The entire experience of making FIRST POSTION was an exercise in kismet for first-time director Bess Kargman. From happening upon the competition that became the subject of her documentary, to how she crossed paths with one of the dancers she most wanted to follow in her film, there is the undeniable sense that this was somehow meant to be. When I spoke with Kargman by phone on May 9, 2012, I wanted to start with the image that opens the film, of Aran Bell, an eleven-year-old as he bounced on a pogo stick while also jumping rope. This is obviously no ordinary kid. None of them are. Ranging in ages from 10 to 17, they are fierce when it comes to their dedication to coming as close to ballet perfection as the human body allows. Kargman and I talked about that, as well as how she, as a former dancer, could not only relate to the young dancers, but also get them to open up verbally when they are accustomed to expressing themselves with movement.
Enlightening, surprising, and full of heart and humor, not to mention as effervescent as dancing itself, Kargman, also discusses how she convinced the Youth American Grand Prix to give her the extraordinary access she needed to cover the competition, how she convinced the dancers and their families to grant her the same access, and the myths she wanted to explode surrounding race, sexuality, and eating disorders that flourish about the ballet world.
The documentary follows several dancers of various ages though the high-pressure, fiercely competitive, Youth American Grand Prix. The stakes are high, both for their self-esteem, for scholarships to the best ballet schools, and, for the older participants, contracts with established companies. It won the Staff Prize at San Francisco’s DocFest as well as a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is her debut film. Her previous experience includes working as a print and internet journalist as well as a stint as an intern at NPR.