“It’s not the cameras that are going to get in your way of capturing authentic moments,” reveals documentarian Greg Whiteley about his new Netflix series. “It’s a belief on the part of your main subjects, or a concern that you don’t have their best interests at heart and when they’re suspicious of your motives, their guard is up,” he says. “They’re waiting for somebody to come along who they trust before they can show who they really are.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Whiteley above.
“Cheer” is the latest documentary series from acclaimed filmmaker Whiteley, whose past work includes the Emmy nominated “Resolved,” as well as “Last Chance U” and “Mitt.” It follows a nationally ranked 40-member cheer team from smalltown USA, made up of teenagers from troubled upbringings who aspire to make something of their lives by being the best cheer squad in America. While the series explores the history of cheerleading with fascinating archival footage, it also zones in on the personal stories of its underdog protagonists in a really honest and authentic way.
“Lots of people are interested in those stories,” Whiteley says. “Every single human being, even people who have achieved greatness in their lives have at one point or another felt like they are on the outside looking in or that they are an underdog in one way or another and I think that we will always find those stories inspiring.”
“Part of what is fun about this show is that you’re taking an activity that has largely been marginalized or ignored. You know that cheerleaders exist but they occupy a certain space,” Whiteley explains. “The quintessential cheerleader is just seen as somebody that is involved in an activity that doesn’t have a lot of substance,” he declares. “For a long time, some of that may have been true and maybe this is what is quintessentially American.”
The series also explores the sheer athleticism and discipline of the students that dedicate their lives to their sport. It serves as a poignant example of the value of teamwork in any activity, as the cheer squad forge close bonds in their shared desire to be the best they can be. “If there isn’t that cohesion, that level of trust, people are going to get hurt,” Whiteley agrees. “Not only will the routine not be very good, but people are going to be physically putting their lives in danger by virtue of the fact that someone isn’t there to catch someone after they’ve fallen 25 feet in the air.”
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