Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Review: 'If You Build It' Celebrates Creativity Under Constraint & The Power Of Community

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 10, 2014 at 5:04PM

"Constraint builds ingenuity," declares Matthew Miller in the documentary "If You Build It," with his life and business partner Emily Pilloton quickly quipping, "We're masochists a little bit." And that little exchange perfectly encapsulates the determined spirit of the pair as they bring their fledgling student program Studio H to Windsor in Bertie County, one of the poorest in North Carolina. And the concept is simple: design, build, transform. That's the motto Miller and Pilloton live by, and in the film by Patrick Creadon, we witness the tremendous sacrifice they make to prove their simple idea that giving back to the community is a lesson that leaves an impression that lasts far beyond the classroom.
0
If You Build It

"Constraint builds ingenuity," declares Matthew Miller in the documentary "If You Build It," with his life and business partner Emily Pilloton quickly quipping, "We're masochists a little bit." And that little exchange perfectly encapsulates the determined spirit of the pair as they bring their fledgling student program Studio H to Windsor in Bertie County, one of the poorest in North Carolina. And the concept is simple: design, build, transform. That's the motto Miller and Pilloton live by, and in the film by Patrick Creadon, we witness the tremendous sacrifice they make to prove their simple idea that giving back to the community is a lesson that leaves an impression that lasts far beyond the classroom.

And for the kids of Windsor, the classroom is mostly a laptop. With budgets being squeezed, some of the students see as much as half of their course load taking place online (including phys ed, that requires nothing more than hoping teens will respect the honor system as they fill out an activity log). But this arena, where the potential of these students is being left to wither away, is fertile ground for Miller and Pilloton who arrive with a proposition to run a design class with a curriculum they will build, with a final project that will benefit the entire town of Windsor. It seems like a no brainer, but politics gets in the way, and by time classes start, the pair are left with no salary, pouring all the grant money they've received into Studio H while they eke out a living on credit cards.

If You Build It

But sacrifice seems second nature to both Miller and Pilloton. For his graduate project in architecture, the former raised money and built an actual house for a needy family in Detroit, and both worked at professional firms before venturing into the world of non-profit. And that world is a place where resources are few, and where trust is earned, and while the school board may be skeptical, Miller and Pilloton win over the people who matter most: the students. A bunch of rural kids who are at ease in pick-up trucks and working with livestock, they don't seem like the most obvious candidates to wind up being inspired by the designs of Buckminster Fuller, but soon the small group in Studio H are creating blueprints for things that would turn heads in trendy shops in SoHo.

"If You Build It" follows Studio H through its first, full semester and the film's charm is in watching these unlikely kids, quietly dream up big ideas, gaining confidence in their newfound abilities every step of the way. Conducted in an open wood shop style environment, Miller and Pilloton lead the students through the design and build of two smaller scale projects first—a cornhole board and chicken coop (both of which result in finished concepts you won't believe)—before launching the big finale: a massive, farmer's market pavilion for the town of Windsor.

If You Build It

Creadon's documentary is an intimate look at a small scale town, with two people bringing some rather progressive ideas to the table. And while "If You Build It" briefly hints at the tension between city officials and Miller and Pilloton (which the film could have used more of), its main focus is on Studio H itself, and whether its creators have a great idea on their hands or an ambitious folly. But as the low key documentary eventually makes clear, while the logistics of the program need ironing out (particularly as Miller and Pilloton are learning how to run it on the fly their first time out), it's already a success when it has kids engaged and excited, two adjectives any high school teacher would love to apply to their students.

Less a polemic than a portrait, "If You Build It" celebrates the flinty spirit that spurs problem solving and creativity (sometimes at the same time) with people not dedicated to a cause, but to people. It's an important distinction, but one that shines through this warm documentary, reminding us of the wonders that can be accomplished simply by rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. [B]

This article is related to: If You Build It , Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates