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Imagine a school where all classes are optional...and rules are made by democratic vote. Read more

Brooklyn, NY Documentary
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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on January 10, 2012.

Imagine a school where all classes are optional...and rules are made by democratic vote.

Brooklyn, NY Documentary
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About this project

*We have made our goal! $14,500 is a bare bones post-production budget. With over 230 hours of footage, most of the money raised will go towards editing. Every dollar we raise above the goal will help us provide Approaching the Elephant with quality sound mixing, color correction, music composition and will lay the groundwork for distribution. It would be great to bring in another $5,000. You can still make a difference in the final product. We have until next Tuesday, January 10th!*

Welcome to our Kickstarter campaign! 

Please donate what you can and share the Kickstarter link! Thank you!

*Donations are tax-deductible!

I might show them an elephant, if I had one handy, but I'd let them just walk up to the elephant not knowing anything more about it than the elephant knew about them. ~ J.D. Salinger, "Teddy"

Why This Movie's Different

Imagine attending a school where it's up to you what you learn. No class is mandatory. Rules and judicial decisions are determined by democratic vote. Everyone from the youngest person, who could be as young as five years old, to the director of the school, has an equal say in how the school runs. Whether your response to this picture is, 'I love it! Send me, this is my bag!' or, 'Horrible! Anarchy! Hogwash! Don't tell me it's real!' I bet you'll itch to know more. Free schools are rare birds, radically different from conventional models of 'school.' Approaching the Elephant takes its audience into a free school, and through carefully observed scenes cut and strung into an engaging story, invites viewers to fundamentally reconsider the rights of children and how we learn.

There are many documentaries about schools, but few look to one as different as The Teddy McArdle Free School. Far-flung positions and radical visions impel creativity and growth. As our education system continues to fail, with even tighter state and federal control leading to more testing and national standards, it is imperative we seek out and witness alternative theories put into practice. The failure to examine new educational routes carries with it enormous social costs.

Along with a subject that's unusual and pertinent to our times, I feel that I (Amanda, the director) struck gold by crossing paths with Teddy McArdle. It's one of those stories, one of those groups of people, that come around a couple times in a documentary filmmaker's lifetime, if you're lucky. Because the school was new, how a free school works is a question the subjects, children and adults, grappled with on a daily basis, and because everyone was so open to my being there, viewers of Approaching the Elephant bear witness to this process of discovery, this unfolding human story.

Summary

Approaching the Elephant is a feature-length documentary about The Teddy McArdle Free School, where classes are optional and rules are made by democratic vote. Summerhill, founded 90 years ago by A. S. Neill, was the first free school - now there are more than 200 worldwide. Approaching the Elephant chronicles a free school in the making - spanning two years, from Teddy McArdle's first day when there were no rules or classes, through the changing of the school's director and the expulsion of a student by democratic vote, to the last day of the second year, Approaching the Elephant is an intimate portrait of a small group of people from a range of educational backgrounds, come together to forge a place where children are treated as equals, at liberty to spend their days however they please. 

A collection of observational character studies woven into a sharply edited yet natural piece, Approaching the Elephant places its audience in a free school and allows them to experience it from the perspectives of teachers, parents, visitors, but mostly of students.

Exploring themes of power, justice, freedom, democracy, and the lives of children, Approaching the Elephant invites viewers to consider the following questions: What are the rights of children? How do children, if left to their own devises, want to spend their days? What and how do they want to learn? Whom do we elect as leaders, formally and informally, and why? How do we check our leader's influence, if at all? Most generally, what works in terms of education?

Background

When I (Amanda) was in fifth grade, my father took me to visit the Summerhill School in England, the oldest free school. I barely recognized Summerhill as a school. Kids rode horses and attended pottery, creative writing, and woodworking classes. The difference was they were doing these things because they wanted to - they weren't required. And the students were passionately debating for what they wanted in their all-school democratic meetings. I had never met kids like this before. They radiated confidence, vitality, and ownership - ownership of their school and their lives. 

I didn't end up going to Summerhill. England felt far from my home in the U.S. But years later I went to Marlboro College, a small, progressive liberal arts school, and that's where I learned the beauty and importance of self-directed, non-coercive learning, and where I met Jay Craven, the producer of Approaching the Elephant. In the summer of 2007, Jay and I decided we wanted to make a documentary about education. While doing research for the documentary at the AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) Conference, I met Alex. Alex was about to start the The Teddy McArdle Free School in Little Falls, New Jersey. He had an adventure around the bend.

