A struggling community finds its own kind of field of dreams in "If You Build It," Patrick Creadon's fine documentary about a teaching program that from 2010 to 2012 inspired a group of teens in tiny Windsor, N.C. — and jolted a town in the process. The film proves not only a stirring look at education's potential to rally and invigorate but also a vital snapshot of contemporary rural America.
Despite resistance from the entrenched local school board, activist architects Matthew Miller and Emily Pilloton, waiving salary and using grant money, involved 10 high-schoolers in an ambitious initiative dubbed Studio H (for "humanity, habitats, health and happiness"). Miller and Pilloton, who were coworkers and romantic partners, crafted a highly supportive, hands-on workshop in which their increasingly motivated students designed and built a series of community-oriented projects, culminating in a farmers market pavilion.
Director Creadon ("Wordplay," "I.O.U.S.A.") effectively draws us into the creative process while evenly exploring bits of the teachers' and kids' personal lives as well as their infectious, can-do attitudes. Though stress and obstacles factor in here, the movie smartly eschews reality TV-style drama.
Perhaps most notable, however, is the strong spirit of warmth and camaraderie between the course's black and white students. That race goes unmentioned here is as heartening and refreshing as the impressive results of Studio H itself.
"If You Build It."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Playing: At Landmark's Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles.