Jyllian Gunther’s profile of an alternative Bed-Stuy high school had its world premiere at the Hamptons last year. Its fest circuit has included Boulder, Minneapolis-St Paul, deadCENTER, San Francisco Doc, and the upcoming Hot Springs Doc fest and Southern Circuit film tour.
Gunther’s film begins in August 2006, with the opening of the new Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School, led by an enthusiastic, ambitious, and, as the film will demonstrate, somewhat naive young faculty. BCAM’s mandate is to address the inequalities in the public school system for lower income, primarily African-American students, and the chosen method is utopian – allowing students more freedom to prosper, channeling their creativity through student-driven arts engagement. While Gunther’s camera, and to a lesser extent, student-shot footage, follows this grand experiment over the school’s first year, she wisely structures the second half of the film to jump to senior year, providing a much-needed reality check on just how challenging BCAM’s mission actually is in practice. Much has changed in the intervening years – the staff and the school have both grown, but only half of the founding class remains, and just half of them are set to graduate. Even so, the more seasoned staff have realistic expectations, and have still been successful in offering an educational system that works better than what was previously in place. Gunther’s film presents a thought-provoking look at the challenges and triumphs of public education through engaging characters, students and faculty alike.