School of Last Resort
TYPE: Documentary Feature
School Of Last Resort follows three teenagers in St. Louis as they move from juvenile court to an experimental educational program that offers them one last chance to get their lives on track.
School Of Last Resort follows three teenagers in St. Louis—one of the most dangerous cities in America—as they move from juvenile court to an experimental educational program that offers them one last chance to get their lives on track. Fed up with the policies funneling young people out of the classroom and into his courtroom, Judge Jimmie Edwards rehabilitated a shuttered school in one of St. Louis’s most neglected neighborhoods and launched the Innovative Concept Academy (ICA)—an experimental public school administered by the criminal justice system as an alternative to incarceration. The film follows youth at a critical juncture in their lives when, given the chance to transcend their circumstances, they are forced to choose what kind of people they are going to become.
School of Last Resort presents a vital entry point into the linked crises facing the juvenile justice and education systems in America. Social policies over the last forty years have increasingly pushed children—especially minorities—out of educational settings and into the criminal justice system. Use of out-of-school suspensions almost doubled between 1974 and 2006 according to the report ‘Breaking Schools’ Rules.’ This is especially alarming, as studies have established that suspensions and dropouts drastically increase the likelihood of future criminal activity.
A string of school violence in the 1990s prompted nearly every state to pass “zero tolerance” laws, moving often-minor infractions out of the principal’s office and into the courtroom. Today 130,000 juveniles are locked away every year in the United States and we have the highest rate of youth incarceration of any industrialized nation. Just as in the adult criminal system, sentencing is disproportionate along racial lines: African American youth are almost five times as likely to be incarcerated as whites. Perhaps most troubling is that incarcerated juveniles are 41% more likely to be jailed as adults.
While we spend an extraordinary $52 billion annually on prison costs, access to quality education in low-income neighborhoods is dismal. According to a report by The Future of Children, less than 11% of students from low-income neighborhoods go on to four-year universities—compared to 80% in relatively well-off neighborhoods—and many don’t even finish high school. An estimated 7000 students drop out every day in America, and dropouts are eight times more likely to go to prison. The correlation between educational opportunities and incarceration rates is perhaps most evident in cities like St. Louis, where the loss of manufacturing jobs has contributed to a steady decline into poverty and crime. Once the fourth largest city in the country, St. Louis has lost half of its population since World War II.
With unprecedented access to the court-supervised school and the juvenile courts, School of Last Resort provides a unique, immediate, and very human portrait of the educational and juvenile justice crises. While some reformers have criticized the use of security cameras and the judicial oversight at ICA, it is nonetheless a unique homegrown response by a judge who felt trapped by “zero tolerance” policies. And while the school is not perfect, it is an indication of a national movement pushing back against the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Judges like Jimmie Edwards are beginning to throw minor offenses out of the courtroom and back to the educational system. The forces contributing to the “school-to-prison pipeline” are now widely documented, and awareness of the issue is growing. These trends have contributed to slight declines in juvenile incarceration rates, and it seems that we are poised to make significant breakthroughs. With this momentum, it is more important than ever to raise national awareness of the issue and help push for more longstanding reform. By showcasing the devastating consequences of failed policies on real students, we hope that the film will move the dial on juvenile justice reform.
Jeremy Levine - Director/Co-Producer
Jeremy Levine is an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker focused on bringing strong, cinematic narrative arcs to social issue films. Good Fortune, his last feature, explores how efforts to aid Africa may be undermining the very communities they aim to serve. The film was awarded a 2007 fellowship from the Sundance Institute, the Witness Award for Human Rights at its 2009 Silverdocs Film Festival premiere, and the 2010 Overseas Press Club Carl Spielvogel Award for international reporting. Good Fortune was broadcast on the award-winning PBS series, POV, where it won a 2010 Emmy. His first film, Walking The Line, a feature documentary about vigilantes along the U.S.-Mexico border, was screened in dozens of film festivals around the world, broadcast nationally in five countries, and recognized with several awards for production, reporting, and preserving human rights. Along with Landon Van Soest, Jeremy co-founded Transient Pictures, a production company with a mission of producing innovative, socially charged films. Together, they also co-founded the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective to provides community and support to independent filmmakers. Jeremy is currently directing the Sundance Institute-supported School of Last Resort, a meditation on an experimental school in north St. Louis through the eyes of a 16-year old girl.
Landon Van Soest - Director
Landon Van Soest is an award winning director and producer of independent films. His original work has broadcast to millions of viewers in seven countries, screened at over fifty international film festivals, received several awards for production and championing human rights, and used in classrooms and conferences across the country. A two-time Sundance Fellow, he has received an Emmy Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, and has been honored by the Overseas Press Club. His last film, the documentary Good Fortune about two Kenyans battling large-scale foreign aid projects designed to help them, broadcast in primetime on POV, PBS's premiere showcase for independent documentaries, to an estimated 2.4 million viewers. It went on to win an Emmy Award. Additional directing credits include the award-winning documentary Walking The Line, about vigilantes along the U.S.-Mexico border, and The Axial Moment, a full length documentary about the most diverse college program in the world. He is currently directing the Sundance-supported documentary School of Last Resort about a neighborhood and experimental school in north St. Louis, an untitled documentary about 'bionic retinas that give vision to the blind, and his first narrative project.
Nicholas Weissman - Producer/Cinematographer
Nicholas Weissman is a documentary filmmaker and freelance producer for Time Inc. Studios. Since coming to New York in 2006 he has worked as a producer and cinematographer for numerous media outlets including Sony Pictures, National Geographic Channel, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, MSNBC, PBS, TNT, and The History Channel. His first independent film, The Minutemen, produced by Weissman and directed by Corey Wascinski, won the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and both Best Documentary and Grand Jury Prize at the Brooklyn International Film Festival.
Jeff Truesdell - Executive Producer
Jeff Truesdell is a staff writer for People Magazine. Since 2000 he's covered a human-interest/breaking-news beat that has taken him from coast-to-coast and to seven countries, reporting on stories that include Hurricane Katrina, the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, the Terri Schiavo right-to-die debate, and the search for the missing Natalee Holloway. His feature article School of Last Resort, which he spent 13 months researching and appeared as a four-page feature in People Magazine's Heroes Among Us series, was an inspiration for this film. He taught journalism at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and as a newspaper editor and reporter previously worked for The Miami Herald, St. Louis Sun, Columbia Daily Tribune, and was a founding editor of Orlando Weekly. He is based in St. Louis.
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