________________ CM . . . . Volume I Number VII . . . . July 28, 1995

Fat Chance

National Film Board, 1994.
72 minutes, $34.95.
Order number: 9194 042.
(Note: the NFB has a new educational pricing policy in effect; phone 1-800-267-7710 for details.)
Parental Guidance rating (suitable for children aged 13 and older).

Subject Headings:
Zakowich, Rick, 1949-
Overweight persons-Biography.
Weight loss.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by A. Edwardsson


"If I could meet God and say, `I'll give you three years of my life, just make me thin,' I'd do it... My life is on hold until I lose this weight."

In Winnipeg, four-hundred-pound Rick Zakowich is ready for a change. This documentary invites viewers along the the amusing, touching, and eye-opening ride.

Zakowich begins by seeking medical help, where he jokes with the the tecnicians through a series of embarassing tests. Then we flash back in time to his Ukrainian childhood in Winnipeg's North End, viewing photos of young Rick and hearing about the history of his family's weight. Poignant moments abound in the video: he tells how as a child he played the clown to try to make people laugh with rather than at him; and he talks about marrying young and how in trying to lose weight, he lost the marriage.

Six months into Rick's journey he has lost 30 pounds, but has become sceptical of the the doctors' "just do it" attitude. Rick realizes others are focussed only on how he looks, and not how he feels -- unhappy.

But viewers discover the internal Rick, Rick the person -- a sensitive guy who works and connects with troubled kids. There's a moving segment where he talks with a pre-teen named Eric. Eric is the son of separated parents who fears his absent dad will return to beat up his mother again. Rick records an empowering cassette tape for Eric; it has a heavy-metal beat and Eric's name is in the lyrics.

The film shifts to a wider focus as Rick "comes out" as a large person: he begins a support group for fat men and attends a conference for obese people. Each person has their own heart-wrenching story -- like the doctor who worries that his legs will give out and feels his life is a sham: "It's not living," he says. Although these people try to desensitize themselves to insults, they have been left with almost no feelings of self-worth.

Rick grows to become an activist in the cause of acceptance for large people: he appears on an open-line radio show; confronts the Winnipeg Sun about their coverage of an overweight golfer's victory. He helps design a pictograph (similar to symbols for the handicapped) to designate fat-friendly places that have all-size access chairs, washrooms, and so on.

By this point, Rick has fallen off his diet treadmill, but viewers can't help but cheer his growing self-worth. He and the other large people on screen wish others could see that worth too. This powerful, well-crafted documentary tries and succeeds to gain viewers' acceptance and compassion for large people.

The message, content, and pacing of the film make it best-suited for a senior high audience. But be prepared -- there are several artsy, nude photos of large women taken by a photographer who's trying to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This documentary will provoke lively discussion and debate and would certainly enhance a unit on prejudice.

Fat Chance is the winner of numerous awards, including a Genie nominee for Best Canadian Documentary, and a 1995 George Foster Peabody Award (New York) for Broadcast and Cable Excellence.

Highly Recommended.

A. Edwardsson is in charge of the Children's Department at a branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree and Child Care Worker III certification, and is a member of the Manitoba Branch of the Canadian Author's Association.

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

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364