________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Harvest Queens: A Rural Tale of True Beauty.

Julia Nunes (Writer & Director). Janis Hass (Shakalaka Productions Producer). Peter Starr (NFB Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
28 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 9105 181.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

**** /4

Beauty pageants and I are not particularly good friends, and so it was with some trepidation that I began to watch Harvest Queens, a film about the beauty pageant that is part of the New Liskeard, Ontario Harvest Festival. While no more a fan, I have a new respect for the courage that the girls in the film exhibit as they prepare for, what to them, is a very important event.

     Because I once taught in Haileybury, one town over from New Liskeard, I know the area well. However, this film does not belong to this particular area alone. This pageant is played out in many towns across the country. The girls know that this is not a ticket to super stardom, but they also know that they are offering themselves to the acceptance and/or rejection by their local community. One contestant has been in a number of other pageants; another likes to make people laugh; and another one simply wants to make it into the final eight. Each entrant is there for different reasons, and each takes the pageant very seriously.

     The film follows the contestants during the weeks leading up to the actual nights of judging. They work together as a group, and the expectation is that they will bond as a group, which they do. They are given lessons in dance, poise and self-confidence. They are encouraged to celebrate their minds and must prepare a variety of performance tasks. As we get to know the girls and their stories, the actual judging nights are quite intense. One wishes that they all could win. Some do fine; one sings a song no one can hear; another freezes and forgets the routine that she has been practicing. Those who do not win are gracious in their defeat and are proud that they took part at all.

     Harvest Queens is a subtly powerful film about pushing and celebrating oneself. The contestants are just regular people who are willing to put themselves into a position of intense pressure, relying on their own skills and abilities and offering them for others to assess. The girls' instructor, a pageant loser in her own day, states that simply trying makes winners of them all.

     Harvest Queens is a short film and could easily be used in a class with time for discussion after. It could be used to deal with body image and self-esteem as one contestant was born premature with no femur. Her mother was told to take her home from the hospital so she could die at home. She did not die and is quite proud of that fact. She admits early in the film that she does not fit the regular description of a pageant contestant, but I was pulling for her. Her story alone would be enough for a separate film. However, here, she is just one of the contestants. So maybe I do not like pageants any more, but come Fall Fair time, maybe I will wander over as they select this year's winner.

     The only complaint is the film comes with subtitles. I could not shut them off and found it distracting. Perhaps it was just me and the new DVD format, but, if that was intended, the subtitles served no real purpose.

Highly Recommended.

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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