“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 phenomenon of lines, camping and lottery systems. Today Community High stands as one of the few remaining public schools from America’s “free school” movement. Filmed over the 2016 – 2017 school year, we see how the “Commie High” model has evolved and continues to reflect the world around it.
VIRTUAL CINEMA SCREENING SCHEDULE
• The Michigan Theater [Ann Arbor, MI] November 20 – December 5 , 2020
• The Lark Theater [Larkspur, CA] January 8 – 24, 2021
• Downing Film Center [Newburgh, NY] January 8 – 24, 2021
• ACME Screening Room [Lambertville, NJ] January 8 – 24, 2021
• The Frida Cinema [Santa Ana, CA] January 8 – 24, 2021
• The North Park Theatre [Buffalo, NY] January 15 – 31, 2021
• Neptune Movie House [Long Beach, WA] January 29 – February 14, 2021
• Portland Museum of Art Films [Portland, ME] currently streaming here February 12 – March 14, 2021
• The Tull Family Theater [Sewickley, PA] currently streaming here February 19 – March 21, 2021
• The Screening Room [Newburyport, MA] tickets now available here for special March 4th event with the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
• “Welcome to Commie High” premiered as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival. An estimated audience of 1,700 people from 10 countries watched over a week-long period from March 30 – April 6, 2020.
PURCHASE A DVD OF THE DOCUMENTARY
“Welcome to Commie High” is now on DVD! Available for purchase on-demand here.
“This is terrific! I loved—LOVED—every second of it. First, it’s just a great story, told really well; it’s structure is sure and confident but not overbearing…It was funny and moving and topical and interesting. My attention never wavered for a second.” —filmmaker Ken Burns
• Visit our project’s Online Archive created in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library to explore a vast collection of extras, including short videos, photos, articles and a searchable music database.
• Sign up for the eQuarterly from 7 Cylinders Studio to receive updates and new, short videos created in our community.
• Follow Welcome to Commie High on Facebook to keep up-to-date on the documentary.
• And follow our Twitter to receive additional news about this project and other 7CS productions.
• Check out our Kickstarter campaign to see how this project was powered into production with our community!
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!
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Thanks to our 450 Kickstarter Backers!
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And thanks to our project’s additional donors!
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