Recently it was my pleasure to see the documentary film RESOLVED at the L.A. Film Festival. RESOLVED is the latest film from Greg Whiteley, the director of NEW YORK DOLL, and it’s further proof that Whiteley deserves praise not only as a pioneering Mormon filmmaker, but as pioneering documentarian, period.

In the world of feature documentaries the greatness of the subject often compensates for the shortcomings of the filmmaker, and although I am on record as a huge fan of Whitely and NEW YORK DOLL, after seeing it I wondered what form Whiteley’s next film might take, and whether he might encounter the dreaded sophomore slump. I’m glad to say that this film cast aside all my doubts.

The subject of RESOLVED is the world of high school debate, and when I initially heard this I figured that it would fit the popular mold of such competition-based docs as SPELLBOUND and MAD HOT BALLROOM. To the filmmakers credit they successfully ignore those patterns and weave a story that involves you with more than simplistic questions of who will win and who will lose.

Like any good film, documentary or otherwise, RESOLVED takes you into another world. The world of high school debate has grown considerably more complex than when I was on my high school speech team, and the film artfully explains all the history, rules, and customs of this tiny sub-culture through the use of some amazing graphics and animation by Sean Donnelly. Just as NEW YORK DOLL gave the layman a crash course in punk rock history in order to tell its story, RESOLVED gets you up to speed right away. Credit must also be given to the editors, Greg Whiteley himself, Tom Runquist, and Brad Barber.

The story centers on two debate teams. Matt and Sam are a pair of nationally ranked debaters from a powerhouse Texas high school that seem to have all the advantages necessary to contend to win the superbowl of high school debate, the Tournament of Champions. The other team, Louis and Richard, are two African-American students who attend underfunded Jordan High School in Long Beach, California. The fate of these two teams unfolds in unexpected ways, but what truly makes the film take off and fly is the choice Louis and Richard make to ignore the agreed upon resolution and instead debate the very system of how high school debate functions in America.

Inspired by Brazillian philosopher Paolo Friere and fueled by personal experience, Louis and Richard set out to establish that the current system is inherently exclusionary. Documentaries are typically more heady than most genres, but what makes this film special is that it doesn’t shy away from big and challenging ideas, nor does it doubt its audience’s capability to understand them. As a result it’s profoundly thought-provoking and by the end it becomes much more than a film about debate, and becomes more of a film about the risks and rewards involved when the disadvantaged attack and critique the very system they are part of.

RESOLVED won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the L.A. Film Festival and got a great review from Variety, so you don’t have to take my word alone that it’s a great film. Hopefully, a distribution deal is in the near future and you’ll get a chance to see RESOLVED on video, or better yet, in your local theater. I highly recommend it.