From the zealous, over-the-top campaign strategies to the unofficial political pundit with the Flava Flav t-shirt on, there is something very unique and different about the class elections at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. In fact, the schools elections are so competitive, they are considered to be one of the most cut-throat, competitive contests of their kind in the entire United States.
Director Caroline Suh’s sweet, engaging documentary Frontrunners puts the student union presidential elections at Stuyvesant front and center, right there for all of us to observe, laugh at and talk about later. In fact, it is the conversation afterward that makes Frontrunners such a worthwhile film, as it forces us to look at the much bigger world of elections. Stuyvesant could act as a microcosm for America — the student election carries many of the same detestable themes that we see in the elections for public officials in this country. They deal with issues of racism, sexism and of course, the art of the spin.
The master spinster of Stuyvesant’s election is George, the most charming and quirky subject of the doc. George campaigns the hardest, using his soap-box to spin a web of grandiose ideas and promises for his potential term as president. He runs up against Hannah, cheerleader, head of the drama club and all around peppy, energetic popular girl and Michael, the odds-on favorite for the presidency based on his tenure in the student union and his overwhelming popularity. For George, it is a seemingly uphill battle; but thanks to his illuminating personality and infinite amount of charisma, it is a battle that we are happy to witness.
As any documentarian will tell you, you are always at the will of your subjects — if they aren’t interesting, then your documentary is that much harder to make. With Frontrunners, Caroline Suh has the benefit of being both lucky and good. She presents this funny, charming kids in a light that is respectful and relevant, allowing us to laugh and be entertained while still provoking thought. It may not have blown me away with like American Teen, but Frontrunners is certainly one of the most charming, fun docs that I have seen at SXSW this year — and that is really saying something.
Frontrunners is directed by Caroline Suh and produced by Erika Frankel. It made its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival on Monday, March 10. For more information, visit www.frontrunnersthefilm.com.