Give a Damn Again (1995): Adam Isidore’s Chronicle of Black Kids

Modeled after, though not as sharp, insightful or entertaining as, Michael Apted’s landmark documentaries, 28 Up or 35 Up, director Adam Isidore’s Give a Damn Again is an engaging follow-up of a group of black kids, first interviewed in 1968.
As a current report of where they are now–and what has happened to their childhood dreams-docu is more interesting sociologically than cinematically, but subject matter alone warrants airings on PBS or cable.
In response to the growing urban unrest in the late l960s, New York mayor John Lindsay initiated the “Give a Damn” campaign to raise funds–and awareness–of the inner city’s plight. One memorable TV spot featured kids from Harlem’s P.S. 197, which asked them one basic question: “What would like to be when you grow up?”
Twenty five years later, director Adam Isidore conducted a follow up while relocating the very same kids. His goal was to find out the effects of the intervening decades on their childhood aspirations. As might be expected, most of the kids went in different directions than those professed earlier in their lives. One boy, who wanted to be president, became a successful puppeteer; another, who declared he wanted to help people, still hopes that his interview, recorded in jail, where he serves time, will be useful for others. But there’s also a girl who wanted to be a teacher and is now a social activist, working as a nurse at Beth Israel hospital.
Some useful perspectives on family structure, educational and career opportunities in American society from Harvard professor Cornell West, former mayor Lindsay, and writer bell hooks. Tony Isidore, who helped devise the original ad campaign and is director Adam’s father, lends the film a broader political context, highlighting its two-generational dimension and the notion of a son continuing the work begun by his father.
Relying on extended interviews, production values are simple and traditional; the work’s strength derives from its material rather than style. Give a Damn Again lacks the in-depth commentary, honed humor, and technical sheen that characterize Apted’s work. At the same time, because the American class system is not as rigid as its British counterpart, this docu is also more hopeful than Apted’s in showing some progress and upward mobility.
Credits
A Red Barn Films production. Produced by Adam Isidore, Sam Farrell, Beth Drenning. Directed and edited by Isidore. Screenplay, Adam Isidore, Chris Isidore, Drenning, Farrell.
Camera (color), Maryse Alberti, Sarah Cawley, Jean De Segonzac, David Goldsmith, Rob Levi, and others.
Reviewed in USA Film Festival, Dallas, April 29, 1995.
Running time: 90 min.