Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Topic: A group of 12-year-old inner-city Baltimore boys spend seventh grade at the experimental Baraka school in rural Kenya, with the goal of learning the skills they need to graduate high school.
Financing: Self-financed by the filmmakers through money earned doing freelance production work, plus finishing funds from PBS via ITVS and “P.O.V.”
Budget: Approx. total $320,000.
Shooting format: One Sony PD-150 DV camera.
Why it stands out: Humanizes poverty in America through the emotional experiences of a group of charismatic young boys. Offers an unflinching look at the failing public school system and how environment can make or break a child’s future.
Memorable scene: Caught between two worlds after returning to Baltimore, Baraka student Richard talks about the hope he found at the school in Kenya, all the while staring through his window at the drug dealers on the corner.
Distribution/broadcast status: Opened by ThinkFilm at NYC’s Film Forum on Nov. 30. Wider distribution planned for early 2006.
On making the film: After reading about the school in Time magazine, Ewing and Grady wooed the program for more than a year in order to gain access to shoot. Says Ewing: “Others had been pursuing the school because of the article, but they had been rebuked and hadn’t followed up. Ultimately, persistence got us the gig.”
During the three years it took to make the doc, both were profoundly affected by their contact with the boys. Says Ewing: “There’s something major at stake for each child. Going to this school is not some kind of vacation — it’s life or death. This has the potential to completely alter the paths of these boys forever, and audiences sense that and connect with it.”
Adds Grady, “It permanently changed how I look at this country and the obstacles in getting out of poverty. For the first time in my life, I saw that in action.”