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“Welcome to Commie High” explores an experiment in public education—Community High School. The film follows its humanistic, anti-establishment origins in the early 70s through its survival into the 90s, when sudden demand for this alternative, small school led to a wild craze of lines, camp outs and convoluted lottery systems. Today Community High stands as one of the last public schools from America’s “free school” movement. Filmed over the 2016 – 2017 school year, we see how the “Commie High” model has evolved to reflect the world around it and shows us what’s possible within public education.
“This is terrific! I loved—LOVED—every second of it. It was funny and moving and topical and interesting.
My attention never wavered for a second.” —filmmaker Ken Burns
• Visit our film’s website for full details and available ways to watch: www.commiehigh.film
• Visit our project’s Online Archive, created with the Ann Arbor District Library, to explore a vast collection of extras, including short videos, photos, articles and a searchable music database.
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• Check out our Kickstarter campaign to see how this project was powered into production with our community.
LEARN MORE – PRESS COVERAGE
Review in the Portland Press Herald by Dennis Perkins
Article on MLive by Ryan Stanton
Michigan Radio Interview on Stateside with April Baer
Interview on WEMU’s Art & Soul with Lisa Barry
Featured articles in Concentrate and AADL’s PULP
Podcast on Ann Arbor Mentality – extended interview
Community High School was started in 1972 with some radical ideas, enthusiastic teachers, and a reclaimed elementary school building in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. The concept was based on a “school without walls” approach where the city could serve as the classroom. Students were encouraged to design their own courses and take responsibility for their education. There was no cafeteria, no traditional sports teams, no annual prom and an anti-zebra anti-mascot. Students called teachers by their first names. Welcome to Commie High.
Through the 70s and 80s, enrollment was an ongoing challenge and recruiting students was critical to sustain Community High. By the early 90s, however, it became cool to go to Commie High school and demand to attend increased beyond its capacity. A waiting list led to a partial lottery and line-ups that grew longer each year, culminating in 1996 with a 2-week camp out by students (and their parents, siblings, friends, etc.) saving a place in line with the hope of gaining admission. This was the last line for Commie High, as the school system shifted to a complete lottery the following year. More than four decades since its inception, Community High serves as one of the longest-running alternative public high schools in America.
Our feature-length documentary explores the unusual story of Commie High. The film spans four decades of the school’s evolution, the factors that led hundreds of people to camp out for weeks with the hope of enrolling, and where Community High stands today in the pantheon of public education. It reveals significant cultural finds from a myriad of Commie High archives. And it features an all-star CHS soundtrack encompassing a diverse range of musical styles. Thanks to enthusiastic support for our Kickstarter campaign and additional funders, we involved eight Community High School students in our documentary project where they earned course credit through the CR (Community Resources) program.
WHY IT MATTERS
Public education reform is a hot button issue in America. It’s a complicated, polarizing topic that affects the lives of millions. What can we learn by looking at alternative approaches? What conditions allowed for the creation and success of the Commie High experiment in public education? And what would motivate students to camp out in the cold for two weeks to attend a public school in a system with other excellent options?
“High school is often considered a definitive American experience, in two senses: an experience that nearly everyone shares, and one that can define who you are, for better or worse, for the rest of your life. I’m grateful I escaped the particular definition that high school would have imposed on me, and I wish everyone else who suffered could have escaped it, too.” – Rebecca Solnit from “Abolish High School” Harper’s Magazine, April 2015
Donald Harrison – Producer/Director/Camera
David Camlin – Co-Producer/Editor/Camera
Ingrid Racine – Music Director/Composer
Jay Sandweiss, D.O. – Executive Producer
Luke Madden & Emma Hoffman – Assistant Editors
David Fienup – Sound Mixing
Ryan Molloy – Graphic Design
Rachel DeWoskin (class of 1991)
Linda Diane Feldt (CHS class of 1976)
Paul Harrison (CHS class of 1976)
Ken McGraw (CHS teacher since 1997)
Mike Mouradian (CHS teacher 1975 – 2006)
Sara Nodjoumi (filmmaker, The Iran Job)
Davy Rothbart (class of 1992)
Kelly Stupple (CHS class of 1987)
Neda Ulaby (CHS class of 1989)
Katherine Weider-Roos (media professional, Roos Roast Coffee)
Sebastian Wreford (aka, Nitro von Borax – CHS class of 1983)
Marci Woolson (class of 1976)
Thank you Backing Underwriters!
