Independent Lens recently sat down with filmmaker Scott Thurman to discuss what went on behind the scenes of his documentary, The Revisionaries, which chronicles the oft-rancorous battle over Texas textbooks. The Revisionaries premieres on Independent Lens January 28 at 10 PM (check local listings).
What impact do you hope the film will have?
I hope people pay more attention to public education and participate in local elections, especially the primaries for Texans.
What led you to make this film?
I was interested in evolution education and later heard about the 2008 Texas Board of Education’s controversial process for revising the science standards. At first I was looking to profile an energetic science teacher like the one I had in the fifth grade, Jerry Keller, but as I gained better access to politicians and people involved with the board of education, I decided to shift focus to the political issue as I recognized the dramatic ingredients for a more interesting and accessible story about the politics of education.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Working with the other producers and our editor, Jawad Metni, for a year to create the most succinct representation of the educational standards review process from over a thousand hours of footage.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
I started sticking around after the board meetings to meet board members, and after I was given a few initial interviews, I put together a short piece to apply for grants. I also showed it to subjects to help convince them that I was interested in presenting all sides fairly. I think this early trailer combined with my persistence over three years greatly contributed to my access.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
I filmed extensively with Ide Trotter, among other individuals heavily involved in the board’s process. But we decided to cut many of the public and experts because of our time restraints and also because we felt a flurry of characters was overwhelming and unnecessary when we could use four or five to walk us through a majority of our story. Continue reading