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press reaction

Boston Globe Sam Allis

"… At its best, 'Country Boys' is compelling human drama, moving and unredeemingly sad. It provides the kind of rich, nuanced grasp of its characters more common to literature than television.

"It must be said that it also can be tedious. If the program is very good at six hours, it would have been superb at five. The story line of one youth is manifestly more gripping than that of the other, and some of the ancillary figures are tiresome. Still, 'Country Boys' can hook you and haunt you with its unfiltered eye. …"

 

Kansas City Star Aaron Barhart

"… Why spend six precious hours immersing yourself in the lives of two young Appalachian teenagers as they go through the often mundane motions of turning from boys into men?

"Because it is a privilege to do so. Or rather, filmmaker David Sutherland makes it a privilege…

"As a storyteller, Sutherland uses our time well. …"

 

Chicago Tribune David Kronke

"… It's heartbreaking stuff, but Sutherland doesn't have a maudlin bone in his body as he depicts all this with a matter-of-fact naturalism that leaves one marveling at how candidly he seemed to be able to capture myriad troubled lives. …"

 

Contra Costa Times Chuck Barney

"… Sutherland is an ambitious storyteller with a sharp eye for nuance and a deft feel for piercing emotional honesty. As such, he never allows you to stand outside the story at a safe distance. He pushes you in close and makes sure it hits you square in the heart. …"

 

Associated Press Frazier Moore

"… TV doesn't have much time for members of the struggling underclass, unless it's to mock them or wallow in their miseries. 'Country Boys' most assuredly does neither. …"

 

Seattle Post Intelligencer Melanie McFarland

"…American audiences prefer their teenagers to be rich, spoiled, beautiful and unreal.

"One night of David Sutherland's six-hour film 'Country Boys' …provides a fantastic antidote to all that, and cuts a lot closer to the typical teenager's truth. Not to mention that Cody Perkins and Chris Johnson's personalities are vastly more compelling than those of their cable television counterparts. …"

 

Boston Herald Tenley Woodman

"… Despite the depressed, hillbilly stereotypes of Appalachia from the 1960s that still haunt the hollows, Sutherland finds the commonality between these isolated communities and mainstream America. …"

 

The New York Times Virginia Heffernan

"A sweet and doleful study in self-sabotage…

"Some of the most surprising moments in the documentary show elegant anticlimaxes, missed epiphanies and turning points that don't happen. …"

 

Daily Variety Brian Lowry

"… Sutherland is adept at providing texture to a section of the U.S. seldom seen on TV … Even so, the project moves along so leisurely that it's difficult to stay focused. … Not surprisingly, there are some wonderful nuggets within 'Country Boys' … [but] there's too much sludge to slog through to reach them. And while we get to see these kids grow and mature, their experience falls short of attaining Sutherland's lofty description in the press notes of a 'universal story about the awkward yet essential journey through adolescence we all must take.'…"

 

Los Angeles Times Robert Lloyd

"… It's a long and at times slow film that some viewers will undoubtedly find tedious and frustrating, though I would count its length and pace among its virtues. … [B]y taking its time, it sensitizes you to nuance, until the smallest most awkward stabs at connection or expression become terribly moving. …

"If there is a message to extract, it might be that every kid needs a sympathetic adult in his life, but I think that's almost an incidental point. I'm not sure Sutherland has a point, beyond awakening a feeling of common humanity in his viewers, and I can't image a better one. Insofar as any edited work can be executed nonjudgmentally, this comes close to that ideal. It's a rare thing on television, such passionate dispassion -- but then, it's a rare thing anywhere."

 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Rob Owen

"… A self-described portraitist, Sutherland aims his camera at subjects and doesn't flinch at what he sees. He captures them at their best and worst and in so doing, reveals their humanity. …

"'Country Boys' is touching, frustrating (when you see the boys headed down the wrong path) and evocative of a part of the country that rarely gets the media spotlight. …"

 

San Francisco Chronicle Tim Goodman

"…[I]n 'Country Boys,' …there is hope in the hopelessness, unabashed nakedness in the fly-on-the-wall documentary style and, finally, confirmation that we may all have a hand in our own fate. …

"[T]here are also serious problems with 'Country Boys,' …[b]ut these shortcomings do not detract from the overall impact. You may not know exactly what moment you're in … but you can always be thankful that it's not your life."

 

San Jose Mercury News Charlie McCollum

"… While poverty and life in the 'hollers' of Appalachia remain a subtext in the piece, the struggles and triumphs of Cody Perkins and Chris Johnson -- and the complexity of their lives -- are what provide the drama and emotional impact of the six-hour, three-night 'Country Boys.'…"

 

Minneapolis Star Tribune Neal Justin

"… [W]hat's most impressive is that, without narration or an interviewer, he gets these two to open up without any sense of pretense of theatrics, unlike the stylized behavior of every kid who enters 'The Real World.'

"We don't know how well these two students make out, and after spending six hours with them, you may walk away frustrated you didn't learn more about them, not to mention more about Appalachia.

"What you will leave with, however, are better spirits the next time you face a challenge…"

 

The Sacramento Bee Rick Kushman

"… As with 'The Farmer's Wife,' this film has layers, and brains and a huge heart. Never mind the clichés about teens or living in the Kentucky mountains, this is a stunningly affecting story simply about two boys becoming men. …

"'Country Boys' is enlightening, tender and riveting. …"

 

Newark Star Ledger Alan Sepinwall

"… For the first time in a long time, unscripted television has introduced us to two kids who don't want to use the spotlight to start their own clothing line, don't base their personalities on some moron they saw on an MTV show two seasons ago, don't make you feel apologetic for spending time with them. …"

 

St. Petersburg Times Chase Squires

"… Going beyond voyeurism, Country Boys is more like a family album -- an honest family album that shares happy and sad times, dreams realized and neglected. …"

 

The Seattle Times Kay McFadden

"… Intimate and at times unbearably detailed, [Country Boys] distills the trappings of poverty and isolation into a classic coming-of-age saga. And it never condescends. …"

"… [Sutherland's] infinite care has resulted in rare access to the hearts and minds of that most elusive creature, the adolescent male. At the same time, the film makes exhaustive demands on the viewer that suggest four hours might have been better than six. …"

 

The Village Voice Joy Press

"… Sutherland's got his eye on familiar dramatic narratives, the stuff that feels piercing and recognizable, like rejection and awkwardness and breaking free of one's family. …"

"… [T]he camera sneaks inside its subjects' lives with startling fluidity, capturing mundane high school moments and intensifying even the most mumbled everyday conversation, as if we'd traveled one step beyond the voyeuristic looking glass. …"

 

The Sun David Zurawik

"No one makes documentaries that way David Sutherland does. And perhaps no one ever will; the toll is too great. … The documentarian's methods more closely resemble and ethnographer's than a television director's; he steeps himself in the minute details, emotions and struggles of their lives, trying to see the world through their eyes. …"

"… Never mind closing the distance between viewer and object viewed, this filmmaker all but obliterates that distinction through his own intense identification and empathy with the people he films. …"

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posted jan. 11, 2006

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