In Depth: PaleyDocFest 2008
Whatever It Takes
One of the most significant screenings taking place during PALEYDOCFEST will be the presentation of 2006 Pitch Workshop winner Chris Wong’s "Whatever It Takes," a dramatic and inspirational educational portrait and emotional journey through the first year of a South Bronx high school. Principal Edward Tom envisions the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics as a safe haven where children can focus on rigorous and meaningful education. With uncommon access to its subjects, the film engrossingly creates the world of 107 ninth-grade students born into hardship, but rising to achievement.
Filmmaker Chris Wong; Principal Edward Tom, Film Subject; Assistant Principal Madeline Ríos, Film Subject
Saturday, October 18, 2008 | 2:00 pm | Tickets
When my documentary project (Whatever It Takes) first came to my attention in August of 2005, I immediately focused upon the school's principal (Edward Tom), knowing that his larger-than-life persona and visionary leadership style would not only make a huge impression upon his students, but would also come across well on film.
Since Edward Tom and I had been friends for almost 10 years, the production was given complete access to the entire school—every meeting, conversation, and classroom was open to our camera crew. Most importantly, the principal assured me that neither he nor anyone else would try to influence the outcome or tone of the film. In addition, our crew was also granted permission to bring our cameras into many of the students' homes which made a tremendous difference in our understanding of who these kids were and what they were up against. So, gaining access to our characters was actually the easy part.
What was challenging was to find a storyline that would be both compelling and original. There have been so many school-based documentaries (and feature narratives) that focused upon hero teachers who begin the year with unmotivated teenagers and end with high achieving students. While I also hoped to be able to capture a positive story, I wanted to do something much more nuanced, where the audience gets a deep understanding of the path the school took to get from failure to success.
At its roots, Whatever It Takes is a personal tale of the complicated relationship between a dedicated rookie principal and a talented but troubled ninth-grade student. Ultimately, I see this film as a miracle captured on tape – a compelling mixture of dynamic individuals, life-changing events, and the passage of time, resulting in new dreams where none existed before.
—Christopher Wong, Director