No documentary film is purely objective. Sure, some will trick you into thinking they're approaching their subject from an unbiased outsider's perspective. Not just in regards to the footage itself; even the way the footage has been composed, assembled and edited can give any documentary a subtle slant in either direction. Scott Thurman's The Revisionaries (2012) attempts to hide any preconceived notions under a varnish of fair, balanced coverage for a very tangible issue: the presence of fundamental Christian beliefs within the public school system. It asks the viewer one question: do Bible stories belong in textbooks?
A major part of this ongoing debate is being fought within the Texas Board of Education. The state is one of our nation's largest purchasers of textbooks, so it's no surprise that textbook companies cater to their biggest customers. The Revisionaries shows us the battle as it rapidly unfolds, allowing members of each side to speak for themselves. Through heated debates, word-wrangling, curious amendments, public rallies and news clips, the nuts and bolts of each side are presented in painstaking, horrific detail.
The Revisionaries doesn't resort to cartoonish insults and easy jabs, though several of its participants aren't above a little mudslinging. Even its official website resists dividing the players into obvious, color-coordinated groups; like the film, it attempts to present both sides without passing narrative judgment. Certain participants come off as more buffoonish than others, but only due to the words they've chosen. There don't seem to be any editing tricks that present damning statements out of context, nor does either side get the lion's share of time in the spotlight. These elements don't mean that The Revisionaries is a purely objective documentary, but it's about as fair and balanced as most news networks aren't. Viewers are left to answer the question themselves and voice their informed opinions accordingly.
Partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, The Revisionaries premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival (attended by DVD Talk's own Jason Bailey, who also wrote a theatrical review), but this new DVD release will undoubtedly spread the word exponentially. Though the solid A/V presentation is overshadowed by a lack of extras, the main feature is strong enough to make The Revisionaries worth fighting for.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not bad, at least within the boundaries of a lower-budget documentary. The Revisionaries is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and features a mix of recent interviews, on-location footage and current or vintage TV clips...and for the most part, there isn't much to complain about. Non-widescreen footage is used on occasion, and it's always annoying to see it cropped or stretched to fill the screen; this appears to be a decision by the filmmaker and not a fault of the DVD itself. The film's natural color palette looks good, but let's not kid ourselves: the majority of this footage isn't meant to be visually stunning, as most of it's just indoor footage of office meetings, committee hearings and the like. Even so, there aren't any glaring digital problems or segments of unwatchable footage, so fans should be pleased.
The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, is relatively clean and crisp overall; like the video, it's entirely dependent on the source material quality. Dialogue and music cues don't fight for attention. Unfortunately, Kino Lorber's DVD does not include optional subtitles or Closed Captioning support.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the menu interface is attractive and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is packaged in an Eco-Lite keepcase and includes no slipcover or inserts. The disc is locked for Region 1 players only.
Nothing but a Theatrical Trailer
for The Revisionaries
and two other Kino Lorber titles. The documentary stands fairly well on its own, but an interview or commentary with the director would've been welcome.
At first glance, Scott Thurman's The Revisionaries appeared to be the kind of documentary I'm typically against: a broad, one-sided attack on an easy target. Instead, it's a balanced examination of a cultural crossroads, albeit one that lets some of the more cartoonish participants fall victim to their own words. Through a wealth of personal interviews, public committee meetings and TV footage, The Revisionaries encourages careful consideration, post-viewing discussion and, most importantly, a call to action. Kino Lorber's DVD package offers little support beyond a passable A/V presentation, but I'd imagine that most viewers will simply be delighted to have this crowd-backed production on DVD. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.