If You Build It has its world premiere on Saturday as part of Full Frame Film Festival's special Center Frame screenings. It's apt that the documentary will premiere in North Carolina, as the Tar Heel state is the subject of the film, a funny, moving chronicle of two designer-activists who implement an innovative educational program in Bertie County, located in the northeast of the state, one of the poorest areas in North Carolina.
Filmmaker Patrick Creadon, perhaps best known for Wordplay, his 2006 documentary about New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, followed designers Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller over the course of a year as they implemented a radical, hands-on curriculum for high school juniors—with virtually no support from the Bertie County school board. Studio H, as the project was dubbed, taught students how to "design, build and transform." The aim: to empower young people to think creatively, problem-solve and work with their hands in order to turn ideas into tangible products.
Creadon says that in working on If You Build It, he did something that he had never before done as a filmmaker—he put the camera in his subjects' hands.
"We knew that we weren't going to be there for everything, nor did we want to be there for everything. So we trained the kids to do their own diaries and to tell their own stories," Creadon says.
"What's really interesting about that is it's very similar to the approach Matt and Emily have when it comes to design and architecture—that you should be a part of your own story."
The students' final project for Studio H involved designing and constructing a new building for a local farmers market—a market that has since helped to bring new jobs, new businesses and a sense of civic pride to the local community.
Creadon aptly describes the outcome of this process as "Extreme Home Makeover meets The Breakfast Club."
"It's power tools and sawdust, plus the drama of being high school students."