Three Boston public school students, ranking far below their suburban peers, decide to apply to some of the best private boarding schools in the country. As they prepare for a leap across the education gap, are they asked to discover or shed their truest selves?
Mission StatementOur story follows three students across five years as they move between Boston public schools and elite boarding schools. By joining this project, you’re helping share these perspectives with a wider audience, and you’re supporting these students in holding the greater education system accountable.
About The Project
Beacon is a feature documentary film that examines the education system in the United States, narrated by three students who move through it: Meleah Neely, Makai Murray, and Exavion Clerveau.
The film begins as they take a risk entering Beacon Academy, a 14-month program between middle and high school designed to assist students from under-resourced public schools in applying to elite boarding schools throughout New England.
From higher academic expectations to unfamiliar social codes, the students are asked to apply themselves toward school like never before. And just as new paths open up, they begin to grasp the true challenge ahead: they will be entering the predominantly white prep-school world as low-income students of color.
What is the cost of this enormous transition?
The film concludes with Meleah, Exavion, and Makai four years later, now seniors at some of the country’s most elite high schools, as they reflect on that question. They’ve realized the possibilities that privilege affords, but also the social and emotional burden of pursuing—and being held up as an example of—academic excellence.
Watch our 11 minute teaser here!
The education system in the United States is undergoing a transformation. From the pressures of the pandemic to debates over critical race theory, a historically unjust system is continuing to break down. As educational institutions try and address these issues, continued calls for change across the country show that their efforts are not enough.
Beacon Academy is the only school of its kind in the country, and this view into the year-long program it offers students—between urban public schools and elite boarding schools—provides a unique look into the country’s vast "education gap." The film follows the lived experiences of students navigating this system, the seismic shifts it is undergoing, and is narrated from their perspectives and interviews only. What are the true costs of finding “success” in this education system? And why does “success” look so white?
Meleah, Makai, and Exavion are not only participants in the film, but are also acting as our consultants during the film’s post production process. They will review the film during editing at pivotal moments to make sure the rest of the filmmaking team is representing their stories accurately.
MELEAH NEELY Meleah Neely is a first year at Brown University, where she intends to pursue a degree in Classics and Political Philosophy. She is particularly interested in studying the ways in which societal behaviors and politics can be used to generate a meaningful impact on the world. In high school, she led various clubs including the Woman of Color Association, worked on the Boarding Life committee, and was an active member in Youth in Philanthropy. In college, she is looking forward to working with the racial and gender identity departments on campus, hoping to foster a sense of belonging within the student body. She is from Boston, Massachusetts, enjoys reading, writing, and loves spending time with family and loved ones. - written by Meleah Neely
In this film, we meet Meleah as she enters Beacon Academy after attending 8th grade at Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston, MA.
MAKAI MURRAY completed his freshman year at Tufts University this spring. After entering college on Tufts’ basketball team he's realized that his true passion is making multi-media art. He's constantly coming up with new ways to prioritize his artwork and ideas; last year he began working on a 106-piece project about flowers.
In this film, we meet Makai as he completes 8th grade at Davis K-8 School in Brockton, MA and enters Beacon Academy.
EXAVION CLERVEAU is a first year student at the Univeristy of Richmond hoping to major in psychology and double minor in philosophy and sociology. Exavion in the future wants to be a child therapist for kids in low income areas. Overall Exavion is a cheerful and gregarious person who likes to be surrounded by people despite everything he's been through. He's from Boston, Massachusetts. - written by Exavion Clerveau
In the film, we meet Exavion as he transitions from Jackson/Mann K-8 School in Boston to Beacon Academy.
ADDITIONAL ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
Adora Wilson-Eye, Louis Mischeaux, Jesus Ochoa, & Jenn Cain
I grew up in Boston and after 6th grade, I left private school at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge MA and I started taking the city bus (shoutout to my 34/39 crew!) to Boston Latin School, Boston’s largest public 7-12 school in the Fenway. The contrast between the resources each environment offered its students—and the ways these different environments encouraged students to imagine completely different futures for themselves—was unforgettable.
This experience is in part what motivated me to become a filmmaker in the first place, and to focus the journalism I do on the social and emotional effects of inequitable structures in the U.S.
For the last 8 years I’ve been based in Oakland, California, and directed, produced, shot and edited short documentaries across the San Francisco Bay Area. I have been part of award-winning feature documentaries on CNN, MSNBC, and Netflix, and I have made short documentaries for organizations such as the East Bay AIDS Center; Women Organized Against Life-Threatening Disease (WORLD), and for the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.
