Well-made docu “Something Within Me” should be seen by as many educators, administrators, teachers and students as possible. Its short running time is appropriate for showings on public and cable TV, but might restrict chances for even limited theatrical release.
The documentary about a pioneering arts school in the South Bronx won the Audience Award and two other prizes at the Sundance Festival, and it’s easy to explain the film’s popularity. Hopeful and inspirational, this work superbly demonstrates the power of education, specifically in the arts, to inform and lift up a younger generation of students.
In 1985, enrollment at St. Augustine, a Catholic school in the South Bronx, was so low it was about to close. The school’s pastor approached Thomas Pilecki, a local music teacher, and together they designed an ingenious curriculum with a strong emphasis on art and music.
“Something Within Me” tells the story of this remarkable experimental school, mixing interviews with seventh-graders and their teachers with exciting footage of interaction in the classroom, music rehearsals and public performances for parents.
Significantly, all the students at the school, which goes from kindergarten through eighth grade, are ethnic minorities, mostly African-American, but also Hispanic and Asian. Each student is required to take music theory, piano, and a second instrument in addition to required classes in the humanities.
It’s most heartening to encounter a group of dedicated, though underpaid, teachers who are genuinely committed to their cause.
The instructors explain that students are not auditioned because the school’s egalitarian goal is not to produce musicians, but “disciplined and well-educated” individuals, equipped with skills to meet the challenges of their tough surroundings.
In light of this, what’s missing here is more information about the students’ lives outside school, in their homes and neighborhood, where they are exposed to different subcultures.
While St. Augustine functions as an educational oasis, and has seen its enrollment triple over the last six years, the children still have to live their lives in an economically depressed region, once called “Fort Apache.”
Technical credits of the docu, which also won the Filmmakers Trophy and a Special Jury Award at Sundance, are most accomplished, particularly the crisp cinematography of Juan Cristobal Cobo, who previously shot “Spike Lee: The Making of ‘Do the Right Thing.’ ”