80-minute film he dubbed "The Band," exploring the really real world of the teens who made up the 1995-96 Decatur High School marching band. And now the film has been trimmed to an hour for PBS' "P.O.V.," which will air it nationally.

These are great kids. They're funny (one kid's pickup line: "Do you believe in love at first sight or do I need to walk by you again?"), wise and foolish, free-spirited, joyous and troubled-their lives often rocked by divorce, unrequited love, race, anorexia, Ritalin, Prozac, alcoholic family members and, sometimes, death.

Zeiger is here, he says, to deal with his family's own tragedy-the death of Danny's 9-year-old brother, Michael, when Danny was 7. Danny appeared withdrawn for nearly a decade until Zeiger noticed his son smiling and dancing jubilantly with his fellow band members at a football game.

For Danny, "time exploded when he was 7," Zeiger says. "I was never sure how well I knew him -- or him me. If I really want to know Danny, I've got to know his world."

Entering that world leads to Chris (the kid always trying out pickup lines on girls), Kant and Cameron (both diagnosed with attention deficit disorder), Mary Ellen (struggling with anorexia) and Burt (the perpetually in trouble, wise-cracking senior who spouts, "It's hard to be me and go to school").

The film's beautiful truth is the maturity with which these kids take on life's problems and the honesty they express while facing Zeiger's listening lens.

One girl shares her burden of dealing with her mother's drunkenness. "I wet a cloth and put it over her eyesŠso that she'll calm down," she says. "I just lay down with her and put my arms around her so she'll know someone is there."

We may want our kids to just be kids. But life doesn't work out much like that anymore. It probably never really did. One look at "The Band" and you'll know a kid's life is as great-and as hard-as anybody's.

Grade: A-