‘Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street‘ is a heartwarming documentary about the show that so many children grew up watching. Something in the vein of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Street Gang tells the story of an influential children’s program that was revolutionary for its time. From the foundation of the Children’s Television Workshop to Jim Henson, Street Gang covers it all.
This engaging Documentary wastes no space in its 107-minute runtime. Director Marilyn Agrelo makes the documentary flow with ease. Moreover, the way it emphasizes just how important Sesame Street was for its time is impressive. Street Gang goes into great detail about the production of the iconic children’s show. The structure of the documentary, chronicling the development, rise, and struggles of the show, is very engaging. Archival footage from the show’s production in the early ’70s and ’80s provide an old school aesthetic.
The juxtaposition of the footage of the people a part of the street in their prime than to present day in their old age is powerful. For instance, we get to see how they became a part of the street. Then, watching them reflect on these times is heartwarming. This is in no small part thanks to the editing. Street Gang flows like a traditional documentary would. However the cuts and blending of archival footage with current footage make for some creative choices and really pleasant viewing. Street Gang isn’t just about the fruition of this show. It’s a story of creativity. A group of people coming together, passionate for their craft. Seeing how practically every aspect of the show has so much passion behind it was inspiring.
You don’t just see the making of a children’s show. You see creators in their element. People truly inspired by what they’re doing. Watching those moments of creative inspiration was an absolute blast. Hearing these musicians, puppeteers, writers, and more talk so passionately about what they did with footage of them doing it was incredible. Being able to change children’s television while doing that is special, too.
Watching Street Gang address issues of race and segregation at the time it was made is important as well. The Documentary touches on so many aspects in its short runtime so effectively it’s impressive. Seeing how Sesame Street was really a product of its times was compelling. The ability Agrelo has to translate the passion the creators had to screen is the best part of Street Gang.
There are moments that had me laughing out loud at the archival footage of the show. The documentary did well in helping the audience understand the ideas it was presenting. When the talking head said the show was meant for adults and children to enjoy with certain humor, it showed just that. When the composer was talking about a song he wrote and the idea behind it, they showed the song in its final product juxtaposed with him playing it for the first time.
The topic of Jim Henson and his deep ties to Sesame Street are what propel Street Gangs’ most emotional moments. Watching him work behind the scenes and seeing others talk about his drive was inspiring. Street Gang knows exactly how to convey the creativity and passion it took to do what they did on a daily basis. The emphasis on the workload made the stress of it palpable as much as it did of the enjoyment of making it.
Aside from the creativity that is on display, Street Gang addresses heavier themes as well. The way the team decided to approach the topic of death and explain it to children, was by far the most emotional part of the documentary. Street Gang is a documentary that is able to imbue the resonant themes of the show into itself for present day audiences to understand what Sesame Street was trying to do. Overall, Street Gang is a well-made documentary that showcases passionate creativity like no other documentary I can remember. It’s a reminder to do what you love. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10
Street Gang: How we Got to Sesame Street is pending wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!