This is my first time independently directing my own feature film, gathering a team on board and raising enough money to pay everyone for our work. I'm motivated by the subject matter closest to my heart and grateful to the amazing filmmakers and journalists who've joined this project; together we're dedicated to pushing forward until this film is made! And I consider everyone who supports this film as part of our incredible journey, which I'll never forget.
—Isara Krieger | Director/Producer/DP
For more on our team, visit our team tab.
CONTRIBUTE | We love the idea of Crowdfunding because it puts power in real people’s hands. Instead of waiting for an institution to greenlight a project, a community can come together and support work that they want to see.
No contribution is too small, and every dollar will go directly to making this film. See our incentives for a run-down of the perks you’ll receive in gratitude.
If you're interested in making a large contribution and would like it to be tax-deductible, write to us at [email protected] and we will provide instructions.
SPREAD THE WORD | Your enthusiasm and words of encouragement help a lot, too! Following us on social media and sharing our videos and page goes a long way. If you’d like to get involved in outreach or support for our campaign and film project, drop us a line at [email protected].
You can copy one of these posts below:
*written for Twitter, to tag the film on Facebook use @beaconthefeature
> Help filmmakers @isarakrieger and Justin Lewis bring @Beaconthefilm to life, a film about coming of age across the education gap. Join them on @seedandspark: supportbeaconfilm.com
> I just watched @Beaconthefilm 's teaser, directed by filmmaker @isarakrieger and edited by Justin Lewis and WOW, you've got to support this film! Join them on @seedandspark: supportbeaconfilm.com
> I'm so excited to see @Beaconthefilm, by director @isarakrieger, editor Justin Lewis and producer @jessicaestelle! Support them on @seedandspark: supportbeaconfilm.com
By supporting our film through this campaign, you are providing us with the vital resources to help us finish this film. Your contributions will directly support:
- Paying Justin Lewis to edit the film to fine cut
- Paying Jessica E. Huggins to produce during post production, and to develop a distribution plan
- Paying Isara Krieger to direct the project
- Paying Mike Shen to advise our editing as a creative advisor/consulting editor
- Paying our Consultants
- Paying for archival photo/material licensing
- Paying for production accounting, legal support, and covering crowdfunding fees
Any funds raised over our goal will help us reach picture lock and complete the film, and maintain the teammembers needed to secure distribution for the film.
$55,000 | If we raise this much, we'll be able to afford a composer's time writing an original score until Picture Lock, when the film is completed.
$60,000 | If we raise this much, we'll be able to afford to keep the producer on the project until we reach Picture Lock to support the distribution process.
$72,000 | If we raise this much, we'll be able to afford a professional sound mix and color grade to formally finish the film.
Where will the film end up?
Our foremost goal for the film is to make sure it’s accessible to the people most affected by the issues that are centered in the film. Your support will help us not only work towards finishing and polishing a professional feature film, it will help us work towards distribution.
What is distribution? It’s the process by which a film winds up somewhere accessible: in a movie theater, or on a streaming platform.
Our goal is to use a hybrid distribution model. We want to make the film available on public television, on at least one major streaming platform, and take an educational distribution route via organizations and platforms focused on education issues, as well as via schools.
We are also planning a robust impact campaign. We will collaborate with our participants and networks to organize community screenings, where people can engage in discussions about education justice, equity, race and class in education, and other themes raised in the film.
Use the WishList to pledge cash and loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an incentive directly.
About This Team
Isara Krieger | DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, DP
Isara is a documentary filmmaker, cinematographer and editor based in Oakland, California. Her work centers the social and emotional effects of inequitable structures in the US. Her verité cinematography is noted for demonstrating the trust she earns with her subjects. She has worked on award-winning feature documentaries on CNN, MSNBC, and Netflix, which were collectively nominated for five 2021 News & Doc Emmy® Awards. As an on-call Video Producer for KQED Arts (SF Bay Area PBS/NPR affiliate) she has produced, edited and shot a dozen mini-docs about local artists and activists for the web that reached a nationwide audience. Her most recent piece that she Co-Directed, Kinetic Light Dancers Take Disability Arts to New Heights, was nominated for a Northern California Regional Emmy® award this spring.
She grew up in a neighborhood of Boston, MA.
