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By Phil Hall | March 24, 2005

Inspiration can come at very unusual moments and in very unusual places. For filmmaker Ryan Dacko, the screenplay for “And I Lived” was written while he was on Coast Guard deployment in Antarctica. It would seem the South Pole has some benefit for unleashing creative juices, for “And I Lived” is an intriguing and entertaining drama.

Set in a small upstate New York town, “And I Lived” is a tale of young love challenged by the rigid conventions of class warfare. The local high school is evenly divided between the rich kids (who dress in white) and the not-rich kids (who dress in black). Race and ethnicity doesn’t matter, as both sides have their share of different hues and heritages. Before you can say “Capulet and Montague” (or “Sharks and Jets”), a taboo love bubbles up between rich girl Elaina (Lori Schaufelberger) and poor hunk Kevin (Matt Clark). Their respective socio-economic communities frown upon this union, and the rich kids eventually resort to violence to keep Kevin on his side of the tracks. But can true love overcome the challenges of disapproving friends and mismatched bank balances?

Shot on what appears to be no budget whatsoever, “And I Lived” betrays a lot of the tell-tale signs of films made on the cheap. But in a way, this contributes to a gritty style which feels closer to reality than the typical Hollywood teen flick. The rich kids are not insanely rich, but rather they come across like the spoiled offspring of parvenu parents – the cash is there, but not the class. Likewise, the poor kids have the unpolished and unapologetic air of the working class. You can tell in the way they walk and gaze that they have highly mixed feelings of their situation (they are not ashamed of who they are, but they damn well would love to move up in the world).

Emotionally, “And I Lived” hits all of the right buttons. All of the genuine moments of teen angst are here (the jealousies, irrational rivalries and suffocating lack of individualism within the high school environment), but mercifully it never devolves into a syrupy love-will-conquer-all message (one can easily imagine the next wave of students making the same stupid mistakes without deviating one iota).

The young leads are attractive and charming, which also helps considerably. Fine support comes from Kim Chesterton as Kevin’s unhappy ex-girlfriend and Dave Bianchi as a one-time poor kid who crossed over to the wealthy side when his mother married money. And pay attention to the music score by Matt Tyson and Gary Judge – it’s quite eccentric and effective (how often do you hear a rock-and-bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace” played over a drag racing montage?).

“And I Lived” may cover familiar territory, but filmmaker Dacko brings a degree of sincerity to the production which makes the story feel fresh. Perhaps he might want to set up a screenwriting camp in Antarctica – the polar environment may encourage other filmmakers to tap out their own worthwhile screenplays.

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