Angel Rogers Welker, Pam & Greg Davis-Kean, Jay & Sue Sandweiss, SavCo Hospitality, John Briere, Hedieh Briggs, Ruth (Calhoun) Facer, Mary Corcoran & Howard Erman, Dessous/Multiverse Hospitality, Elizabeth Barick Fall & Jeffrey Fall, Irene Fast, Adam Goodman, Michael Moore, Larry & Lucie Nisson, Josh Pokempner, Spencer PriceNash, Jeri Lynn Rosenberg & Vic Strecher, Lori & Paul Saginaw
Thank you In-Kind Community Organization/Business Backers!
Zingerman’s, Roos Roast, Arbor Teas, Mindo Chocolate, The Brinery, UM Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, Elmo’s T-Shirts
Thanks to our 450 Kickstarter Backers!
Aaron Valdez, Ace Anbender, Adam & Gillian Gainsley, Adam Goodman, Adam Kasha, Adam Melis, Adrianna Jordan, Alan & Lisa Dengiz, Alan Botts, Alan Levy & Susan Pollans, Alex Hencken, Alex Smoller, Alice Collins-Thompson, Alison K. Landau & Peter C. Tsangaris, Allan G. Feldt, Amanda Scotese, Amy McKibben Cormier, Amy Hughes, Amy Klinke, Amy Nesbitt, Amy Smith, Andra Artemova, Andreas L. Hug, Andrew Epstein, Andrew Thomas Kuster, Andrew Wilhelme, Anita Baker-Blocker, Ann Arbor Community Acupuncture, Anna Danziger Halperin, Anna Eley, Anna Goldman, Anna Sampson & Daniel Herbert, Anna Steinhoff, Anne Carr, Anonymous(x3), Ari Litman-Weinberg, Ari Weinzweig, Arthur & Nancy Brickman, Athena Anteau, Barbara & Ron Kramer, Barbara Simmons, Ben Evans, Ben Glass, Ben Jenkins & Brenna Reichman, Ben Mancell, Ben Mullins, Ben Nimkin, Ben Winter, Beth Barclay, Beth Farnham, Bill Emerson, Billie Ochberg & Sandro Cinti, Bob & Barb Dinan, Bob and Deb Merion, Bobbi Chase Wilding, Bobbie Tucker, Brad Jodoin, Brenda Reed, Brian Robb, Brian Tomsic, Brianna Kenyon, Brittanie Leibold, Bryan Beecher & Deborah Evans, Caitlin H., Caitlin Magee, Candace Roberts, Carolyn & Gioacchino Balducci, Cary McWilliam, Cassidy Durkee, Catherine Thursby, Cathy Bolton, Ce Ce Chin, Charlotte Pagni [Barak], Charo Ledón, Cheryl & Mike Grace, Chloe, Chris Dzombak, Chris Goosman, Chris Sandon, Christen Lien, Christina Morales Hemenway, Christina Hover (Tabaczka), Christina Richason, Christopher Pannier, Claire Mannle’s mom, Clint Wallace, Colleen Sherman, Collin McRae, Cynthia Nicely, Cyrus Morshidi, Daniel Mayman, Danny Plotnick, Dave Miller, Dave Morris, Dave Pekarek Krohn, David Bergman, David Gilbertson, David Heitler-Klevans, David Lamb, David Olson, David Santamaria, David Welgus, David Zinn, Davy Rothbart, Deborah Greer, Deborah Kraus, Deidre Santella, Devon Rose Atwood, Donna Eis, Doug Scott, Douglas Allen, Ela Greenberg, Eli Neiburger, Elise Fish, Ellen Lamphiear, Emilia Javanica & Sudandyo Aprilianto, Emily Brown, Eric Bradley, Erica Stephan, Erin A. 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And thanks to our project’s additional donors!
Adam Melis • Anonymous • Archie O’Connor • Betsy King • Dan Bruell • Emma, Dane, Patty & Bob Hoffman
Eva Rosenwald & Chris Taylor • Gay MacGregor • Ingrid Ankerson • Ivan Kral & Cindy Hudson • Judy Freedman Kalyan Bani Kaur • Kelly Stupple • Kristin Chiles • Michael Appel & Ruth Kraut • Michael Stack • Nagourney/Liberman Family • Renee Rutz • Reena Liberman • Richard & Myra & Max Klarman • Sandra Danziner • Sarah & James Douglass • Shary Brown • Sylvia Meerten • The Danziger Family • Thomas Douvan • Toko Shiiki • Applied Fitness Solutions • Arbor Teas • Big Sky Recording • The Brinery Cisco – Bright Funds • Elmo’s T-Shirts • Mindo Chocolate Makers • Roos Roast • Team Rehab • Vie Fitness & Spa