Film Review: If You Build It: A Story of Transformation Through Education

Posted on January 20, 2014

Film Review: If You Build It: A Story of Transformation Through Education

“If You Build It,” a new film directed by Patrick Creadon, explores what happens when teachers urge students to use the creativity that each of them possess, but which public education often tamps down. The film also looks at the not-so-subtle barriers that arise when people try to make change in a community that isn’t accustomed to it.

I looked up Bertie County, N.C., the setting for this film, and found that it sits in the poorer eastern part of that state, in a region that is close to many big cities yet contains large stretches where there’s never been much to keep people from leaving. In the film, the place appears to be the quintessential rural Southern county, with an intensely agricultural tradition, a county seat that looks to be ravaged by Wal-Mart (not to mention recurring floods), and with a conservative approach to new ideas.

The film presents two young teachers, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, one from Michigan, the other from California, who desire to use unorthodox methods to bring the joy of learning to high school teens. They find an unlikely champion in Bertie County’s schools superintendent, but soon after he invites them to his district, he is fired. The school board then tells Emily and Matt they have one semester to try out their strange curriculum, and no, they won’t be paid for their services.

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