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Students find their town in film 'OT'

August 11, 2003|Robert W. Welkos

In his documentary, "OT: our town," director Scott Hamilton Kennedy dissolves stereotypes as he chronicles minority students at Dominguez High School in gang-plagued Compton rehearsing for a campus production of "Our Town," Thornton Wilder's classic play about small-town life in an earlier, simpler America.

"There was only one experience [during filming] where gunshots were fired close by, but mostly I felt comfortable there," Kennedy recalled. "There's a great community there. Sure, there are elements of gang violence and other crime, but violence and crime are now in all neighborhoods, really."

Armed with a digital camera, Kennedy followed English and drama teacher Catherine Borek and her co-director, Karen Greene, in spring 2000, as they produced the first play at the school in over 20 years. Their cast largely consists of African American and Latino students who initially had difficulty identifying with the characters in Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners.

"This was definitely their first experience with Thornton Wilder," Kennedy said. "I don't even know how many had seen a play before this."

Kennedy got the idea for his 76-minute documentary when he met Borek at a party and she told him of her idea to stage a play at Dominguez High. The two later began dating and now live together in L.A.'s Silver Lake district.

"She had seen the potential of the students," Kennedy said. "They had outlets for sports [at the school], but there were other creative energies in the students that weren't being released."

The film intercuts scenes of the students rehearsing with scenes from a television version of the play starring Hal Holbrook. It also features interviews with the students and their families.

Kennedy previewed the film at Dominguez High's cafetorium. "One of the teachers had a digital projector," he said. "I was scared they would fall asleep, but they seemed to really like it."

The film opens Friday at the Laemmle Fairfax triplex in Los Angeles.

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