Chattanooga film chronicles life at Howard School (with video)

Chattanooga film chronicles life at Howard School (with video)

August 9th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

A member of the Howard School marching band plays the sousaphone at a fall home football game.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


Aug. 16: Film premiere at Tivoli Theatre, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 18: The Howard Summit, 10 a.m., the Howard School

Aug. 22: Camp House Screening, time to be announced

Sept. 1: Back Row Film Series Drive-In Screening, time to be announced

Other church and theater screenings to be announced

After spending a year working and filming inside the halls of Howard School, local documentary producers walked away with some lessons of their own.

Drew Belz, co-producer of the documentary "Build Me a World," said the challenges at a high-poverty and nearly all-black school like Howard represent a communitywide struggle.

"One of the biggest struggles that I think we like to sweep under the rug is the issue of real integration across race lines and poverty lines," he said "It's something we don't like to talk about as a community. And I think Howard represents that struggle in a pretty cogent way."

In Howard's students, Belz said he sees struggles and accomplishments common to all people.

"The struggle of people against themselves and against their environment is a human struggle. And it's a struggle I see in myself."

Local video production company Fancy Rhino spent the 2011-12 school year filming students and teachers at Howard, focusing specifically on three senior students and one teacher. Their finished product will debut Aug. 16 with a free screening at the Tivoli Theatre.

The director and producers taught a weekly film class and had students film segments of the documentary in the school and out in the community.

"I'm just glad somebody's decided to open up people's eyes to our school and to the things we go through as teenagers," said junior Derelle Roshell.

While the community is keenly aware of bad things that happen at Howard, Roshell said they don't always hear about the positive stories like those featured in the film.

"I think this will open up doors to see the good things that go on in our school. I think a lot of people will want to come in and see Howard for itself," he said.

Principal Paul Smith said the documentary has its uplifting moments, but he said it doesn't come across as a feel-good film.

"I think it's more of, 'Here's the story. Take it or leave it,'" he said. "You get to see these are real kids with real struggles with real issues. These are kids who weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths. But they achieve. They go through the same things that other kids do."

Smith said the film isn't an all-encompassing piece on Howard, its struggles and improvement strategy. He said it's more of a story about the school's Talented Tenth program, which teaches leadership and debate to some of Howard's highest performers with the goal that their accomplishments will influence peers and the greater community.

Producers say the film will show students who are working to overcome obstacles in their own environments, such as a teenage father looking to finish school and go onto college or the military.

"The story of these kids is what's compelling," Smith said. "When you watch this, you can't help but think, 'How do these kids come through all of this and still at the end of the film most are smiling?'"

Co-producer Isaiah Smallman said Fancy Rhino initially received a small grant to film a short documentary but later realized the story called for a feature-length film. The company received some private donations and covered some of the production costs out of pocket. It's hosting a $10,000 online campaign to recoup costs associated with the film and its free screenings.

Following next week's premiere, filmmakers and school leaders will hold the Howard Summit on Aug. 18 to discuss Howard's needs and its future. Smallman said the group hopes to launch an awareness campaign and drum up community involvement for the school.

"We want to take the momentum from the film into an ongoing campaign at Howard," he said.