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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Marilyn Agrelo - Director of 'Mad Hot Ballroom'

By: Imogen Baratta

It is no secret that the film-going public love a good documentary with films like Spellbound and Super Size Me achieving box office success and critical acclaim. The latest documentary to hit our screens is Mad Hot Ballroom, which follows three groups of New York City fifth-graders as they embark on compulsory ballroom dancing classes.

I spoke to the film's director, Marilyn Agrelo.

What attracted you to this idea?

Well, what really attracted me to it was - not only to see these kids dancing but the chance to contrast different groups doing the same thing because I felt like New York is such a diverse city … and it would be so great to see all these different points of view go through the same experience.

How did you work out which schools to choose for this film? What were you looking for?

The Brooklyn school was a very uncomplicated working class group of kids and they just seemed very simple and very nice, very sweet and very diverse. The kids in Tribeca - they come from pretty affluent families and have very educated parents and these kids I knew would be very verbal…. And then this group in Washington Heights - were all immigrants from Dominican Republic and their parents were immigrants and their command of the English language wasn’t so strong - they were challenged economically … but how great do they dance? And their teacher - their teacher was going to be a great character!

How did the kids feel about being filmed while they were dancing?

We had a tiny little video camera and we developed a very intimate relationship with them. To them, I never presented it like a movie, or that this was something that was going to theatres. I just presented it as a little project we were doing about their ballroom dance class.

What is it that you hope audiences get out of this film?

Basically, I think that we learn so much from these kids. They don’t see the racial differences in their classes. They just danced – black, white, Muslim, Chinese, whatever. I think, also, that people take away from this film the feeling that we were all kids at one time and this film reminds us of that age when we were just starting to think about the opposite sex… and have a boy put his arm around you - all those things..

How have the people of New York responded to this film?

My God, really, really well! I mean, it’s a New York story. People here can recognise the different neighbourhoods. I’m blown away by how well its been received. I can’t believe I’m talking to you and it’s opening in Australia!

What I really enjoyed about the film was that you didn’t focus on what the kids didn’t have but what they did have, their skills and their future…

I didn’t want it to be, “oh look at the poor kids”. I wanted it to show the hope there. Sure, these kids have harsh backgrounds but look at them, they’re beautiful, and they’re blooming.

What’s next for you?

I have been given lots of scripts for feature films and I’m not exactly sure which one of them I will go for next, but something very soon.