Film about fast-talking NU debaters premieres in Chicago

Julianna Nunez

The 2005-2006 Northwestern Debate Team is in the spotlight again, but this time it is not because they are caught in the verbal crossfire of the National Debate Tournament.

The NU Debate Team was the subject of the film “Fast Talk,” which premiered Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Director Debra Tolchinsky, an assistant professor at the School of Communication, spent a year shooting 200 hours of footage with the 2005-2006 debate team as they trained for the National Debate Tournament.

The film focuses on the fast-talking method NU debaters use. This method allows the debaters to explain their arguments without taking up too much time.

The film also explores how gender, race and privilege all play a role in competitive debating as well as the training debaters undergo to comply with the fast talk method.

The 2006 debate team consisted of Josh Branson, Communication ‘06; his debate partner, Noah Chestnut, Communication ‘07; Tristan Morales, Communication ‘05, a former debater and assistant coach; John Warden, Communication ‘09; and their coach Scott Deatherage among others.

Luke Hill, a program coordinator at the School of Communication, became involved in the film as he worked with the team part-time.

“I was tagging along, judging tournaments and helping out with the coaching staff and they (the film crew) happened to be following along that year as well,” Hill said.

As a part-time participant, Hill did not actively participate in the filming but was able to recall the filming process. The film crew would attend debate meetings as well as tournaments, sometimes staying the whole weekend, he said.

“I didn’t really view it as an intrusion,” Hill added.

Warden was a freshman at NU as well as a debate participant when the documentary was being filmed. He did not see the final product until a couple of months ago, he said. Warden was consulted about what was it like being on the NU Debate Team and about collaborating with Deatherage.

Warden is currently a research assistant at the Center of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The premiere of the film sold out just before it started. The audience consisted of working adults as well as high school students.

The film’s display of the fast talk method changed one high school student’s impression of debate.

“I really liked it,” said Andrew Torma, a junior at Evanston Township High School. “I always thought it would be like ‘The Great Debaters’ where everyone is dressed up and everything is slow and to the point.”

During the Q-and-A session at the end of the film, Tolchinsky shared the reason she chose to make a documentary about college debating: She’s always had a fear of public speaking.

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