When filmmaker David Zeiger spends a year documenting his son Danny’s high school marching band in Decatur, Georgia, he gets a crash course in love, friendship, and marching in formation. Featuring refreshingly candid student commentary on everything from anorexia and Ritalin to divorced parents and race relations, “The Band” is a lively, engrossing look at the ups and downs of all-American teenage life, 1990s style. The film is a portrait of postmodern adolescence told from the bittersweet perspective of a father with one son on the verge of adulthood and another son who lives only in memories. Taken as a whole, it is a thought-provoking reflection on the state of America as it enters the 21st century.
“I went to a football game at Decatur High, where Danny was a sophomore,” says Zeiger, recalling his decision to begin filming The Band. I looked over and was shocked to see Danny dancing, something I’d never seen him do before. Suddenly there was this brand-new person there, this teenager living in his own world. It hit me immediately that I wanted to make a film about him.”
Only seven when his brother Michael died at the age of nine, Danny withdrew emotionally and spent the next eight years immersed in his own private world. The film tenderly examines the fragile bond between parents and children and the grief following the loss of a child.
For Danny and his high school friends, life is an endless whirl of adolescent curve balls, and “The Band” explores all of them — from tempestuous first love affairs to heartfelt discussions of growing up in families redefined by divorce. Danny’s girlfriend, Mary Ellen, speaks openly about her struggle with anorexia. Classmate Burt, a charming ne’er-do-well, tells wild tales of his run-ins with the law. Friends Kate and Cameron discuss their battles with Attention Deficit Disorder and the prescription drug culture. Adding her voice is Erin, the drill team captain and senior class president, who with quiet equanimity far beyond her years, describes life at home as both daughter and friend to a mother who drinks.
Their stories are both deeply personal and surprisingly universal, a poignant antidote to the stereotypes currently rampant in a society that increasingly fears and demonizes its children.
“The Band” is both moving and insightful, understated and powerful. It is an exceptional work that will provoke analysis and discussion in courses in sociology, American studies, social psychology, family issues, and education, among other disciplines. It will inspire high school teachers, counselors, and school psychologists, and it will also be an excellent addition to the video collections of public libraries who wish to offer their patrons outstanding independent documentary productions.