Purple Dreams follows the students of Northwest School of the Arts (NSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina. NSA is a magnet school designed to pool talented kids together and provide them with an environment that encourages their artistic talents. This documentary is about the first high-school production of the musical version of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

“This is what Glee looks like in real life,” says Corey Mitchell, the director of the show who went on to win a Tony Award for his Excellence in Theatre Education.

And so it is. With a twist.

Unlike Glee, which is ostensibly about Carmel, Indiana, Purple Dreams follows the paths of a predominantly black cast whose upbringings are nowhere near so privileged.  Through their eyes the documentary explores the power and inaccessibility of art programs for young adults at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.  It challenges misconceptions about young blacks. And it drives home the importance of funding programs that give an artistic outlet in communities that lack the means.

The students work tirelessly to qualify for the play and put on the show. Documentarian Joanne Hock never loses track of their personal lives, interweaving the story of their play and their lives outside of it. . One student is homeless; another’s brother is killed in a shooting. Many of them come from communities where high-school graduation numbers are abysmal and expectations for post-school life even less optimistic. Their educations and experiences at NSA provide them something they would not otherwise have.

At 77 minutes , Purple Dreams does feel a bit short. It sets out to flip stereotypes and show the power of the arts and succeeds but nonetheless never goes deep. It’s a thesis with all the basic bullet points but never feels fully fleshed out. Maybe there could have been more background on the issues that have led to such broad imbalances in public education that make schools like NSA so special, or maybe more into the personal lives of the students (although the difficulty of that seems pretty clear).

Purple Dreams is a Documentary Feature Finalist at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival and will be presented at:

5:30pm Wed, Oct 18, at Indianapolis Museum of Art

5:45pm Thu, Oct 19 at AMC Castleon Square 14

12:30pm Sat, Oct 21 at AMC Traders Point Theater 12

4:00pm Sun, Oct 22 at AMC Castleon Square 14

Tickets are available at http://heartlandfilm.org/festival/tickets/, by calling 1-866-HFF-1010 or at the box office at the time of the screening. 

Director Joanne Hock and producer Robin Grey are scheduled to be in attendance at each screening.