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"If You Build It": The Purpose of the Class Is to Build the Class 

Wednesday, Feb 26 2014

If You Build It Our first introduction to Emily Pilloton in Patrick Creadon's documentary If You Build It is in the context of a TED Talk she gave in 2010. Though she lays out the back-story for the film, If You Build It soon settles into a more traditional documentary structure (and thus doesn't become just an augmented TED speech, thank goodness). What happened was, in 2010 the Superintendent of Schools of North Carolina's poorest county brought in Pilloton and her partner Matthew Miller to teach a hands-on construction and design class, hoping to inspire the students to think in terms of the positive impact they can have on their community. The school board soon sacked the superintendent, but Pilloton and Miller hung on, eventually leading the kids in a project to build their town a much-needed farmers' market. We get to know many of the kids and townsfolk, but the truly fascinating conflict is the fact that while Pilloton is perhaps more charismatic than Miller, Miller (by his own admission) assimilates better into North Carolina because he's a white guy wearing a baseball cap, while Pilloton is a half-Asian woman from California. If You Build It is not ultimately about that struggle, but it makes what her, Miller, and the kids are able to accomplish all the more remarkable.

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Sherilyn Connelly


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