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Filmmaker Interview: Director Michael Patrei Aims to Inspire with “Ballou” (Watch it Now Free)

Filmmaker Interview: Director Michael Patrei Aims to Inspire with "Ballou" (Watch it Now Free)

In this week’s SnagFilms spotlight, a high school marching band takes center stage amidst the challenges of life in the inner city.

Michael Patrei’s inspirational and uplifting documentary “Ballou” has been making the rounds for the past two years on the festival circuit, including screenings at the Hollywood Black Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival. To date, the film has also played at theaters all over the country, and most notably at the White House during President Bush’s time in office.

“Ballou” is a documentary film about the Ballou Senior High School Marching Band from South East Washington, DC. Ballou High School is a struggling inner city school where only 5% of its students go on after high school and graduate college. During the filming of this documentary, 58 violent crimes occured within 1500 feet of the school and the film’s producer was robbed at knife point and beaten on the door steps of another DC public school.

The Ballou Marching Band is a positive force in the lives of the students and in the community. Under the direction of Mr. Darrell Watson, along with the help from his tireless, all volunteer staff, the Ballou Marching Band gives its students opportunities that they would not have otherwise had. Mr. Watson tries to instill, “life lessons,” as well as simply teaching music to give them the tools they need to succeed in life.

The breadth of the documentary follows the band on a journey from band camp, to the National High Stepping Marching Band Competition in Birmingham, AL sponsored by Asymmetrix. It is a very personal story about the lives of the band members, the director Mr. Watson, and his hard working staff who are all striving to be an award winning marching band. [Synopsis provided by the film’s website]

Director Michael Patrei. Photo courtesy of Ilion Film Company

Director: Michael Patrei
Producer: Casey Callister
Executive Producers: Michael Patrei, Casey Callister, Maiko Yoda Callister
Editor: Michael Patrei
86 min., 2008

Director Michael Patrei on what inspired him to make a film about the Ballou Marching Band and on the intimate approach he took to making the film…

I have always been interested in filmmaking and started making movies when I was young using just a video camera with my friends.

I was visiting my friend Casey Callister in DC and we saw the Ballou Marching Band perform. After seeing their excitement, energy, and how talented they were, I knew that there was a story there. I mentioned to Casey Callister that I wanted to do a documentary on the Ballou band and he thought that was a great idea and decided to become the producer on the film.

I wanted to accurately capture the feeling of what it’s like for the Ballou band. I spent almost everyday with the band for four months straight, both in the school each day and going with them to parades and performances on weekends.

Movies and filmmaking have always been a big part of my life. I like movies where you feel a strong emotional connection to the characters. In the making of “Ballou” I tried very hard to achieve that same kind of emotional connection with the Ballou band and band staff.

Patrei on what he found difficult in completing the film, and why the film has found success on the festival and press circuits…

Click above and watch the film free

It’s a daunting task putting together a feature length documentary both organizationally and staying true to the feeling what it’s like for the Ballou band and the band staff.

“Ballou” has a pretty universal appeal with a universal story about the band and the band staff overcoming their obstacles to become as good as they are.

Patrei on one film that inspired him while making the film and on his future projects…

“Boys Of Baraka” was inspirational in the making of this film. It was a great example of how to make a meaningful film about the challenges of inner city school children.

I am working with producer Casey Callister again doing some three minute stories for Cinelan. We have one short documentary already up on Hulu called Haunted Beardslee Castle, and a couple more in the works.

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