American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Oh, I wanted to be a magician. I memorized a biography of Houdini and mailed off to Johnson, Smith and Company for boxes that made coins disappear, trick card decks, and wands that contained weights to make tassels rise and fall. I ordered the neighborhood kids into the basement and staged a laborious performance by the Great Ebertini. Tassels rose and coins disappeared, but the cards needed more work.
A lot more work, I learn in "Make Believe." This is a charming documentary about the finalists in the Teenage Magician Contest at the annual World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas. From Malibu, Chicago, Colorado, Japan and South Africa they come, dreaming of being presented with first place by the great Lance Burton. The documentary visits their homes, gets their stories, talks to their friends and parents, and follows them backstage in Vegas.
But mostly it watches them practice, over and over and over. Hiroki Hara, who lives in Kitayama, Japan, uses the village hall and rehearses relentlessly all day, every day, mentioning that he grows lonely there all by himself, but his goal makes it worthwhile. The others practice, too, and one sheds a few tears when two coaches tell him he's not ready for the finals. He rehearses some more, and on the big day, he is ready and then some.
Not a single rabbit is pulled from a hat. Most of the trucks are small scale: locking rings, disappearing scarves or card production. A deck of cards in their hands seems to have a life of its own. One kid turns cards into iPhones while the cards fanned between his fingers. We see him in his basement, building the props.