Winner of the $25,000 Best Documentary Feature prize at the 2009 Heartland Film Festival, "P-Star Rising" is the story of 9-year-old Priscilla "P-Star" Diaz, a young and precocious girl with natural talent, undeniable charisma and a desire to make it in the music business.
The daughter of Jesse Diaz, a rapper whose career ended abruptly after a drug conviction, P-Star's talent takes her family from a one-bedroom transitional shelter in Harlem to a four-bedroom apartment, sold out night clubs, international concert appearances and much, much more.
The more successful P-Star becomes, the more it fuels her father's unfinished music aspirations and, in turn, the more he goes from protective manager/father to not only exploiting her talent but leaving her lesser talented older sister, Solsky, off on the sidelines while the two of them work tirelessly to build P-Star's music career.
There's no denying the appeal of P-Star, a lively and gifted young lady whose vocals are rock solid and stage presence is inviting. Director Gabriel Noble followed P-Star and her family through the ups and downs of her "career" over the course of four years and paints a vivid and realistic picture of the challenges facing an up-and-coming singer.
Who can you trust?
Who can't you trust?
What's it like to give up your childhood for the sake of a dream?
"P-Star Rising" captures a realistic slice of this young singer's life as she goes from little girl to young woman before she's ever entered her teenage years. As well, Jesse Diaz is painted as both the devoted father and the success-hungry manager. Diaz is released from prison and works tirelessly to win back custody of his daughters, who'd been left in foster care after their mother succumbed to crack addiction. Despite living in poverty and struggling with his own personal demons, Diaz perseveres and wins back custody even as they live in the equivalent of a homeless shelter for over a year.
"P-Star Rising" is an entertaining and honest look into the lives of the Diaz family, at once inspirational for the success of the young girl and the sacrifices of young P-Star while also being utterly heartbreaking as we watch the dissolving family relationships as P-Star becomes more confused, Jesse becomes more ambitious and Solsky becomes increasingly isolated. Yet, it's difficult to understand "P-Star Rising" winning the Best Documentary Feature prize from the Heartland Film Festival, a film festival based in Indianapolis devoted to inspiring and positive films that promote the power of the human spirit. While there are certainly those moments in "P-Star Rising" that do inspire, by film's end the Diaz family feels fractured, stressed and destined for eventual separation despite Jesse finally acknowledging a need to work a "real" job and P-Star slowing down her ambitions and accepting a role on television's long-running "The Electric Company" children's series on PBS. Rather than serving to inspire, much of "P-Star Rising" feels like a giant yellow caution flag for parents of talented children...THIS is what can happen to your family when business comes before family.
Filmed on a budget of just over $500,000, "P-Star Rising" is beautifully photographed by Noble, though the accompanying score from Ion Furjanic & B. Satz All-Stars occasionally comes across a bit heavy-handed in the film's more dramatic scenes.
Despite my own reservations and philosophical differences with the film, "P-Star Rising" will undoubtedly play well to children and adolescents who will resonate with this young girl chasing her dream and, as well, her dilemmas and struggles as she tries to regain her voice and her increasingly lost childhood. Parents of any youngster who has achieved success in the arts or athletics would do well to watch "P-Star Rising" as a reminder to balance ambition with innocence, dreams with reality.
For more information on "P-Star Rising," currently on the film festival circuit, visit the film's website.