Film: Long Live TOY. Defending Children’s Theatre in the Nickel City. Documentary film on www.longlivetoymovie.com
The Theatre of Youth (TOY) in Buffalo, New York State is under threat from funding cuts by the local authority. Instead of doing a Taunton Brewhouse Theatre and simply closing their doors one day when the money ran out they decided to make a film.
Long Live Toy is the result. The film is a passionate defence of children’s theatre and its benefits in the USA’s third poorest city of major size. TOY was founded in 1972 by Daemen College theatre instructors Rosalind Cramer and Toni Smith Wilson. It began as a small company of local actors working out of the theatre at Daemen College and has grown into a strong part of the community’s amenities and cultural life and resides in the Allendale Theatre.
We learn about the social problems the city faces, the main movers and shakers in the theatre and also the politicians who see arts as an easy target to cut when times are hard.
The documentary was screened as part of the Buffalo International Film Festival in 2010 when the city authority’s Erie County Executive Chris Collins decided to cut all the cash used to help the not-for-profit theatre. Fortunately the film galvanised the campaign to save the theatre and was ultimately successful with shows continuing to be staged with the next production The Night Before Christmas being staged in December.
The film is a testament to the transformative power of children’s theatre as well as the importance of culture to the vitality of a community with its main hero Meg Quinn the theatre’s artisitic director.
The film falls somewhere between campaigning video and straight documentary. It’s strength lies in the power of the arguments put forward by advocates of children’s theatre in America.
When I first saw the film The Red Balloon or Le Ballon Rouge at the cinema in the early 1960s I was blown away a bit like the balloon.
The 1956 fantasy featurette directed by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse follows a little boy and his adventures with a balloon that appears to come to life.
With no dialogue and just a musical score and the sounds of the back streets of Paris the story was and still is universal – and remains an influence on the imaginations of a generations.
In so many ways it was ahead of its time placing the children and the balloon at the centre of the action but without any sugary sentimentalisation. The balloon symbolises many things from the chance meetings we have in childhood, friendship and loyalty, the desire of young children to care for things such as pets and toys, and of the cruelty of childhood as the bullies appear determined to destroy the balloon.
It’s also a wonderfully poetic, lyrical and romantic film using the Parisian landscape, the crumbling houses, wonky roofs and chimneys and bomb sites as its canvas.
The movie won an Oscar for Lamorisse for the screenplay in 1956 and the Palme d’Or for short films at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and it is the only short film to win the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
Rather sensibly Lamorisse used his children as actors in the film with his son, Pascal in the main role, and his daughter Sabine as the little girl.
The Red Balloon was re-released in the United States in late 2006 by Janus Films, and is still available to buy from all good DVD stockists.