David Cuevas takes a look at Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
The best shows on network television tend to be productions that aim to be something relevant and essential; a purposeful work of art with a clear set of intentions that are devoid of any resemblance of corporate exploitation. There’s also been a trend of documentaries that have followed the legacy of these various shows. What’s most interesting about this rising phenomena and subject matter is the amount of influence in which children’s programming has established within the entertainment sphere. From Being Elmo to Won’t You Be my Neighbour, these aforementioned docs have gripped the human soul and swayed nostalgia in introspective and insightful homage pieces that offer a glimpse behind the curtain of some of the most notable show-runners in television history. In Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street, Marilyn Agrelo directs an empathetic exercise in highlighting the essential highs and lows of the Sesame Street production team. If anything, Street Gang will certainly fulfil the needs of die-hard Henson fans and even provide a great dose of nostalgia for former Sesame Street viewers.
In just under two hours, Agrelo highlights the social-economic tribulations, publicity successes, and radical creative decision-making behind Sesame Street. From the inclusion and direct impact of televised education towards underfunded Racialized communities to the prolific nation-wide influence of the various muppet characters — Street Gang manages to compact decades worth of information and behind-the-scenes background material in an easily digestible format. There’s a rhythm and clever pace to each of the segments, where not a single piece of its grandiose puzzle feels out of place nor needless.
Although, the film’s weakest link is its lack of screen-time towards some of the show’s more notable production members. What made Being Elmo and Won’t You Be My Neighbour so emotionally gripping in the first place, is their individual focus on one specific show-runner. While Street Gang does find itself in some rather genuine emotional territory, the impact is unfortunately diminished due to the film’s broad approach. On a technical scale, there’s a clear amount of dedication and heart towards the assembly of Street Gang and Agrelo’s acquisition of archival B-Rolls. However, I found myself wanting a bit more depth from the film — where Argelo could have formed a singular profile about either one or a handful of the prolific puppeteers; or even the producers behind the beloved show.
Was Street Gang a missed opportunity? That’s debatable. Within its occasional lack of focus, there’s a clear amount of love, care, and beauty within each of the interview segments. For those willing to sit through a speed-run course on the history behind Sesame Street’s production lore, then Agrelo’s latest will at the very least offer a unique experience for those willing to listen and learn. Just like the show in which it directly covers, Street Gang is an entertaining and educational experience. The memory of Sesame Street will forever live in the minds of children and adults alike, as long as documentaries and other forms of modern media continue to consider the influence and historic relevance of contemporary art as a form of modern education.
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street premiered in Special Presentations & the Big Ideas presented by Scotia Wealth Management program as part of this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The film is now playing in Canadian cinemas and virtual platforms.