A Review of If You Build It

Lyla ChearyOctober 1, 2019EducationMedia

In the United States, 43.1 million people live in poverty. This a huge problem. Because of poverty, school systems in the United States are shutting down. But there is hope.

There are people who are aware of this issue and are willing to donate their time to fix this problem. Two of these people include Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller, who are the creators and teachers featured in If You Build It.

If You Build It, directed by Patrick Creadon, is a documentary about Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller’s shop class in Bertie County High School in North Carolina. Bertie County High School is, according to students, boring and uninspiring. The high school gives no motivation to the kids, and the kids talk about leaving the town.

If You Build It is about Emily, Matthew, and a class of 11th graders, who conduct a project they name Studio H. Studio H stands for a number of things, some of which are: heart, health, happiness, and helpfulness. The students’ goal is to improve their town in North Carolina in one year. Emily and Matt teach the shop class so the high schoolers learn how to change their environment and make their community a better place. They design and build very unique chicken coops, models of architecture, and drawings of structures. Studio H builds all these things with NO funding from the school board. The teachers never get paid a penny, but still teach the hands-on experience to the high schoolers. Emily and Matt try very hard to get paid for teaching their shop class. Even though they fight hard with the school board, the board does not budge.

At the beginning of the movie, the Superintendent of Bertie County High School hires Emily and Matthew to be the Studio H teachers. Very soon after, the superintendent is fired because the school board does not want big changes being made. Emily and Matthew beg the school board to let them stay, and the board eventually agrees but says that they will not give them funding for the project. This is what starts the challenge for Emily and Matt.

The documentary constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat, because you are always wondering what is going to happen next or if the students can finish the projects and how they will turn out.

If You Build It has a lot of interesting features, such as the way the filmmakers introduce the characters. The high schoolers talk about themselves and about their experiences before and after they finish the projects. The director, Patrick Creadon, directed the documentary in a way that reminded me of reality shows. He lets the students have their moments to talk to the camera alone and express their feelings, emotions, and thoughts. I liked this because it gives you a moment to listen to the students’ true thoughts and feelings, and because the viewer gets to understand what it is like to be part of the project.

The filmmakers do not reveal the final project until the last quarter of the movie. The farmers' market, the final project, is like the finish line. Since the main project is at the end, it helps to sum up the movie and to tell the viewer that goals were accomplished. Studio H does not come up with the farmers' market randomly; the community votes for it. They think that a building for the farmers' market will be helpful because the grocery store charges high prices, since there is nowhere else to buy food. The community also says that it will encourage people to start their own businesses.

It was interesting to see if Studio H could finish the project with the time restraints and lack of funding. While the structure is in progress, it looks a bit messy. To me, it looked like a lot of wooden planks nailed together. After the market is done, it looks modern and well-crafted. It looks simple, without the look of someone trying too hard.

If You Build It is an entertaining documentary. It is inspiring to activists, architects, and artists. It inspires one to help poorer communities. The movie shows how building community structures can help bring a community together. This movie is probably intended for activists, builders, artists, and people who like to learn about problems around the world (and, hopefully, can help fix them). While this movie is inspiring and entertaining, it also teaches the viewer about Bertie County in North Carolina.

I would give this documentary a four out of five star rating. I gave it this rating because the transition to each different project in the movie took some time and was a bit too slow for me. In between each project, the students would talk a little bit about their lives. Although the interviews had great significance to the documentary, I felt as if the interviews went on for too long. Otherwise, the movie was interesting. I got to watch two caring, kind people use their abilities to help a community that’s living in poverty.

Lyla Rae Cheary, 13 years old, currently lives in New York City and attends middle school at East Community High. In her free time, Lyla loves to read, write poetry, bake, and after many years of persistently asking her parents to get her a dog, finally got one.