The connection between a community and its public education was explored in a novel way Friday at the Rowland Theater in Philipsburg as an award-winning filmmaker brought her Sundance Film Festival documentary to town.
The film, “If You Build It,” showed for a private audience of students and community leaders at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. for the public.
The project to take movies on the road is part of an outreach by Sundance called “Film Forward,” which aims not only to popularize great but perhaps under viewed movies but also, in the present case, to spread those films’ messages.
Thus we found award-winning filmmaker Christine O’Malley, of Los Angeles, in Philipsburg on a Friday afternoon talking about her 2014 film. It is a charming little seed of a film whose message might take root in just such a place.
Her film, which she produced with her director husband, Patrick Creadon, takes a look at two ingenious “design activists,” Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller, and one of their projects, a 12 month design/build curriculum they implemented in impoverished Bertie County, North Carolina.
The film observes the problems facing local education systems and suggests startlingly creative new paradigms for a new kind of classroom where students are energized not only to understand challenges facing their communities but also to get their hands dirty solving those problems.
In Bertie County, the “classroom” turned out to be a 2,000 square foot public farmer’s market designed and built by ten improbable students who impacted their community and transformed their own lives.
According to Rowland Theater board member Kevin Conklin, the Centre County Library first contacted the theater as a prospective host. In Pennsylvania, Film Forward joined forces with the state library system to push seven Sundance films into a host of educational forums, mostly in the Philadelphia and Harrisburg areas.
Screenings, workshops and discussions with filmmakers are all part of the Film Forward grant program around the U.S. and internationally, but the Rowland Theater was one of only two Pennsylvania locations - Philadelphia was the other - selected to have a filmmaker host the screening.
The educational thrust of the film is broad, according to Philipsburg-Osceola art teacher Barry Raker.
“We used to just teach our curriculums and that was it,” said Raker. “But these days the thing emerging in our schools is that different disciplines are becoming more and more intertwined.”
“I teach 2D design and computer graphics, but the kinds of things this film is talking about show real connectivity between arts, shop courses and many other educational disciplines,” said Raker.
“If You Build It” is the latest film in a long line of successful films by O’Malley and Creadon.
O’Malley was associate producer on the Oscar nominated “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” in 2004. In 2006, O’Malley and Creadon collaborated on “Wordplay,” a fascinating study of the world of crossword puzzles and those who love them. And in 2008, the husband-wife team examined the size and scope of America’s national debt with the eye-opening “I.O.U.S.A.”