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Improv(e), A Documentary About Teaching Inner City Teens

Submit an Entry: What Documentary Are You Working On?

By Gawain Bantle & Susan Kucera

Improv(e), A Documentary About Teaching Inner City Teens

Raoul and partner

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Documentary Title and Basics:


The film is about the life changing power of improv acting in the service of young adults who live in one of the toughest neighborhoods in there US, South Central LA. It offers an alternative to gang life, drugs, alcohol abuse, despair and dropping out of high school. We follow the work of the Unusual Suspects theatre company and their work with disadvantaged kids.

Location: South Central LA, Target release date Sept 2012, we are looking for distribution now. Our first film is being distributed by Gravitas

More About the Documentary's Story And Issues:

Improv(e), follows the work of the Unusual Suspects Theater Company; a group of talented professional actors, teaching improv to a group of African- American and Hispanic kids age 14 to 17 in an after school program at John C. Fremont High School; a school with a 50% drop-out rate located in the toughest, high crime, poverty stricken neighborhood in Los Angeles. The program culminates in a powerful play written by these youth and is performed by professional actors presented to their peers and community.

The program which won the Presidents award in 2008 was born from the ashes of the 1992 LA riots. Actress Laura Leigh Hughes, deeply impacted by those events was inspired to give under-served and incarcerated youth the voice they desperately needed. She recalls the attitude at that time was one of “let them burn their neighborhood down.” For her though these events evoked a different response, “We are all connected.”

At the beginning of the Unusual Suspects program we see the kids being introduced to improv games. These “games” seems so simple, yet what these teachers are able to accomplish is akin to years worth of therapy. These kids are suffering from severe post traumatic stress syndrome from seeing violence, hearing violence; being the subject of assaults by gang members as they walk to and from school. This school is in lock-down and resembles a prison. As Honorable Judge Donna Quigley Groman remarks, “Its really a miracle, kids can get to school at all”.

In powerful moments like “step to the line” we are also brought face to face with what only most of us can dimly relate to via the news, but these kids know first hand. “Step to the line if you know someone who is in jail” It is something to see, when 25 teenagers all step to the line.- We learn through these games the issues they have to deal with, the drugs, the alcoholism, the poverty, the fear; the need for love, for consideration.

We are filming with the Red One Camera. There is time lapse footage, many interviews. We don't use narration but let the images and interviews speak for themselves. High resolution 4 to 4.5 k beautiful cinematography moving content.

Lessons Learned

  • Many people in communities all over the Country are struggling with the same issues of ‘hopelessness’ in our youth. We are failing to truly engage our youth in a way they feel they can contribute back to the common. Because of this we plan to engage school districts and community leaders as well as groups working to affect positive change among our juvenile justice system.
  • envision distribution with PBS, Oprah Winfreys ro'co network, New Magic Johnson TV channel, applying at film festivals. May 17th a fundraising gala with well known Hollywood actors, will show a clip of the fim .
  • funds for funds for post

Jennifer Merin, About.com Documentaries, says:

Great subject. Good luck with the project and please keep us posted. While you're doing your research, there are several great docs on related subjects that you might want to look at, including Shakespeare High, Louder Than A Bomb, among others. Really, please let us know of your progress!
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