‘Price of Life’ one of Villanova’s proudest moments

Ben Raymond

“Price of Life.” Probably you’ve heard of it. Possibly you’ve read about it, or know one of its creators. But it’s unlikely that you’ve given it its due.

It’s a tall task, surely, doing justice to a film which is by any measure commendable and, by student-filmmaking standards, an unqualified triumph.

The film’s subject, Robert “Ali” Childs, was born into poverty in South Philadelphia. At the age of three, his father bludgeoned his grandfather to death with a hammer. By his teens, Childs was using marijuana, selling Valium and owned a gun. Two weeks after he was first arrested, his son was born.

Childs never had a chance. That is, until he enrolled in a program created by the National Comprehensive Center for Fathers. Founded in 1999, NCCF seeks to provide support, counseling, education and job opportunities to underprivileged fathers in Center City Philadelphia.

Serving over 200 men each year, NCCF has quickly become one of the city’s most successful service foundations.

Once a man with nothing to lose, Childs now has everything in the world to give. Those who were once his prey are now his disciples.

“Price of Life” tells his story. And if there is any justice, the nation will soon know of it, too.

To term “Price of Life” a student film seems unwarranted. It was crafted by students, yes. But it looks, feels and emotes like it was made by seasoned filmmakers, all of whom have something to say.

Editing is snappy and taut – breathless and engaging reel-to-reel. The screenplay, which was co-written by a number of the film’s fifteen makers, is biting and clever.

Direction by industry veteran Dan Hunt and Villanova junior Margaux LaPointe is savvy, sleek and unobtrusive. Nothing cute, just great storytelling.

This is ballsy, no-holds-barred filmmaking. Completely unafraid, with a gaze that can only be described as unflinching, “Price of Life” illuminates the shadowed and stares deeply at the tragic.

“Price of Life” is that rare student film wholly about its subject, not its makers. In the four years I have been a critic for this publication, and the two associated with MTV, “Price of Life” is the most impressive and least self-involved student film I have seen to-date.

Director LaPointe was asked what, of all the attention and awards and all the praise and premieres, has been most rewarding for her.

Winsome and unrehearsed, she replied, “The film has touched so many people. Men have come up to us and told us how much Robert’s story affected them, that it made them want to change their own lives. That’s the most rewarding thing for me.”

Earnestly, composed, eyes fixed, she responded with candor, believing each and every word, proud that her efforts have been met not with empty praise, but with tears and thanks.

Fifteen students in 15 weeks have created one of the finest achievements our university has ever seen. Think me hyperbolic? Think again.

This piece alone does not have the influence to uproot their anonymity. And if the other filmmakers are as humble as LaPointe, it’s doubtful they will make themselves conspicuous. This is no excuse not to recognize their achievement.

“Price of Life” is terrific filmmaking by any standard – a selfless, penetrating oeuvre of pungent intimacy and a near universal impact.