Hot Docs 2011: Hollywood Complex

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Hollywood Complex

Directed by Dan Sturman and Dylan Nelson

2011, USA, 85 mins.

For every face we see in a film, TV show, or commercial, there are thousands of others who auditioned. Thousands. They say that Hollywood is the only place where you can be encouraged to death – actors take professional pictures, hire agents, and enrol in acting classes, all with the hope that they’re one big break away from fame and fortune. Thousands of these actors are children, and frequently they stay with their families at the Oakwood Apartments

Professional at Five Years Old

Hollywood Complex might be one of the truest accounts of child actors ever made. Forgoing the cheap controversy of E!, this film takes a more honest look at the children and their families. The film uses the Oakwood Apartments as an anchor. Families from all over the US stay there for months – and sometimes even years – while trying to break their children into show business. The facility caters to these families by sponsoring free workshops with industry professionals, such as acting coaches and agents. We follow several Oakwood families as they audition their kids, try and get representation, avoid scams, and hunt down their big break. Their daily lives – how their kids attend school, how the families pay for all this, why families are willing to take such a risk – are explored in commendable detail. The film also provides some context by also interviewing industry professionals who deal with kids and showing a casting process.

No Business like Parenting

This is a film that takes both the glamorous fantasy and the sordid nonsense out of Hollywood. It avoids making fame look easy, and it also forgoes the clumsy tabloid stories about dugs and sex – thankfully, Lindsey Lohan’s name does not appear. As a result, we constantly see unreasonable amounts of optimism go head-to-head with cold, hard reality – some families spend over a hundred thousand dollars, maintain a household at the Oakwood and their hometown, and are pushed to the breaking point, all for a few call-back auditions at that go nowhere.

And yet, though the filmmakers are honest about the likelihood of their subject’s dreams, they are also sympathetic in their portrayal. There are lots of comic moments based on Hollywood delusions – like self-described ‘movie star’ no one’s ever heard of brag about her film that isn’t even listed on imdb.com – but there are more comic moments based on the honesty and hopefulness of parenting and the incongruity of the children themselves. At times, what’s happening on screen looks like a corporate teambuilding exercise, but the presence of kids deflates all that nonsense. In that respect, it is reminiscent of Nursery University – there is a very serious business built around children, but the children themselves make the whole thing seem silly.

This isn’t a film about child actors so much as it is a film about parenting. In this film, the things that parents do for the sake of their children are astounding. It is also a disarmingly funny film. The kids bring a sincere quality of humour to Hollywood Complex that make it a delightful documentary.

–       Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs from April 28th through May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.

1 Comment
  1. Elka says

    Dave wrote…
    “There are lots of comic moments based on Hollywood delusions – like self-described ‘movie star’ no one’s ever heard of brag about her film that isn’t even listed on imdb.com”. Your research on this piece is found lacking. Clearly this ‘once upon a time movie star’ is hanging on to tinseltown by a thread if she’s manning her own talent booth and desperately grasping at name dropping while her eyes flutter in disbelief. But ‘The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking’ is on Imdb and Tami Erin is credited in the title role. This film has a huge cult following, despite the fact that it grossed only 70% of it’s estimated $5M budget. I found this documentary to be poignant. The wannabe kids were the ‘before’ pic, and Ms Erin, the ‘after’ shot. Even if the Oakwood Wannabes and their enormously sacrificing families beat the formidable odds of being cast in anything, a whole new set of odds surface. How often do we read about celebrity ‘adults’ falling into pits of despair when the world stops caring? That is a lot of risk to be taking, at any age.

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