MFF review: ‘Ceremony for This Time’ makes case that arts education matters

A student sings in "Ceremony for This Time."

A student sings in “Ceremony for This Time.”

Most sequels, let’s face it, don’t have a strong reason for being. A film does well, some producers think more money can be made, and they cobble something together.

But “Ceremony for This Time,” which was shown at the Montclair Film Festival on Saturday, answers an important question left over from its predecessor, 1995’s “Ceremony for Our Time.”

That short ’95 film, which was directed by Cara DeVito and shown on PBS, looked at the performing arts program at Montclair’s Glenfield Middle School and argued that arts education benefits students in many ways, including helping them to get in touch with their emotions and read the emotions of others. Students and teachers talked about what they doing, and DeVito showed students rehearsing and performing.

But did it really benefit the students in the long run? The film can’t answer that question, because it ends in 1995.

But the new 58-minute “Ceremony for This Time,” directed by Daryl Ferrara, can, as it shows those former students, now adults, returning to the school to talk to students about their current lives. (The films were shown back to back at the Wellmont Theater on Saturday, after which Ferrara and others involved in the making of the new film talked about it).

“What does an arts education actually give you?” a voice-over asks at the start of “Ceremony for This Time.” And, according to all those interviewed — even those who wound up not working in the arts or an arts-related field — quite a lot, in the areas of confidence building, creative thinking, collaborating with others and so on. Interviews with current Glenfield students, who are all enthusiastic about their curriculum (and quite articulate in explaining its importance to them), reinforce the notion.

Now, this is obviously not a scientific study. There may be students, current or former, who have less rosy things to say, but wouldn’t cooperate, or were edited out, or whatever. The film is upfront about its “commitment to advocacy” for arts in the schools, so we shouldn’t be surprised that its view is overwhelmingly positive.

Yet, though not necessarily balanced, this film is quiet powerful, as over and over again, current students talk about being transformed in a positive way and, more importantly, former students confirm that, yes, they were transformed, and, yes, they are still reaping the benefits.

This was one of the first films shown at the festival, and — since it addressed such a vital question for the entire arts world — a good way to start. The fest continues through May 10. For more information, visit montclairfilmfest.org.

MORE FESTIVAL COVERAGE:
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MFF conversation series something to talk about

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MFF announces films plus awards to honor David Carr and Bruce Sinofsky

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