2008 Documentary Films Series




Through the stories of two debate teams, the fascinating intricacies of high school debate give way to a portrait of the equally complex racial and class divide in American education in Resolved. As Matt and Sam, gifted debaters from an affluent Texas suburb, rise to the semifinals in their bid to win the national Tournament of Champions, Richard and Louis, talented inner-city debaters from Long Beach, CA, mount a successful challenge to modern debate by refocusing on personal experience and dialogue in their own quest for the championship. This 90-minute film offers a verité, behind-the-scenes look at the stresses and pressures of this highly competitive pursuit, while serving as a primer on the idiosyncratic techniques that have evolved over the years in high-school policy debate. Inspiring and enlightening, Resolved reveals a constantly shifting sport that is as much philosophy as it is a competition.

The primary players in the film are four debaters who are equally talented, yet from very different backgrounds. From well-to-do Highland Park, Texas we meet Matt, who rises to the top of the team despite his sophomore status, and Sam, who is one of the best high-school debaters in the country, but otherwise shirks his academic responsibilities. From the racially diverse Long Beach High School, we meet Richard, who decided to take up debate to stay out of trouble and "keep his head straight," and Louis, who one of his coaches says is the smartest high school kid he's ever met. We are also introduced to coaches, judges, and debaters on other teams who populate the high-school debate circuit.

In addition, Resolved features appearances by several well-known former debaters including: broadcaster Jane Pauley, actor Josh Lucas, former White House aid Karl Rove, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and journalist Juan Williams, who each offer their insights on how their participation in debate has shaped their lives, and how debate has proved to be an invaluable foundation in their careers.

Resolved utilizes clever animated segments to illustrate the mechanics of debate. Before "the spread," or speed speaking, was introduced in the 1960s, debate was primarily characterized by eloquence and persuasion. Since, debate has emphasized information and academic research, with persuasiveness taking a back seat. Debaters began using a densely-worded jargon that few people could understand, and crowds dwindled. Where once high school debates filled auditoriums, they now take place in small rooms, sparsely populated by the few people who can understand what is being said and the even fewer people who have the ability to participate.

Credits: Produced and Directed by Greg Whiteley; Executive Produced by Lisa Vick Kraus, Peter Kraus, Mark Clark, Sarah J. Clark, Mark and Wendy Stanley, Andy and Liz Waters; Edited by Greg Whiteley, Tom Runquist and Brad Barber; Director of Photography: Tristan Whitman and Liam Dalzell. For HBO: Senior Producer: Nancy Abraham; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.

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