In 2011 Teaching Channel, a Gates Foundation start-up, commissioned us to make a series of short films about exceptional public school teachers. We felt it would be much more interesting to find exceptional teachers who were doing their best in difficult circumstances, and thus limited our search to inner city and rural schools. We found there our share of devoted teachers, all of whom were vocal about the same issue: there was only so much a teacher could do without the resources to handle the unique problems of an impoverished student body. From that point on, we found ourselves building an alliance not just with these teachers and their schools, but also with the beleaguered institution of public education itself.
It was during one of our scouts for Teaching Channel in the Joshua Tree area that we first stepped through the doors of Black Rock High. What we saw there left an indelible mark. Here was a safety net to catch the very problems that were causing other teachers and schools to ‘fail.’ Here was a principal who had a kind word or nod of recognition for each and every kid; a secretary who spent all day on the phone with parents; teachers who didn’t lecture but moved through their classrooms in quiet consultation with each student; and these supposed ‘bad kids’ lining the hallways with their guitars, their laughter, their clear and familial support for one another. All of this at a public school … with rising graduation rates.
It is the greatest hope of any documentarian to gain intimate access to a subject that dramatically represents a pressing human issue. At Black Rock High we have found precisely that. It is a school that tackles head-on America’s most serious education problem: intractable, generational poverty. About such a crisis, one can make a film that speechifies and rattles off facts and figures, but at Black Rock we have the opportunity to create a moving and immersive drama that brings to life an inspiring attempt to combat this issue.
--Keith Fulton & Lou Pepe