44 Pages (2017)

“44 Pages” isn’t just an important documentary, but it’s perhaps one of the most life affirming and entertaining made in a while. Centered on the “Highlights” magazine writing team as they prepare for the 70th Anniversary issue of the publication, “44 Pages” is a long overdue exploration of the classic children’s magazine. Director Tony Schaff brings us along to discover how the magazine was created, and how it’s created today. There’s also an interesting exploration in how the magazine has managed to stay alive in the age of digital media, and what it’s done to remain relevant and a key tool in educating children around the world.

When I was a kid my aunt bought my brother and I a two year subscription of “Highlights” magazine and every month it was such a treat to find in our mailbox. “Highlights” has changed very little since its creation almost a century ago and has remained forty four pages for such a long time. It’s practiced the tradition of being a magazine that challenges its readers but never overwhelms them or feels like a text book of some kind. As expected, the origins of “Highlights” humble and interesting, with the original printing of the magazine being handled from the house of a large family, five of whom were orphaned children faced with the untimely loss of their parents.

Decades later, the house was kept as the headquarters for “Highlights” magazine and director Shafff provides us a keen insight in to how the writers gather new portions of the magazine, and how they make sure to appeal to just about everyone. One of the most refreshing revelations of the magazine is how the writers work to include just about everyone, with a policy of never including Santa Claus, or witches. The latter of which is a special guideline so as not to offend the Wiccan community with negative depictions. One scene even finds the group preparing for the inclusion of a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day activity, and a writer offers an alternative activity for children without a mom or dad, allowing them to pay tribute to grandparents or aunts and/or uncle.

There’s a ton of very interesting insight offered in to the development of “Highlights” that viewers will take away, despite the fact the documentary is mainly a tribute to the magazine’s long legacy. Among some of the interesting tidbits is the fact the magazine never sells ad space, refuses to sell their IP to a bigger corporation, and requires psychological evaluation for everyone and anyone who wishes to work for the company. We also get to learn about the origins of “Goofus and Gallant” and the classic “Hidden Object” activity, and the purpose of its rock solid place in the magazine. “44 Pages” is a fun and sweet ode to the classic magazine that’s fought to stay relevant in the modern age, and has always focused on children first and foremost. If you’ve ever been a fan of the magazine as I have, “44 Pages” will prove to be a wonderful chronicle of a very valuable piece of literature.

Now touring in select theaters around the country. For cities, special screening events, and show times visit 44Pages.com/Screenings.