IF YOU BUILD IT follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills: it shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to re-invent not just their town but their own sense of what's possible. Written by
Team IF YOU BUILD IT
"If You Build It" (2013 release; 85 min.) brings the story of Windsor, North Carolina, the county seat of Bertie County, and a small town that is in rapid decline. The downtown is practically a ghost town, and people are struggling to get by. The public school system is a mess, needless to say. Then one day the school superintendent decides to shake things up by hiring Matt and Emily, who are going to teach a design class to the HS juniors. Not long after they are hired, the superintendent is fired by the school board, and their funding is cut. Matt and Emily nevertheless persevere, living solely on grant money. To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first and foremost, if you are into architecture and design, this movie is nothing short of heavenly bliss. Matt and Emily's class is based on designing things, but then their class sets itself apart by actually having the HS kids build what they have designed. The 10 HS juniors who signed up for the class find themselves challenged in the best of ways, and come to discover a lot about themselves along the way. Watch how the class comes about in the final project of the year, to design and build a Farmers Market, just delightful. Second, kudos to Matt and Emily who stick it out for two years in this remote community, trying to achieve something positive, only to find the school board not interested, or worse. In the same vein, shame on the school board for being so shortsighted. It makes for maddening viewing at times as you just want to shake these people up. The Bertie County community deserves so much better! Lastly, while we do find out at the end what happened to Matt and Emily afterwards, we are not told what became of the kids and the rest of the protagonists in this documentary, and instead are prompted to visit the movie's website for that. Sorry, but that is simply disrespectful of the viewer in my humble opinion. Just tell me already!
I saw this documentary this past weekend at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. Even though I caught it at an early matinée, the screening was well attended, somewhat to my surprise to be honest. But I couldn't be happier for the makers of this documentary. "If You Build It" is an uplifting documentary, even with the shortsighted school board along the way. This movie definitely deserves to be seen, be it in the theater or on the eventual DVD release. "If You Build It" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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