You remember the High School Musical trilogy, right?  How could we forget the runaway hit… after hit, after hit… that pretty much launched the careers of Disney stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.  Well now PBS is bringing us a new and different kind of high school musical experience.  In Mariachi High there certainly is a lot of singing, albeit accompanied by violins, trumpets, and a guitarrón.  The documentary, which airs Friday, June 29, 2012, at 9:00 PM/EST on PBS,  follows the often sad and funny lives of mostly Latino high school students from the small town of Zapata, Texas, over the course of a year as they compete for a statewide mariachi championship.

mariachi high pbs arts summer festival

The stars of 'Mariachi High'

As a native Texan and a longtime lover of mariachi music, I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t even know there were such things as statewide mariachi competitions here in Texas!  Maybe that’s because we left our small town of Edinburg long before I even reached the fifth grade – they actually do have a mariachi band from Edinburg competing in Mariachi High, but they are all high school students.  Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t pay enough attention in school.  I was never very musically inclined in any of my extra curricular activities.

Regardless, having screened the entire film, I can tell you Mariachi High is a gem of a short documentary.  It’s about an hour long and really makes you feel the passion these kids live and feel in their music, and it kind of makes you proud to be Latino.  ¡Bien mexicano! if you will.  There are also plenty of sad and touching moments that will make you think about the very real and large disparity in opportunities these young people face being from a small town as opposed to a larger urban area.

Honestly, some of the young peoples’ testimonies are pretty gripping.  They’ve managed to stay with me for a couple of weeks now.

The only thing I kept wishing the movie’s producers would have done differently is to have made the film just a little bit longer.  I would have loved to have seen more of the students’ lives outside of the school, and to learn more about the town of Zapata.  From what I could gather, it seemed like it was mostly a multi-generational Latino community with a lot of second, third, and further generation Mexican Americans.  That in it of itself was pretty interesting to me considering the emphasis and importance mariachi music – more of a Mexican tradition – was given in the community.

Mariachi High kicks off the PBS ARTS SUMMER FESTIVAL, a seven-part event anchored by films that highlight art, artists and performances from around the world.  Hosted by Anna Deavere Smith, the PBS Arts Summer Festival takes viewers on an exploration of nearly 20 cities around the globe, offering an in-depth look at music, theater, art, architecture and cultural history from some of the world’s unique locations.

I’d say it’s definitely worth the watch!

This is not a sponsored post. PBS provided a copy of the documentary for my review. I did not receive any compensation for the content of this entry. All of the opinions are my own.