By Joshua Davis
June 15, 2008
The scene is high school students looking unusually confident and serious. Young people any instructor would be happy to have in a classroom setting. Some jargon is used, but most viewers will see nothing out of the ordinary. Then the speeches begin, and all hell breaks lose. These kids are speaking at speeds so fast that very little is understood. If you were in the room with them, you would have little reason to stay longer than a few minutes. Something must be wrong. Are the judges going to leave the room in disgust? Certainly this can not be normal; did these kids take an overdose of an often prescribed drug to address ADD? Weird. Alien. Pointless. Why?
This is the opening of the movie Resolved. Up until this point it would seem obvious that debates should be easy to film. In national politics, they are often televised and have served as a way to document key parts of political history. But after jolting the viewer with the opening, the narrator explains that the highest level of high school policy debate started to take a turn in the 1960s to what is called “spread” (SPeed-READing). Spread involves speaking rapidly in order to get out as many arguments as possible. One debater started speaking faster and others just kept increasing their pace until nearly all debaters at the highest level were speaking at a rate of 300 to 400 words-per-minute. The speed at which the debaters speak does not make for comfortable observation. The film explains that since spread became the norm, only those who have participated in or coached debate can now effectively follow the debates.
Despite this potentially barrier, the filmmakers were still able to create a compelling film that is well balanced between explaining the competition that is debate and how the lives of the debaters affect their approach to the activity and its potentially exclusive nature. Read the rest of this entry »