From the first shot of a little red truck motoring down a hot, dusty road to the last images of toothy kid grins, "The Little Red Truck" is a masterful, emotional tour de force.
This story of the Missoula Children's Theatre, told in less than 100 minutes, will be the most talked-about film at this weekend's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Certainly among Missoulians, anyway.
And for good reason. Rob Whitehair and Pam Voth's documentary sketches a picture of MCT's national tours that no Missoulian has ever seen - and it's a picture that will have you knee-deep in the magic and the mayhem of the tours, leaving you shaking your head in disbelief about the million miracles that happen around the world every year.
Whitehair and Voth take you into five North American towns over the period of a year, following the MCT's trademark red trucks and the tour actor/directors (TADs) who set up shop, audition a cast of 60 kids and pull off a full musical production in six days.
"Six days!" screams one TAD as she stares into the camera.
That much we knew about MCT. But now, thanks to this film, we have a full appreciation of the work these miracle workers perform.
Whitehair and Voth manage, somehow, to get into these kids' lives as if a fly on the wall, letting boys be boys and girls be girls, and little egos be little egos.
As the man said, kids say the darndest things. They also do the damnedest things, guided by these very - very, very, very - patient TADs, who, we learn, are also so very, very, very human.
They cry, scream, laugh, encourage, yell their way through each stop, doing "The Little Mermaid" in Hollywood, "The Frog Prince" in Americus, Ga., and three other productions in three other towns, including an Inuit village.
The film is ultimately about kids, but the snapshots of these TADs provide powerfully emotional portraits of their work and lives.
"I've had kids in casts who are crying after the show because neither mom nor dad showed up to watch the show," says Kepler Correia. "The redemptive part of that is we get to make a difference, and we get to give these kids a chance, and … "
He stops, tears welling up in his eyes.
"… and if for one moment, that child feels that somebody believes in them, and somebody cares about them, then yeah, maybe they're worth something, and they can accomplish something. That's what it's all about."
The film contains interviews with actor J.K. Simmons ("Juno," the "Spider-Man" movies), MCT executive director Michael McGill, and the man who started this whole impossible project 38 years ago - MCT founder Jim Caron.
Caron talks about what the kids learn in those six short days.
"I have to have heart with whatever I do, and I have to do whatever I do with my whole heart."
That is a lesson, by the way, that Rob Whitehair and Pam Voth have obviously learned themselves.
A beautiful movie, timeless, one that will end up on top of your DVD collection.
Reach Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.