I'm growing to love BBC Four, with its documentaries and analysis. Why, only last week I watched a documentary on the men who clear blocked sewers. And then I watched a three-hour long history of the English Motorway System (which, it turns out, is beautiful and strange). And this has finally prompted me to write about a documentary from some time back, called "University Challenged".
It's a piece about a British University (in this case, Bristol) in the 21st Century. Such things are fairly easy to throw together. I think there's even a standard checklist: you need one each of: (a) Senior University Administrator (preferably Vice-Chancellor) (b) youngish or middled-aged academic with a lot going on (c) one member of the student union, preferably the President, ideally engaged in some kind of argument with (a); and (d) one 'ordinary' undergraduate student. Follow all four around with cameras for a year or so, and then edit it down to an hour that illustrates "life today in one of Britain's modern Universities". University Challenged follows this formula pretty much to the letter. The most interesting part for me was seeing Dominique, the ordinary student, in her first year at Bristol.
I was not overly taken with her at first, as you see her arriving to begin her studies in Theatre Studies, and working through various tedious "getting to know you" exercises on the dusty floor of the rehearsal space. But it quickly became clear that not all would involve lazing around on her arse. In order to get through, she needed extra money, and so we have many shots of her walking the streets of Bristol, trying to get a job. She ends up working in some horrific entertainment megaplex on the outskirts of the city as a waitress at "Chiquitos", and one gets a real sense of the work needed to balance study and long hours of employment. But to her, it is worth it.
The culmination of her first year is a show put on by the whole cohort, a collection of short five minute pieces by different groups sewn together into a whole. And in the documentary, we get to see the fruits of her labours, clips from Dominique's section which she has worked so hard on, and sacrificed so much for.
And it looks like complete and utter... well, I'll drop in the YouTube embed of the section of the program that shows it, and you can judge for yourself.