If You Build It follows designers/educators/activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina. Their goal is to offer a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn how to use the tools of design to build their own futures. Living on credit and grant money, Emily and Matthew work doggedly to persuade a reticent school board to invest in them in the wake of a failed investment to renovate a school that now sits abandoned and vandalized. Determined to prove their model works, they successfully engage teenagers like Stevie, who tends to his family’s farm, along with other members of the high school class. The parents of these teens are hopeful they can be engaged to use their minds and intellectual faculties to achieve gainful employment and a bright future someday. The town is concerned not only about the continual brain-drain but about the future viability of Bertie County itself. The documentary follows the teachers and their students, who armed with the tools of design through a year-long, full-scale project, transform the community, and more importantly, their lives.
Geoff Berkshire, Variety
Patrick Creadon's latest documentary is a nuanced portrait of experimental education in a destitute area of the American South.