Woods Hole Film Festival: “Circus Dreams”

July 28, 2011

Circus Smirkus, the only traveling youth circus in America, comes to Sandwich for its annual visit in August. Performances are at Heritage Museums & Gardens, with shows on Monday, August 1, at 7 PM and Tuesday and Wednesday, August 2 and 3, at 2 and 7 PM.

Those who love the circus and those who love a good film will want to see Signe Taylor’s documentary, “Circus Dreams” (2011, 82 minutes) at the Woods Hole Film Festival, on Sunday, July 31, at 7 PM at Redfield Auditorium on Water Street, serendipitously the day before the actual circus comes to town.

“Circus Dreams” is the engaging behind-the-scenes story of Circus Smirkus. We follow a group of young performers from their auditions to rehearsals to their performances in the ring. Because most of the footage was shot four years ago, we learn what happened after their Smirkus adventures, too, who went on to perform in professional circuses, and who moved on to follow other dreams.

The movie focuses on Joy and Maddy, two young women clowns (a rarity in the circus business, where most clowns are male), who are out to show that girls can be funny, too; Jacob, a lonely young man who finds friendship among his fellow performers; and Thula, a 12-year-old hula dancer from Hawaii, unable to attend the audition because of an arm injury, but who prevails because of her unique talent.

Competition is fierce, and rehearsals are demanding, as the teens learn a whole new set of skills. We see daring young aerialists and a pair of brothers determinedly practicing their diablo juggling, inventing new tricks and ways of working together. A clown routine, “which always worked before,” is not successful with the young women clowns, and the two girls rush to create a whole new routine, taking more advantage of their skills and interests, right before the opening performance.

We also learn about the history of the circus and the struggle to keep it above water financially.

Cinematography is excellent, wonderfully documenting the personal and on-stage drama, telling the intimate stories of the lives of the circus performers and the organizers who keep the show on the road. Children (and adults) of all ages will be intrigued and entertained, even, perhaps, inspired to run away and join the circus themselves.

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