Recently I had the privilege of being invited to see the first project from the recently formed Manley productions. To Whom Much is Given is a documentary film, which chronicles eight weeks in the lives of a handful of troubled inner city students at New West Academy, a non-public school in south central Los Angeles which focuses on growing needs of special education.
Directed by up and coming filmmaker Cory Lutz, To Whom Much is Given takes the road of turning this feature in to an outlet for the kids being showcased such as former gang member Roderick. The decision to go this route doesn’t hurt the enjoyment of the film, but at times does tend to leave you with questions on other interesting subject matter in the film. New West Academy’s founder Dr. Andrew Manley is seen throughout the documentary but the audience is only given bits and pieces of his story. Watching Dr. Manley on screen drew comparisons to Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me, in his no nonsense attitude on dealing with kid’s behavioral problems. Of course I’d want to know more about a guy like that, how could the audience not? At the end we see the kids graduate but we aren’t informed of their post academy fate, only of one of the kids in the actual film. (note during the Q&A with director and founder we did learn a few of them and it was tragic)
The work done on this film by the Manley Productions crew is strong first outing for a rag tag bunch of fresh USC graduates. Most films like these have a skeleton budget, which sadly can often times reflect that fact. With the exception of a couple of built in text titles, this film doesn’t feel amateur or dialed in.
Ultimately To Whom Much is Given doesn’t take the most dangerous path, but it doesn’t take the safest path either. The film itself doesn’t take a side, it only tells an unbiased story through the eyes of a few kids society gave up on. Giving these kids an outlet succeeded to laying in an anti gang undertone to the film, but ultimately we aren’t left with post filming information. I enjoyed watching this film and was left with a lot of questions after it was over, but maybe that is what a good documentary should do, inform you just enough to where you want to know more.
3 out of 5
Personal note, hadn't been back to USC since my time there, still the same campus is like a stripper, pretty on the outside confusing on the inside.
- David N.