see trailer at Docs Populi
Film Festival 2003
Denver Int'l Film Festival
"…it's as if the cameras aren't even there. What comes out of that endeavor is much more bracing than reality TV…"
Int'l Film Festival
Are Here Together, a one hour documentary film, tells the
story of a group of teenagers who werent happy with school,
so they started their own. They wanted to reach beyond academic
scores and to learn how to function in the real world. HOME/BASE
is the public charter high school they designed with the help and
advice of their adult councilors. The students were members of
a youth empowerment program called HOME, and they had experienced
involvement in doing real thingslike helping to build the
largest public skateboard park in California, running a youth employment
agency, working in a child care center and successfully petitioning
the Alameda City Council for a building on the former Naval Air
We Are Here Together follows 45 ninth, tenth, eleventh
and twelfth graders through the first tempestuous year of their new school,
revealing the dynamic of community building that makes it different from
other high schools. The students- ignore the cameras and allow the filmmakers
access to moments of crisis and joy.
A pupil refuses to join the community circle
until she is lovingly coaxed back by her fellow students. Another day
a senior will not participate in a self-rating exercise, and her rebellion
results in a re-affirmation of student rights. On parents night mothers
and fathers are asked to write letters to their kids expressing their
deepest feelings. In school the following day the students read the letters
and share them with each other, crying with surprise at their parents love.
In Home Sweet Home, the schools childcare center, the
ability of teenage boys to relate with creativity and tenderness to young
children is a revelation.
Since the schools academic standards and procedures match those
at other high schools, the filmmakers choose to bypass documenting the
traditional classroom instruction. Instead We Are Here Together portrays
the process of community and relationship building that make the atmosphere
at HOME/BASE a fertile learning ground.
We Are Here Together is a provocative film that takes the
viewer on an emotional journey full of drama, trials and triumphs. Questions
arise, such as: What is really important in education beside grades?
What do we want our children to learn in addition to the academics? A
sense of self worth? How to bring about change in the world? What does
striving for justice and fairness entail?
The transformations and awakenings of the young
people in this film, their candidness, honesty and "realness" are
moving and impressive. Some parents never see this side of their children.
Watching the students
strength and emotional growth emerge, the viewer
feels a ray of hope as the success of HOME/BASE suggests a way out of
the educational crisis in America.
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We Are Here Together was
filmed at the HOME/BASE School in Alameda, California with small
broadcast quality digital cameras by its director, Karina Epperlein,
and producer, John Knoop. Radio and shotgun microphones were used
to eliminate invasive boom mics looming over the subjects.
The filming began in August 01 and continued through the first
and second semesters until graduation. The events of 9/11 and the war
in Afghanistan hung over the first semester like a dark cloud. The
filmmakers taught a documentary course and shot extensive interviews
with both students and teachers. It was essential to maintain the lowest
possible profile to avoid distracting the students, and normal three
or four person documentary crews would have been inappropriate for
the extended shooting schedule. The students did some hamming and mugging
in the early days, but soon learned to trust and ignore the cameras.
The filmmakers were at the school two or three times each week of the
first semester and for major events during the second. Over 80 hours
of material were shot.
came across this youth initiated public charter high school we saw
it as an ambitious and gutsy experiment to re-envision education
that deserved our attention. Soon we were totally engrossed in the
daily struggles to see it succeed, and we became part of the family
of 45 students and 12 teachers. The ups and down- a rollercoaster
ride, the students called it were truly dramatic. Compelling
characters emerged with each crisis. Having a say meant
to take responsibility and learn about commitment. This kind of community
building was breathtaking to witness. There was a beautiful emotional
arc to the school year, from initial excitement, to serious crisis,
to final success. The honesty, courage and caring that was displayed
was moving and inspiring to us as filmmakers. We knew that few people
have the privilege of seeing this side of teenagers and so we felt
it our duty to share this insight with as wide an audience as possible.
We deliberately left out the academic aspects of the school in order
to focus on the tremendous emotional growth happening during that
year. We hoped to make the film in such a way that the protagonists the
kids would stay with the viewers. We Are Here Together is
meant to stimulate discussion and inspire students, parents and educators
to take risks in the adventure of learning.
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