|Accidental Hero: Press Release|
To Be Broadcast Nationally on PBS
September 19, 2002 at 8:00 P.M.
Dynamic Teacher Changes the Course of Pupils' Lives in New PBS Documentary
"I expect them to be champions, conduct themselves that way, and they respond."
National Forensics Coach of the Year, 2000
San Francisco, CaliforniaAmerica's embattled public education system provides kindling for numerous negative news storiesschool shootings, drugs, gang violence. Accidental Hero: Room 408, a new documentary from award-winning filmmakers Terri DeBono and Steve Rosen, provides a powerful exception to those stereotypes. Following a San Francisco East Bay public high school teacher and his class for over two years, the film tells the story of Tommie Lindsey, an extraordinary man who is changing lives by introducing his students to a little known academic sport called "forensics." Accidental Hero has important messages about the tremendous potential that young people from diverse backgrounds can realize when they are given the support of good teachers and ample educational tools.
Tommie Lindsey teaches forensics (competitive speech, debate and oral interpretation) at James Logan High School, a working-class school where fewer than 38% of the students go on to four-year colleges. Nearly 100% of Tommie Lindsey's kids go to colleges and universities. This powerful African-American encourages his students to succeed against all odds while preparing for competitions. "These kids are not supposed to be in forensics, let alone win the top awards," says Lindsey. But by instilling his students with poise and self-confidence, and by giving them the motivation and opportunity to use these skills to win, he inspires kids to dream and make those dreams reality. DeBono and Rosen's camera takes viewers into the classroom to experience first-hand the transformation of students from novices to state champions.
Through interviews the audience gets to know the performerswho hail from a variety of social, economic and ethnic backgroundsand their stories. Jermaine tells of a friend who was arrested: "That could have been me if it wasn't for forensics." At home, Amber's mother says she doesn't have the courage to get up and perform herself, but is doing it through her daughter. Robert describes writing original prose, using the anger he holds for his alcoholic father to create an original dramatic interpretation. Pierre speaks of coming from a neighborhood "with prostitutes on the cornerI don't want to be another 'African American statistic!'"
Guiding his students toward literary material that allows them to draw on their own culture and experience, Lindsey helps kids channel their emotions positively into spellbinding interpretationsperformances that are startling in their professionalism. His teams regularly win state and national competitions usually dominated by upper-class private schools. Their success demonstrates the tremendous potential that can be found in high school students from public schools in under-served and challenged areasand how one teacher's support and faith in his students is encouraging them to move beyond society's stereotypical expectations of them.
Accidental Hero: Room 408 speaks to many of the daunting issues facing children and teachers today, yet gives hope to the American education system. The performance material confronts issues of race, poverty, cultural awareness, single-parent homes, racial tension and even teenage suicide. Viewers follow Lindsey's team to the California State Forensics Tournament, and as a virtual member of the audience, experience the anticipation and drama as the postings for each round are announcedsharing in the joy of the few that advance and the heartbreak for others who are left behind.
"The next time you pick up the paper and read something negative about kids or public schools remember these students. There are kidslots of kidsdoing good things," said Lindsey.
Accidental Hero: Room 408 won best documentary at the Ashland International Film Festival (2001), and was recently chosen as official Selection for Regional Outreach by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute (2001-2002), Cine Golden Eagle (2002), and Best Documentary at San Jose's Cinequest Film Festival (2002). Terri DeBono is producer and co-director, and Steve Rosen is co-director and editor.
A forensics team competes in speech, debate, and oral interpretation. The object is to seek the truth.
The word "forensics" is derived from Latin and is closely related to "forum". A forum is an open exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of respect and responsibility. More than two thousand years ago, when democracy first flourished in Athens, citizens met regularly in public assemblies. Their votes determined the policy and the actions of the state.
But their votes were always preceded by debate: citizens and leaders argued about what was morally right and legally right; they argued about the best way to achieve a desired outcome; they argued about what was possible and what was prudent.
