Update: Sundance awarded "Being Elmo" a Special Jury Prize.
Filmmakers James Miller and Constance Marks may be from New York City's Upper West Side, but the subject of their crowd-pleasing new documentary, "Being Elmo," is Baltimore's Kevin Clash. The magical red Muppet's longtime puppeteer grew up in Turners Station in southeastern Baltimore County. "Being Elmo" has been rousing cheers at Sundance, and Sun readers know some reasons why.
It's pop poetic justice that Clash ended up teaching kids to read by giving voice and movement to Elmo on "Sesame Street." As Clash related to Sun TV critic David Zurawik last fall, "I was terrible at reading — terrible. You know how they used to do in school where you'd have a book and the teacher would go around the class, and you'd have to read a certain part of the chapter or something? Well, they'd get to me, and I just couldn't do it. I was so scared, because I really wasn't good at reading."
Clash told Zurawik that puppetry and his yen for entertainment finally compelled him to overcome his reading problem -- he wanted to understand TV Guide. Before appearing at John Eager Howard Elementary School to support the national literacy program, PBS KIDS Raising Readers, he said, "Raising Readers is a phenomenal program, because it carries on what was started at the very beginning with 'Sesame Street' in educating kids by using TV."
So far Clash has won eleven Emmies. If the buzz continues, he may just have a Sundance Audience Award to add to his trophies.
Photo of Maryland Film Festival director Jed Dietz, left, with Kevin Clash and Elmo, at the Sundance Film Festival, courtesy of Dietz