Like Art & Copy, Doug Pray’s ecstatic recent celebration of the advertising industry and the ad wizards who make our lives better through their selfless dedication to their craft, Ten9Eight: Shoot For The Moon suggests the emergence of a terrifying new documentary subgenre: capitalism porn. Ten9Eight will induce shivers of excitement in free-market proponents who get off on watching ambitious, money-minded young people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and set out to become future titans of industry. Also like Art & Copy, Ten9Eight is blindingly slick, with a glossy visual aesthetic more rooted in music videos and commercials than cinéma vérité.
Mary Mazzio’s love letter to free enterprise follows a group of teenage businesspeople as they compete in a nationwide contest for young entrepreneurs with a $10,000 grand prize run by the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). The competitors include a goofy-looking 14-year-old prodigy pimping a line of custom guitars, a polite young woman selling cake on a cookie stick, and a silver-tongued young man with a company that provides original music for wedding videos. Mazzio’s take on her subjects regularly veers into hagiography, depicting the competition as half Olympics-style human-interest story, half Horatio Alger-type triumph over adversity.
Ten9Eight follows the template of crowd-pleasing documentaries like Spellbound and Wordplay, but rather than highlighting the differences between the contenders, Mazzio turns them all into weirdly interchangeable exemplars of the American can-do spirit. This one-size-fits-all glorification/deification becomes oppressive as Mazzio piles on the fake uplift with a manipulative score, alarming statistics, and extensive use of still photographs that show the teen would-be tycoons at their noblest. Ten9Eight ends by asserting that everyone in the contest is a winner. It isn’t lying: Beyond whatever life lessons they’ve learned, they all scored an MTV-ready feature-length infomercial for themselves and their nascent businesses. That’s one hell of a consolation prize, even if the result feels more like advertising or propaganda than cinema.