Filmwax is screening a terrific documentary on February 4th called “The Pass It On Project“. The project is a road trip to the sites of the Civil Rights Movement for a group of Brooklyn middle schoolers and it becomes a path to re-imagining their future. I interviewed the director of the film, Melissa Nicolardi. It’s clear that this project was a life changer for the young filmmaker as well.
Adam Schartoff: How did you initially become involved with this school?
Melissa Nicolardi: Producer Kalim Armstrong had an interest in exploring education as a topic for a documentary film. He was introduced to the teachers through a mutual friend of theirs. We were in graduate school at Hunter College together. He knew that I also had an interesting making a film about education and he approached me about collaborating on the project.
AS: At what point did you decide that this project was worthy of a documentary?
MN: Kalim and I immediately agreed that the project was worthy of a documentary. I used to teach middle school, and that is such an interesting age. The kids are just starting to come into themselves and figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world around them.
The 2008 Election —the election of the first African-American president— was certainly a defining moment in US history, and probably one of the first of those moments for the students in the film. The idea of watching them process that moment by relating it back to the Civil Rights struggle was very intriguing. We had a feeling that it would be transformative for them. And it was.
We also felt that the mission of the Project —as stated by the teachers— to open up a dialogue about race and racism, history and social justice in their school- was important, and the time was ripe to put that story out into the world.
AS: What did you learn during the course of the film that was most surprising?
MN: The most surprising thing for me was the omnipresence, the sense of closeness to the history of the Civil Rights Movement that I felt once we got down south. I grew up in the northeast and it was my first time visiting any of the cities we went to. It’s a very different relationship to the history geographically, and it was really powerful to be there where these incredibly important, fairly recent, revolutionary events took place. That’s actually a lot of what that film is about, and it was really incredible to experience it with the kids. Read more