RAISING BERTIE by Margaret Byrne
(96 min, USA, 2016, In English)
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.” – James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
Set in Bertie County, a rural African American-led community in Eastern North Carolina, Raising Bertie offers viewers an authentic and tender portrait of the lives of three young boys – Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry, and Davonte “Dada” Harrell – as they face a precarious coming of age.
Rural minorities like the youth in Bertie represent some of the nation’s most vulnerable and least visible. Like many rural areas, Bertie County struggles with a dwindling economy, a declining population and a high school graduation rate below the state average. The Perdue chicken processing plant is Bertie’s last major employer, and the 27 prisons that lay within a 100 miles of Bertie cast a long shadow. Bertie County is predominately African American – its challenges compounded by generations of economic and educational discrimination and exclusion.
Bertie also is the home of Junior, Bud, and Dada, three engaging young men with difficult pasts attending high school at The Hive, an alternative school for at-risk boys. There, we meet Vivian Saunders, a passionate community activist from Bertie County. At The Hive a combination of respect, socio-emotional learning, and mentorship helps to put these young men’s lives on track. The Hive is a beautiful model of effective, supportive, and innovative interventions that help to improve opportunities and the quality of life for African-American boys and young men in Bertie.
But, when budget shorgalls lead the Board of Education to close The Hive, Junior, Bud, and Dada must return to Bertie High School and a system that once failed them.
This raw and starkly poetic Kartemquin vérité documentary weaves the young men’s stories together as they navigate school, unemployment, violence, first love, fatherhood, and estrangement from family members and mentors, all while trying to define their identities.
Intimate access depicts an honest portrayal of the boys’ perspectives and the caring adults in the community who understand what it means to take care of their own. The film is an in-depth look at issues facing many of rural America’s youth of color and what happens in the everyday lives of young people caught in the complex interplay of generational poverty, economic isolation, and educational inequity. Raising Bertie is an experience that asks us to see this world through their eyes and incites recognition and understanding of lives and communities too often ignored.
NY, June 9-11 Maysles Cinema
SF, June 16-22 Roxie Cinema
LA, June 23-29, Laemmle Music Hall