Film director Patrick Creadon calls his newest documentary “This Old House Meets the Breakfast Club.”
It’s an apt description.
If You Build It offers a simple enough premise: A San-Francisco-based designer and architect are hired by a small town in North Carolina to teach a one-year, hands-on program in design to 10 high school students.
They arrive in Windsor, an impoverished town situated halfway between Raleigh and the Outer Banks, and get to work.
“The school’s in one of the poorest towns in North Carolina, with lots of dropouts and high unemployment,” the director says. “The best and brightest leave and never come back, like a lot of towns around the country.”
Within a week, the school superintendent who hired the two new teachers has been forced to resign; next, their salaries are withdrawn. Still, the pair soldiers on, relying on grant money for supplies, equipment and tools.
In a year’s time, they transform the lives of their students – and the community.
“Over the summer, they build something the town had always wanted: a farmers’ market,” he says. “The teachers and students take a swing at it, and go off and build this gorgeous market that’s not only beautiful, but becomes an economic engine.”
Four new businesses grow up around it, and 12 new jobs are created. Vendors pop up nearby in season, April through November. People flock to it from 50 miles away.
In short, students and teachers actually succeed in the face of near-overwhelming obstacles.
“In the movie, you see kids taking ownership of the things they’re building,” he says. “They feel like valued citizens in their town.”
About half the class is now enrolled in college. One student, who declares in the film’s early minutes that he’s carrying on a family tradition of hating school, eventually ends up on the dean’s list at N.C. State University in Raleigh.
“We’re trying to show the power of design, and how great design can tackle any problem, anywhere,” he says. “But it’s also a story about what a great education could look like.”
And what it can achieve.