Sheffield preview

Leading up to Sheffield Doc/Fest, Realscreen takes an advance look at some of the docs in their program.
October 27, 2008

For those in the vast majority of the population who didn’t go to an elite prestigious high school, Frontrunners will be an entertaining peek into serious high school politics.

The film, directed by Caroline Suh, follows a select group of overachievers at New York’s Stuyvesant High School in their battle to become student union president. The candidates dedicate serious time and energy to add the title of president to their already jam packed lists of extra-curriculars.

From the initial primaries all the way to day of the election, the film gives a close look at the two frontrunners of the election, the endearingly over-intelligent George, and the super-driven rising theater star (already with a credit in a Todd Solondz film) Hannah.

Although their campaign tactics don’t deviate from standard home-made brochures, the election process at Stuyvesant does bring a more professional tone to high school politics. The forerunners have a televised debate (piped in to homeroom TV sets) and the staff of the school newspaper, The Spectator, has heated arguments over which candidate to endorse. Yes, their newspaper not only covers the election, but endorses a candidate in their editorial. But, this being an editorial staff comprised of teenagers, the endorsement is decided by the classic heads-down-on-desk-raise-your-arm tally. Seeing the recreation of the big political machine in the Petri dish of a high school is where this film succeeds.

Another highlight is the off-beat charm of presidential candidate George. His unorthodox way of thinking has created such things as ‘The Lounge,’ with an official appointment confirmation schedule, when in fact the space is just a curtained-off area from George’s locker to a pole, where the gracious host provides camping chairs and sparkling water. A conversation happens here, and not chats, and George just may be the only person who knows the difference between the two.

Amidst the dedication and hard work of the candidates, who don’t see much humor in their serious campaigns for presidency, director Suh does provide a few nice releases every now and again, like this response from a fellow student, who details her class reaction after watching the televised debates: ‘My homeroom is filled with teenagers, as is every other homeroom, therefore there was partially disinterest, partially mocking … it’s high school.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.