The study of forensics has been shown to benefit students in many different ways, including offering them an opportunity to develop research, critical thinking, organization, persuasion, and oral communication skills. It provides useful career preparation in law, education, politics, broadcasting, religion, public affairs, business, and other professions requiring critical thinking and communication skills. Students learn respect for dissenting opinions and acquire knowledge and skills crucial to effective participation in a democratic society, along with the ability to clarify their personal and social values through confrontation with the value judgments of others. Teamwork and social skills are enhanced.
According to Yale Professor Dr. Minh Loung, an advisor for the Accidental Hero Web site, a recent Wall Street Journal report highlighted a specific trend, which forensics educators have known for a long time: "participation in drama and debate has significantly increased the success rate of college applicants at all schools which track such data." State and national award winners have a 22-30% higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges, and astoundingly, being captain of a debate team improves an applicant's acceptance chances by more than 60%.
Current forensics tournaments offer many different events for student competition, including Humorous, Dramatic and Duo Interpretations; Original Prose, Poetry, and Oratory; Thematic Interpretation, Expository, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Policy Debate and a mock Congress.
Student Performances in Accidental Hero
"Willie and Esther," performed by Cherie Murphy and DiJonn Grizzell
"The Meeting," performed by Jermaine Aaron
"Confessions of Women From East LA" performed by Amber Johnson
"And the Rain Came to Mayfield," performed by Nathan Feingersh
"Twelve Rounds with Dad," performed by Robert Hawkins
"Jack and Jelly," performed by Alphonso ("Spanky")Thompson and Cory Randolph
"Technicolor Closer," performed by Mike Coloma and Marcelo Garcia
"Before It Hits Home," performed by James Stephens
"The Complete Works of Shakespeare...Abridged," performed by Rashaud Martin and James Harris
About The Filmmakers
Terri DeBono (Producer/Co-Director/Sound), an MFA Graduate of UCLA, has produced plays and films including a feature-length anthology of John Steinbeck short stories, "Three by Steinbeck," which won numerous educational awards and is being distributed by L.A.'s Pyramid Films. Jack Lemmon narrated DeBono's film "Time Captured in Painting," a CINE award winner.
Steve Rosen (Co-Director/Camera/Editor) is a graduate of UCLA's Film Department. His previous films include "Huelga," with Cesar Chavez; "Knowing It Survives Us" with Sander Vinocur; "Save Our Seas," with Eddie Albert; "Acapulco Gold," "Silver Harvest;" and "On Location, East of Eden," featuring Jane Seymour.
"Beyond Barbed Wire," DeBono's and Rosen's critically acclaimed documentary, was broadcast nationally on PBS, selected for the permanent archives of the Museum of Television & Radio, and received the Gold Plaque for me the Chicago International Film Festival. It was nominated for an International Documentary Association (IDA) Award and screened at the New York Lincoln Center Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, and the "One World '99" Film Festival in the Czech Republic.
Funding for Accidental Hero: Room 408 is provided by the National Black Programming Consortium through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Fleishhaker Foundation in San Francisco, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the California Teachers Association and the National Educational Association.
Accidental Hero: Room 408 is a presentation of KQED which operates KQED Public Television 9, the nation's most-watched public television station (in prime-time), and Digital Television 9, Northern California's only digital public television signal; KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM, the most-listened-to public radio station in the nation; the KQED Education Network, which brings the impact of KQED to thousands of teachers, students, parents and media professionals through workshops, seminars and resources; and kqed.org, which harnesses the power of the Internet to bring KQED to communities across the Web.
The National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC)
National Black Programming Consortium in New York seeks contemporary films about the Black experience for the National PBS schedule. Other programs include Orlando Bagwell's "A Hymn for Alvin Ailey," Madison David Lacy's "Free to Dance" series, Demetria Royals' "Conjure Women," and "A Huey P. Newton Story," directed by Spike Lee and set for broadcast on KQED in 2002.