When we meet Summer Jordan in the short video, Summer’s Choice, she’s a high school senior facing a terrible dilemma.
Her father’s dead, mother lost to drugs, so Summer lives with her ailing grandmother in a small California desert town. She’s a talented artist but her grandmother’s health and finances are failing and Summer feels guilty about leaving to pursue her dream of attending art school.
It’s often said that education can offer a path out of poverty, but poverty pushes kids to drop out even before they finish high school. That dilemma is at the core of the video Summer’s Choice, created by two talented filmmakers, Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe.
From the Toronto Film Scene site:
Keith Fulton: It’s almost impossible for these kids to change their situation. They don’t have any money. They don’t have any emotional support. They don’t have stable places to live and places to get a meal. These problems make it hard to make school a priority for them.
Lou Pepe: There’s a strong sense with these kids that by the time they turned 18, they’ve witnessed and dealt with problems most Americans will never experience.
The filmmakers, writing on the NYT Op-Docs site:
We take kids who can’t seem to stay on track and write them off, dismissing them with summary labels. It’s simpler that way — if we know what they are, we don’t really have to think about why. So more often than not, the roots of a “bad kid’s” difficulties are left unexplored, as they would most likely force us to look at histories of abuse, neglect, abandonment, addiction or possibly even that huge unspoken problem that plagues our public education system: intractable, generational poverty.
If the video does not appear, click here.
Summer’s Choice was part of a larger documentary project by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe.
The Bad Kids
Their feature documentary, The Bad Kids, is an intimate portrait of several students from Summer’s high school and the adults who try to help them turn their lives around. I haven’t seen The Bad Kids, but given the strength of Summer’s Choice, it’s bound to be an emotionally powerful documentary.
Here’s what the filmmakers have to say about how they collaborated on location, from an interview in Filmmakers Magazine
Pepe: Keith picked up the boom and mixer and did all of the sound recording, so we worked as a two-person camera/sound team. The advantage of this was that while I would be in-the-moment with the drama unfolding in front of the camera, Keith was always able to tip me off to the action happening behind me. Keith has a strong editorial eye, so he’s always whispering to me to grab the shot that he knows I haven’t noticed yet but that we’ll need in the editing room.
Every day in the course of 120 shooting days, for at least a few minutes, I would set off alone in search of “poetry.” A lot of times, I would come back empty-handed, but on some occasions, I would capture precious moments that gave a really intimate view of our subjects’ lives: a student trying his best to stay awake but falling asleep during class… a couple making out in a corner of the hallway… a boy staring at himself in the hallway mirror… a silent hug of comfort between two friends.
My thoughts on Summer’s Choice
Summer’s Choice is beautifully realized, with quiet insights and great photography. The filmmakers’ compassionate, watchful eye makes Summer’s dilemma all the more immediate. The cinema verite style helps create an intimate portrait of a young person on the edge, yet with her inner strength and resilience, it has a hopeful, positive sensibility. Youth is often optimistic, but as adults, we can see how the cards are stacked against kids like Summer. You want her to beat the odds, but will she?
If nothing else, documentaries like this show how the American Dream has become more of a phantom for many of our fellow Americans. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.