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Review: My Old School — Sands International Film Festival

High School is for some of us the best years of our life, for others, absolute hell, and for most, it is an awkward, hormonal, and acne covered stepping stone on our way to the big bad world. Would you go back if you could? Do it all again? For the majority of us, this notion of a re-do only exists in our late night, alcohol-fuelled reveries. But for Brandon Lee this dream came true. The documentary My Old School tells the true story of a 32-year-old Scottish man who infiltrated and enrolled at his former school, Bearsden Academy pretending to be a 16 year old school boy back in 1993. It sounds mental and it is.

In Scotland, the story of Brandon Lee (his real name is Brian McKinnon) is considered mythic; the stuff of quintessential Scottish legend. How could a man in his thirties fool all his classmates let alone his teachers? Especially considering that some of his teachers in 1993 also taught at Bearsden Academy in the 70s, the time when Lee first attended the high school. Director, Jono Mcleod, leads us expertly through this unbelievable tale with remarkable nuance which may be explained by the fact that Mcleod was actually a fellow classmate of Lee back in the 90s.

The documentary is formatted by way of a combination of interviews with Lee’s old classmates, animated reenactments of the event and an account from Lee himself. The latter, interestingly, takes the form of celebrated Scottish actor Alan Cumming OBE FRSE lip syncing Lee’s audio from his interview, as the con artist refused to show his face. The initial lack of Lee’s image is strange and perpetuates the theme of trickery and concealment. The viewer agonises over the true appearance of this puzzling man. Afterall, we want to determine for ourselves if Lee could have passed for a teenage schoolboy. We want to know, if placed in the halls of Bearsden Academy in 1993, would we be victims of Lee’s deception. Latterly photographs and footage from 1993 are revealed and it’s hard to say. Of course, Lee reinvented himself with a fake Canadian accent, a 3 stone weight loss, freshly permed hair and carefully plucked eyebrows so we can imagine that it would be easy to get caught up in his uniqueness. Indeed his former classmates seem to remember him surprisingly fondly, with one revealing that Lee “was popular and outgoing and told jokes like anyone of our age.”

Lee's schoolmates are interviewed and as much as hilarity ensues, the documentary is permeated with a sense of nostalgia and regret. Can we sympathise with Lee at all? We learn that his nutty scheme spawned from a dream of returning to medical school after being kicked out 15 years earlier (there was a rule that you had to be under 30 years old to study medicine). Lee even professes that “the thing you have to do if you really want to prevail is do the unimaginable”. And do the unimaginable, he did. However, as one former classmate questions, if all he wanted was a place in medical school, then why would he star in the school play, befriend classmates or go on holiday to Tenerife with three teenage girls?

A tale of false names, two passports and a thirty-something schoolboy, set to a great retro soundtrack, My Old School guarantees a viewing of wide open mouths and audible gasps. Certainly a must watch for anyone fascinated with stories so unbelievable you couldn’t make them up or simply those yearning to remember their old school days.

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