Overview: At the Welsh “adventure playground” The Land, children are allowed to learn from experience and test the boundaries of play and risk. 2014; Not Rated; 25 minutes.
“Better a Broken Bone than a Broken Spirit”: Those words, spoken decades ago by children’s advocate Lady Allen of Hurtwood, form the crux of Erin Davis’ documentary short. The film opens with the idea that most children’s playgrounds, constructed of neatly organized equipment that encourage repetitive motions in order to ensure safe play, are limiting to a child’s progress and understanding of their own limits. So what’s the solution? Enter The Land, an adventure playground in North Wales that looks more like a dump than a playground you’d see in a neighborhood park. Littered with giant rubber tires, concrete tubes, wooden crates and pallets, and lots of mud, all surrounded by a graffitied fence, The Land doesn’t look like any place you’d send a kid. But that’s the beauty of it. As the film shows, the kids love it because it’s their own—a place they can build and tear down as they please. Observed by adult team members who cautiously watch, but don’t interfere without due cause, the kids of The Land play with tools, construct their own forts, build fires, climb ropes and trees, and paint. Where so often kids are forcibly made to interact with each other and use caution at all times, The Land encourages children to form their own relationships and take chances. They may come away dirty, scratched, bruised, or singed, but such is life, and with the right mindset such annoyances can be looked at as part of the fun of existence. To take a note from one of The Land’s team members, play shouldn’t be about the comfort of adults, but instilling children with confidence and fearlessness that can lead them in their adolescent and adult lives.
Getting on Their Level: Davis captures the sense of adventure and excitement of the children at play by getting the camera right down at their level and making the viewer a part of their experience. There’s an energy and inescapable beauty to the film, partly because of the subject and partly because of some wonderfully composed shots and cinematography. At 25 minutes, The Land is bursting with life and humor while remaining informative about the nature of play without ever relying on the crutch of talking heads. The Land takes a clear stance on the importance of risks while at play, and for a little while at least, it’ll make you wish you were a kid again.
This film and countless others will be screening at the 18th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham, North Carolina from April 9-12. Tickets are available online.