I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School (1991)

SUSAN RAYMOND

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBUSA, 1991Cinematography by Produced by Alan Raymond, Music by Film Editing by Alan Raymond.  Academy Awards 1993.

An elementary school in a rough Philadelphia neighbourhood is, in this heartfelt documentary, the voice of all underfunded inner-city schools in America. Filmmakers Susan and Alan Raymond turned their cameras on E.M. Stanton Elementary School for a whole year and, particularly, on its principal Deanna Burney, as she takes what appears to be a personal one-on-one approach with all the children in her school, encouraging their successes and holding them responsible for their failures. Ninety percent of students at Stanton come from single-parent households, almost all live in poverty and the school is situated in an area that frequently has crimes and drug busts happening nearby.  Burney’s belief is that being from the inner city is no reason to believe these children can’t fulfill the promise of their potential, and worries about doing enough for them given that she knows their background will be held against them later in life. How audiences react to Burney’s methods, particularly in her way of seeming like she is co-parenting with a child’s mother or father during parent-teacher meetings, will vary; the optics of a well-dressed white lady running a school for an entirely African-American student body will be even more incendiary for viewers now than they were at the time the film was made.  Either way the content hits you, there’s no denying that the Raymonds do an expert job of knowing what scenes and situations are riveting enough to be kept in the finished film, and they create something that is at once sympathetic, moving and challenging.

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