Unless you were VERY sheltered or never needed medical care, “Highlights for Children” magazine has intersected your existence at least once. Sure, more often than not the hidden pictures and puzzles were done by another kid by the time you got to them, but the letter columns, stories about cool adventures, and even “Goofus and Gallant” kept us mesmerized and occupied in what felt like an eternity waiting for our names to be called. There were even the lucky few that had a subscription so it was delivered to their house all their own. As the staff of the magazine prepared to celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2016, documentarian and reality show director Tony Shaff follows the staff around as they prepare and look back on the company’s history with “44 Pages”.
Named after the size of each issue of the magazine, this is more of the “old school” style of documentary that has less of a linear narrative and serves more as a slice-of-life style of storytelling. This is actually kind of refreshing to me, as Shaff lets the subjects of the film kind of pilot where it goes instead of relying on his own style to try to tell a tale. His reality television experience serves him well here, giving the interviewees a sense of comfort that is not found on its level as much in other films within the genre.
The downside here is that it may get a bit too technical in some places, which made my mind drift in a few moments. I enjoyed the tale of the history of the magazine, which has faced some true adversity in more than one era in seven decades, but when it came to things like layout and error correction, it gets bogged down. I would have liked to see more stories from the people that wrote and were responsible for some of the regular features both past and present as the magazine evolved through the ages and generations of kids which influenced even the generation that is creating the magazine now.
“44 Pages” is by no means a bad documentary, but in the list of other films like it in the last few years, it is one that is worth a viewing if you stumble upon it and want to satisfy a curiosity over one I would seek out.