We Are Here Together
About a school where the students have a say, too

A film by Karina Epperlein & John Knoop

see trailer at Docs Populi


Mill Valley Film Festival 2003

Denver Int'l Film Festival

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We are Here Together

"…it's as if the cameras aren't even there. What comes out of that endeavor is much more bracing than reality TV…"

—Startz Denver
Int'l Film Festival


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video documentary, 65 minutes, ©2003

We Are Here Together, a one hour documentary film, tells the story of a group of teenagers who weren’t 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 things—like 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 Station.

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 school’s childcare center, the ability of teenage boys to relate with creativity and tenderness to young children is a revelation.

Since the school’s 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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Production Notes

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.

Artists' Statement

When we 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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To contact: John Knoop (510) 525-6113 • johnknoop.com
Karina films Films Biography Links Contact