By Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Bee Nation (Canada, 2017): The definition of a crowd-pleaser to kick off this edition of HotDocs, Bee Nation revolves around an event with tension, drama and personal achievement ingrained in its DNA: The First Nations Provincial Spelling Bee competition. The first ever for aboriginal community.
It’s Documentary 101: Director Lana Slezic pics a handful of kids from different First Nations communities in Saskatchewan and shows their lives and how they prepare for the event. The approach allows some distressing information to seep through, like the fact schools in reserves receive considerable less money per student and, forcing administrators to make some hard decisions regarding their curriculum.
The children Slezic picks as main subjects are all overachievers, but they have a personality of their own (for William, failure is devastating; Savannah is a model of personal drive). In each case, their parental figures see education as a way out, a chance to see a world beyond the reserve. Heartbreak is unavoidable (the winners of the provincial chapter head to Toronto to compete against private school kids with tutors), but makes for great cinema.
Bee Nation is a bit stately (it’s presented under the CBC Docs banner), but is worth your attention.
3/5 stars. Bee Nation will also play Friday, April 28th, at the HotDocs Ted Rogers Cinema, and Saturday, May 6th, at the Isabel Bader Theatre.