The Revolutionary Optimists

Obviously idealism drives The Revolutionary Optimists, a warmly observational documentary by the Bay Area-based team of Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen, but that’s not to say it lacks pragmatism. “If you want to start any kind of change, start it with the children,” says Alman Ganguly, a former lawyer, community leader, and life-altering mentor to many of the children of India’s slums. These are kids who lack access to clean drinking water, or work grueling days in brickfields, or marry young just to escape abusive families, or just hope for some gender equality on the soccer field. Ganguly gives them tools for success, including hope. The filmmakers follow supportively along, weaving multiple narrative threads and sometimes losing focus. We do get the important point that the title of their project is not a stretch. For instance, on behalf of his debilitated neighborhood, one enterprising 11-year-old makes his case for clean water directly to Parliament, where a UNICEF representative finds the boy impressive enough to joke about whether it’d be a child-labor violation to hire him. (Um, har har?) Other outcomes are less encouraging, and Ganguly’s impact seems small when bracketed by grim slum-life statistics, but the film ends in earned triumph, with a soccer tournament aptly named the “Community Coming Together Cup.”