Justin Lewis | EDITOR
Justin is a feature editor with credits in both documentary and narrative film. He has also worked as a television producer. He edited the 2016 Emmy award-winning PBS Documentary series, Standing in The Gap, which tells the story of the re-segregation of Denver Public Schools. He enjoys working on documentaries because of the focus on human connection and the perspectives documentary films can provide to help change the lives of others. Justin currently lives in Aurora, Colorado and continues to work on various film and television projects.
Jessica Estelle Huggins | PRODUCER
Boston native, Jessica Estelle Huggins is an acclaimed Filmmaker. Various films that she has produced have been accepted into dozens of film festivals around the country and have received awards. Titles include Perfect Day, Chi~Voices: A Poetic Film Series, Ride Shade, and an independent feature comedy set in Chicago, Call Center. Huggins has served as a production, distribution and impact strategist for many documentary organizations including Brave New Films, ITVS, Documentary Educational Resources, and The Redford Center. Currently, Huggins serves as the Campaign and Grassroots Partnerships Manager at Picture Motion. Huggins enjoys spending time with her loved ones and a rich glass of cabernet. Huggins continues to develop multifaceted characters honing in on stories about Black Americans in her personal film work.
Kate Harloe | CO-PRODUCER
Kate is an independent producer and writer based in New York. Her journalism has appeared in a wide range of national and local outlets, including Mother Jones, The Drift, Popula, San Francisco Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, NCPR, and many others. Her work has received a Society of Professional Journalists award, an Award for Innovation in Communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a national Foreign Language and Area Studies award, and has been cited and followed by The New York Times, The Columbia Journalism Review, MSNBC, Vox, VICE, and elsewhere.
Myah Overstreet | ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Myah Overstreet is a graduate student at the School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, where she's studying documentary filmmaking. Her area of focus is on culture, environmental justice and healthcare inequities among marginalized communities and genders. She is a Bay Area native and a graduate of San Francisco State University's journalism program. After graduating with a bachelor’s of arts in journalism, and minor in English Literature, Myah started working as a full-time production assistant for Peter Nicks’ latest documentary and third film in a trilogy about Oakland’s public systems, HOMEROOM, and has freelanced for many other projects since.
Mike Shen | CREATIVE ADVISOR
Mike is a senior editor at Citizen Film, a non-profit documentary production company based in San Francisco. He also advises students on editing and story structure at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. As a producer and editor, he's been nominated for two national Emmy Awards. His work has also been recognized with a duPont-Columbia Award and an Overseas Press Club Award. He's worked on films for PBS, National Geographic, Smithsonian Channel, New York Times Television, and HBO, among others. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Claudia Escobar | TITLES ANIMATOR
Claudia is a filmmaker and creator who loves discovering where reality meets magic; curious about human migrations, and finding home as physical place or as state of being. In 2020 she directed the documentary Dear Homeland, produced by KQED (PBS affiliate). She's currently producing a series with AJ+ Español about decolonization in Latin America. In the past years she made short documentary and experimental works about Bay Area artists and culture makers for KQED Arts, nominated for three local Emmy's and winning one. Before joining KQED, I directed, produced and edited short fiction films, fashion videos, stop motion animations, as well as non-fiction journalism work for AJ+, Common Sense Media, National Geographic, Mission Local, NBC’s former The Feast. She has also designed zines, maps and posters, and had participated in art shows in San Francisco. Trained as an architect in my home city of Medellín, Colombia, and with an interdisciplinary background, she takes both a poetic and critical approach to her work; each film, illustration, or photography is an opportunity to experiment, ask questions and take risks.
Nailah Morgan | SECOND CAMERA + AUDIO
Nailah joined the New York Times video department as a Weekend Live News Producer in early 2021. Before that she was a Video Producer at the Wall Street Journal for two years. Nailah has spent the last five years shooting, directing, and editing video productions that explore the complexities of culture, community, and politics. She's produced for NowThis News, Today show, KQED, PBS NewsHour, Oakland North, Al Jazeera, NBC BLK, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and produced international documentaries in Egypt, Sweden, and Mexico. Nailah earned her master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in documentary production at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. In addition, she shot the opening scene for the 2017 Student Academy Award winning film, Hale.
ADDITIONAL ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS | Adora Wilson-Eye, Louis Mischeaux, Jesus Ochoa, & Jenn Cain
ADDITIONAL CREW | Hanna Miller
ADVISORS | Dawn Porter & Trilogy Films, Brook Holston, & Robert Calo