Wrapping up the first day of my 2016 Sundance doc profiles: THE BAD KIDS, Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s portrait of a high school for at-risk youth.
US Documentary Competition
Sundance Program Description:
On a remote patch of the Mojave Desert, amidst dusty tumbleweeds and rangy Joshua trees, sits an anomaly: a high school where educators believe empathy, life skills, and the constancy of a caring adult are the differences that will give at-risk students command of their fates. On any given day, principal Vonda Viland calls kids at the crack of dawn to see if they’ll make it to school. And if they need a ride? Well, she’ll pick them up. Vonda knows each student’s challenges and coaches them tirelessly, never fostering false hopes. Her philosophy combines loving compassion with realism, and given her school’s rising graduation rate, it seems to be working.
We fall in love with Vonda and “bad kids” Joey, Jennifer, and Lee – each wrestling with traumatic odds like abuse, addiction, homelessness, and teen parenthood. Intimate verité camerawork and poetic, stylized sequences create an immersive, emotional experience that gives way to not just information, but also insight about America’s most pressing education problem: poverty. THE BAD KIDS is that rare documentary whose power emerges as much from its exquisite artistry as its crucial content.
Directors/Producers: Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe
Fulton and Pepe make their Park City debut with their new film, which has previously received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and Catalyst Forum. Their previous work includes the Oscar-shortlisted documentary feature LOST IN LA MANCHA and the critically-acclaimed fiction film BROTHERS OF THE HEAD.
Consulting Producer: Molly O’Brien
O’Brien was formerly the producer of the Sundance Institute’s Catalyst Forum and is a festival alumna as a producer and executive producer of CESAR’S LAST FAST (2014). She is an Emmy winner and has been shortlisted for the Documentary Short Subject Academy Award.
Executive Producers: Ted Dintersmith, Donna Gruneich, Kevin Gruneich, Ari Ioannides, and Christine Ioannides
Former venture capitalist Dintersmith’s previously executive produced this year’s THE HUNTING GROUND and MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED (2015), reflecting his interest in the topics of education and social change via film.
The Gruneichs are Park City residents, philanthropists, and investors with a long history with Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films. Donna Gruneich has served on the Sundance Institute’s Utah Advisory Board since 2011, and is presently its chair. Their executive producer credits include Sundance documentary alumni THE HUNTING GROUND, CARTEL LAND (2015), NO IMPACT MAN (2009), and SECRECY (2008).
The Ioannides are also Park City residents, transplanted from Atlanta, where they focused on the data solutions and print management businesses, respectively. Christine Ioannides is also a longtime volunteer for the festival.
Editors: Jacob Bricca and Mary Lampson
Bricca previously edited Fulton and Pepe’s LOST IN LA MANCHA, while Lampson’s credits include the Academy Award winning HARLAN COUNTY USA, as well as Sundance alums KIMJONGILIA (2009), TROUBLE THE WATER (2008), and A LION IN THE HOUSE (2006).
Why You Should Watch:
Fulton and Pepe draw the viewer into the unique environment of Black Rock High School to witness the last chance it provides for kids who have had a tough go within conventional educational settings. Resisting stereotypes, the filmmakers craft nuanced portraits of young people too easily dismissed by society. At the same time, they capture the engaging Principal Viland, the glue that transforms the school from an institution into a supportive community to help her young charges to succeed, no matter how much the cards might be stacked against them.
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.