I showed up at Teddy McArdle on their first day, and filmed there for two school years.

Current Status of the Project 

A very generous grant of $12,000 from The Bay and Paul Foundation got us through production. Thefootage (all 230 hours!) has been digitized. Kamila Calabrese has edited a rough cut of the first 20 hours, the first week of school. The director, Amanda, and producer, Jay, are happy with this initial cut and want Kamila to work with Amanda to edit the footage into a 90-minute piece.

How We'll Use $14,500

Monies raised through Kickstarter ($14,500 or more) will cover the cost of editing and finishing Approaching the Elephant. The director, Amanda, and editor, Kamila, will work together to edit rough and fine cuts of the movie.

Producer

Jay Craven, the award-winning independent film writer/director, impresario, and community arts activist is producer of Approaching the Elephant. Jay has a long history of making movies on small budgets and with inventive distribution methods. Once Approaching the Elephant is finished, he will be very helpful in getting it out there and making sure it's seen by as many people as possible.

Editor

Originally from Sweden, Kamila Calabrese earned her BFA in film at School of Visual Arts in New York City. After a brief stint in advertising, she edited her first documentary, supervised by the award-winning editor Paula Heredia. Her work has been aired on PBS, Discovery Channel, Israeli TV and various film festivals. Kamila has worked for the Ross Institute as a resident filmmaker, edited a film for Don Lenzer, and most recently edited "It Takes a Cult," a feature documentary on the Love Family. She is a proud graduate of the Werner Herzog Rogue Film School.

Thank you, and please help us complete Approaching the Elephant!

*Photo by Kate Albright

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    THANK YOU! High five! We will high five in person if we ever run into you on the street!

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    Approaching the Elephant POSTCARD with a personal thank you note!

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    A SNEAK PREVIEW of 10 minutes of the movie + Postcard!

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    A SIGNED DVD of the movie, hot off the presses and in your hands first! + Postcard + Sneak preview. Yes!

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    Approaching the Elephant BOOKMARK with an illustration by Ada or Lucy, Teddy McArdle students! The illustration will be of someone in the movie or of the director! + Signed DVD + Postcard + Sneak Preview!

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    An INVITATION TO EARLY TEST SCREENINGS, where you will be able to voice your opinions on the movie and hear from the filmmakers! Get to know the movie as it's being made! If you're not in the area, we'll provide you with digital downloads and recordings of the discussions. + Signed DVD + Bookmark + Postcard + Sneak Preview!

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    CHAT OR HAT! Choose from a telephone/skype conversation with the director OR a winter hat knit especially for you by the editor! + Bookmark + Signed DVD + Postcard + Sneak Preview!

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    YOUR NAME IN THE CREDITS under Special Thanks! Forever! + Signed DVD + Limited edition poster + Bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with director!

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    Invitation for two to the World Premiere or New York Premiere + Signed DVD + Limited edition poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with director + Your name in the credits under Special Thanks!

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    INVITATION FOR FOUR to the World Premiere or New York Premiere + Signed DVD + Limited edition poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with the director + Your name in the credits under Special Thanks!

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    DINNER (OR LUNCH!) AND A STROLL WITH THE DIRECTOR AND THE FOUNDER OF TEDDY MCARDLE! + Signed DVD + Limited edition poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with the director + Your name in the credits under Special Thanks + Invitations for two to World or New York Premiere!

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    DINNER WITH THE DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, AND EDITOR at a restaurant in New York City or via Skype. You pick the cuisine, we pick the restaurant! + Signed DVD + Poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with the director + Your name in the credits under Special Thanks + Invitations for two to World or New York Premiere.

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    THE DIRECTOR WILL MAKE A PORTRAIT of a person you know or event of your choice - your mother, brother, child, mentor, friend, wedding, dance party, or simply a day in the life. One or two day shoot. If more than 3 hours from New York City, please provide for travel expenses. + Signed DVD + Poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with the director + Your name in the credits under Special Thanks + Invitations for two to World or New York Premiere!

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    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER CREDIT on the official completed documentary, with an IMDB entry + signed DVD + Limited edition poster + Illustrated bookmark + Invitation to early screenings + Conversation with the director + Invitations for two to World or New York Premiere

    + Our eternal gratitude.

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Funding period

- (50 days)