Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘School Life’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2017, Movies by - April 26, 2017
Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘School Life’

For close to 50 years John and Amanda Leyden have been educating young minds at Headfort, the only Irish boarding school for children aged 7 to 12. Filled with a passion for teaching, and unable to think of anything they would do if they retired, the Leydens have become as crucial to the foundation of Headfort as the bricks that built the old manor the school resides in. In their fly on the wall style documentary School Life, directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane offer a look at a year in the life of Headfort andthe Leydens’ impact on the school’s students and staff.

School Life avoids passing judgment on the state of modern education around the globe, instead if offers an intimate celebration of teachers who truly make a difference. While the fact that the film never focuses on one particular student leaves plenty of questions in the viewers’ mind, including how the dynamic between certain groups of students worked, it is clear that the students as a whole treasure the legendary teaching couple.

The love is clearly mutual as the Leydens go above and beyond to ensure that each student, no matter their differences, feels at home at Headfort. Whether one is observing Amanda helming the stage adaptation of Hamlet, or watching John trying to inspire an inexperienced school band through rock n’ roll and modern pop music, School Life’s inspiring charm is infectious. By time the students come out of their respective shells, and are getting ready to move onto the next stage of their education, the audience feels as if they have grown under the watchful eyes of the Leydens as well.

School Life plays Hot Docs on:
Monday, May 1, 6:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 3, 12:15 PM, Scotiabank
Sunday, May 7, 3:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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Courtney has been sharing his thoughts on film online since 2006. The founder of Cinema Axis, he frequently celebrates diversity in cinema as one of the co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast on Modern Superior. A regular on the Regent Radio program Frameline, Courtney has contributed to several publications including Black Girl Nerds, Comix Asylum Magazine and The Grid Does TIFF. He is also a member of both the Canadian Association of Online Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society.