Sundance 2021 Review: AT THE READY

Maisie Crow’s At The Ready is the type of film that sits with you long after its final credits roll. In it, we are introduced to the Criminal Justice Club at Horizon High in El Paso, Texas. The film follows three students as they train for a huge competition between other clubs in their district, all while negotiating their individual identities with the current political climate around law enforcement. 

A still from At the Ready by Maisie Crow, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

There is something unsettling about watching children parade around in police gear. Watching this was an experience that made my blood spark and my heart ache for these children. There is an innocent earnestness in their stories and in watching them dream of finding ways to help their communities and families. Real-life is unfortunately never what we think it will be as kids, and this harsh reality is apparent throughout the film as we see these students confront the actions of the Trump administration as people of color. The crackdown on immigration and the disastrous mistreatment and separation of children from their parents strike even harsher in El Paso and serve to create tensions throughout the film between the main three students and their relationships to the club. 

Being only a stone’s throw away from the border, it is fascinating to see race politics play out in the classroom as we see Blue Lives Matter flags plastered along the walls, as patches on fake kevlar uniforms, and interwoven into the lessons and debates facilitated by their teachers. This is a clear and unique demonstration of the pipeline that exists to pump out high schoolers into the military and the police, with many of the students in this club stating their desire to work for Border Patrol. This documentary doesn’t outright condemn these professions but frames these jobs and the teachers in a way that shows their complexities and flaws. Someone can believe they are right and believe they have the best of intentions, and still, be wrong. 

Overall, this documentary gets a 4 out of 5 stars. The cleverness of framing these larger social issues through the lives of high schoolers is so poignant and moving. It captures the uncertainty that plagues our teen years and the complexity of living as a Latinx person, especially in these politically charged times. 


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