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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey</em>

Someday, after we’re all gone, once all of our records have been wiped and the archaeologists of some future beings are reconstructing early-21st-century human civilization from the fragments and litter that remains, some astute scholar will need to confront the concept of cuteness. We can only hope Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey will be there to guide him.

The skyrocketing success story of the enviably named Kevin Clash, the voice and visionary behind one of the most ubiquitous pop-culture characters of the past decade and more, Constance Marks’s film is almost obscenely cute. How could it not be, what with its ready cast of Muppets and their puppeteers, a particularly effusive class of artist if this film is anything to go by.

Marks tracks Clash from his first, prodigious experimentations in Hensonry as a young boy in Baltimore through all of his career maneuverings. His success, achieved with unrestrained dedication though no small amount of good fortune, launched him straight into his dream role as a creative force on Sesame Street. Clash is so bright, genuine, and selfless on screen that you can’t help but applaud his triumphs. His desire to share his craft and characters with all interested comers—from budding puppeteers to sick children and their parents—is wonderful to see. These scenes coalesce between Marks’s clever still-image transitions into a film easily described by cartoonish adjectives: bubbling, bright, colorful, skippy-doo. It’s the absolute epitome of unchallenging, which may be why it’s the first film I’ve attended at this year’s Full Frame to receive standing ovations from certain enthusiastic members of the audience. (Then again, who’s going to give a standing ovation to a war documentary or socio-political potboiler?)

Doubtless, Clash’s career trajectory is inspiring, and audiences will always be encouraged when the shy and weird-hobbied child finds his dream with such surprise at his own luck. Moreover, a story about Elmo was never likely to penetrate deeply into the darker corners of human nature. So let’s take it for what it’s worth: a delightful, feel-good movie by any measure. See it in a room full of kids and you’ll be smiling for days.

This year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs from April 14 - 17.