At the Ready is one of the most interesting documentaries to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is about the Criminal Justice Club at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas. The film is about the border, identity, and family. Director Maisie Crow spoke with AIPT about her inspiration, what the school though and making a non partisan movie in a very partisan time.
AIPT: How would you describe At the Ready?
Maisie Crow: It’s a film that chronicles the lives of three high school students as they come up through a criminal justice program in Horizon High School during the Trump administration.
AIPT: What was your inspiration for the film?
Maisie: I moved back to Texas in 2016 after the election. I was very eager to tell stories from my home state. And so, I would say that that was really the starting point for wanting to pursue the story.
AIPT: The story focuses on three main characters. There’s Cristina, Cesar and Cassandra. (Cassandra has come out as transgender since the documentary ended filming and is now known as Mason.) How did you find those three?
Maisie: I found them once I was following their criminal justice program specifically. I met Cristina the first day that I was there filming. She was very open and willing to talk about her experiences and her thoughts. And then, Mason was someone that always watched out for me when I was there, always made sure that I was comfortable, we just bonded very quickly.
And then, Cesar was someone that I met at the start early on, I think he said something and I spun around while I was filming. And then, I didn’t get to know him though until several months later when I was just spending more time getting to know all of the students. And I found him to be very, very thoughtful and very introspective, but very quiet too, which is why I think I didn’t really get to meet him until later on.
AIPT: How long did it take for you to develop that relationship with the kids?
Maisie: I think it varies kid by kid, I think there’s varying levels of vulnerability in any person. And so I think it was just, I don’t know, sometimes it came naturally and sometimes it didn’t. It was more about just spending time with the students and their families. I don’t know, it all blurs together, but it’s just about building a real relationship with the people that you’re filming.
AIPT: Because of the location of the documentary, border issues is a topic throughout the movie, but there’s also themes of identity and family that are arguably more important. Did those just come about naturally?
Maisie: I think you start or I start filming and I start to notice the things that stand out, the things that the students have in common and the things that they don’t have in common and where those differences lie. And I think I naturally tend to gravitate towards some of those things.
AIPT: Was it always your intention to have that tight of a focus or did you want it to be more encompassing amongst students?
Maisie: I’m always really interested in the individual experience. And so, if I can tell a story via the individual experience and have it touch on some more universal themes, then that’s my approach. So I went in with the mindset that I wanted to go in pretty deep with some students.
AIPT: There’s a lot going on in At the Ready on a state level, but also on a national level. What do you want audiences to take away?
Maisie: I want audiences to ask questions. I want them to be challenged. I want them to start discussions. If they find that they’re uncomfortable with something that they saw, I want them to do something about it. I really, my approach to filmmaking has always been, be a fly on the wall and learn from the people that I’m filming. And of course, there’s things that I see that challenge me.
I hope audiences take this movie and do something. I really have no agenda. I don’t want to tell people how to think, but I do want to empower people with a better, more nuanced understanding of something that they may have thought they already knew about. And that’s really my goal.
I have some very strong political differences with my own parents. And I think that it’s so exhausting for myself to interact with people that really look at the world as black and white. And I’m just so much more interested in the gray area. And so, that’s what I want to ask audiences to do is to consider the gray area and live in the gray area and really understand that most of these issues that we debate at the national level are so much more complex than we really allow for. And we’re not going to make any significant progress and any strides towards unity if we can’t really look at every issue from every side and try and stand in each other’s shoes.
AIPT: Has the school had a chance to see a rough cut of it or has anybody contacted you about it?
Maisie: All of the students have seen it and the teachers have seen it. Some of the teachers were at the Q&A yesterday, so yeah. Yeah. They know about the film.
AIPT: Do you have any future projects in mind?
Maisie: I do, but they’re under wraps until I’m further along them, but yeah, I do. I have some projects I’m really excited about pursuing.
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