Jamie Jay Johnson | 2008 | 100 mins | USA
I have to admit that, being an expat-European and not too plugged into their TV offerings these days, I’d never heard of the “Junior Eurovision” contest until I stumbled upon this charming doc. The kid contestants are all between the ages of 10 and 15, and all have to write their own songs. National finalists are sent to a Europe-wide contest which is televised and very widely watched. These tiny hopefuls are no less weird than their adult Eurovision counterparts, but they’re a less polished, less privileged lot than the North American kids you might see in a doc about child beauty pagents or overly ambitious stage moms.
Belgian band Trust is made up of four grownup looking 15 year olds – they have the best song but probably won’t win because they’re not cute or little enough. An eleven year old Ukraininan girl’s “sexy librarian” routine is modified by judges because her dress is too revealing. An adorable boy from Cyprus who gets made fun of for “being gay” back home is poised to sing a power ballad that’s nowhere near as charming or charismatic as the boy himself. A hopeful girl from poverty-stricken Georgia feels the pressure of representing her nation, and a beautiful would-be photographer from Bulgaria hopes her estranged father is watching on TV because if he’s proud of her, he may come back home.
The music is so-so, but the stories are so heartbreakingly adorable that it’s hard not to be riveted. Sure, there can only be one winner, and hundreds of cute kids will go home disappointed, but that doesn’t really change the fact that this is one of the festival’s ultimate feel-good docs. Think Spellbound but with extroverted performers instead of weird nerds.