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Documentary film 'If You Build It' highlights design inspired learning

"If You Build It" will screen at IFC New York on January 10th.
"If You Build It" will screen at IFC New York on January 10th.

Television fans know him as the Executive Producer of such hit shows as “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and “Under the Dome,” but overseeing TV dramas is only a small part of Neal Baer’s body of work.

Friday a documentary that he produced will open in Los Angeles at the NuArt Theater in Santa Monica. Several other screenings are scheduled across the country in the coming weeks and months.

“If You Build It” highlights a radically innovative approach to education that focuses on hands-on learning for a group of North Carolina high school students.

The film follows designers Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller as they embark on the project, seeking to not only drastically enhance the current teaching model, but fighting a change-adverse school board at the same time.

Baer’s involvement in the project took some outreach on his part as he sought out the designers after discovering their work. "I read Emily’s book, ‘Design Revolution,’ then I found her on Facebook, met her in San Francisco and told her right out, ‘I want us to make a documentary together.’”

This is not Baer’s first foray into the documentary world. He’s spent time in Africa teaching photography and filmmaking with the result being a piece entitled “Mozambique,” the story of a young man’s search for a family after his parents died of AIDS. That documentary has screened in over 40 film festivals around the world.

The message of “If You Build It” is that change is possible, but people have to be behind it. It takes a belief not only in the idea but in the process as well and unfortunately often these attempts at innovation are not met with the necessary enthusiasm and action to make them possible.

But having said that, in this film it’s encouraging to see the high school students involved embrace a project that’s foreign to them and then proceed to work hard to see it through to fruition. Not wanting to spoil anything here, by the conclusion of the film, viewers may feel conflicted about what’s transpired during the course of the venture; there is a both a sense of hope and defeat at the same time. But the heartening aspect is that this mission occurred at all, meaning that hopefully this endeavor will serve as a stepping stone, leading to more attempts to boost design centered educational models.

Joining Baer as producer of the film is Christine O’Malley with Patrick Creadon directing. O’Malley served as associate producer on the Academy Award®-nominated documentary film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," while Creadon helmed "Wordplay" which was nominated for both a Critics’ Choice Award and a National Board of Review Award for “Best Documentary.”

At a screening in New York, Creadon described "If You Build It" as "Extreme Home Makeover" meets "The Breakfast Club," saying, "You're watching this group of young people come together to complete this project that will benefit their community, and it's an unlikely group of people, really, and by the end, ideas, attitudes, and, most amazingly, some of their futures, are changed. In the end, the entire process affects everyone differently and it's very stirring to watch all of it unfold."

To view a trailer of the film, check the screening schedule, and learn more about “If You Build It,” please visit this site.

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