In the moments prior to the world premiere of “Best Day of My Life: The Rock in Schools Story” last night, the star of the film could be seen greeting her public in lobby of the theatre. The director could be seen nervously pacing awaiting the public’s reaction to the film. The producer could be seen doing interviews with media. The stars of the movie could be seen taking pictures in front of the paparazzi wall. It was a big deal. It may as well been at a big name Hollywood theater.
But it was at the Seneca Valley High School in Germanton and it WAS a big deal.
The film opened to a standing-room-only crowd of Roberto Clemente students and alumni, and teachers and administrators from RCMS feeder schools, as well as a number of people from the Germantown community.
The star of the documentary about the Rock in Schools program at Clemente Middle School is music teacher and now, film producer and star, Randi Levy.
However, Levy wasn’t basking in her stardom, she was reflecting it because the true stars of the film are the Roberto Clemente music students who could be seen throughout the film struggling to find the right words to explain to director Simon Kim just how important music has become in their lives, and how much better their lives are since being involved with Levy’s Rock Band program.
The true and honest emotions of the middle schoolers talking about the joys and difficulties of being in a band, and being 13, and just… being, are the fabric of the film. The kids are captivating and Kim’s gentle hand could be felt behind the camera carefully allowing the kids to blossom on screen as they talk about how important the Rock Band program is to them.
Throughout the film, we see Levy teaching, yelling, joking, correcting, counseling, cajoling, and caring for these kids, and the program that she has built. And the kids and their parents love her right back, as evidenced by the two standing ovations and thunderous applause she received last night before and after the film presentation
The Rock Band program at Clemente is a very unique program, while there are two other schools in MCPS that have begun implementing similar programs, each has a different approach. Indeed, the Clemente Rock Band program is the only one of its kind in the nation which combines the playing and producing of music by students with the history of popular music in this country since the 1950s and its effect and influence on culture and society.
“There is pockets of this here and there in this country,” said Levy. “Nothing like this that has been systematically put in place in this country. I’d like to think we are reaching a tipping point where there are just enough people that with the support of the music industry and passionate teachers that it is just a matter of time. And the sooner the better.”
As the crowds were coming into the auditorium, the film’s director, Simon Kim, was standing in the lobby near the wall shifting back and forth on his feet. “I am excited,” he said, “All I really care about is that the kids like it.”
He need not have worried. The kids liked it.
“It was a huge honor to even be a part of this,” Kim told the audience after the screening, “and as we continue to push and spread the news of this film and make a positive impact across the world. I want to take this opportunity to thank the kids and Ms. Levy for allowing us to come in and be a part of this. I really felt like I was a part of the class. I had to ask permission to go to the restroom and I haven’t done that in a long time. You guys may not realize this but, you have the power to change peoples’ lives. I can speak from experience. You have changed my life. For me this project was just that -- life changing. You have already succeed in my eyes.”
The film evolved from what, Levy says was supposed to be a two minute promotional video about the Rock in Schools program that she pioneered at Clemente eight years ago. “It started with the hopes of making a two minute promotional YouTube video,” she said.
While looking for someone to make her promotional video, Levy, was introduced to Yudu Gray Jr., CEO at House Studio DC, by Adam Levin from Chuck Levins Music Center in Washington D.C. Levy and Levin had worked together in the past on a Rock In Schools benefit show at the Fillmore in Silver Spring in 2013, which featured student bands from five MCPS schools with rock band programs.
Once Gray brought in House Studio creative director and EMMY winner Simon Kim, who goes by Kim Shim Won, to direct the film, the idea of a two minute promotional video blossomed. Kim realized that this story could not and should not be told in two minutes and proposed making it into a 20 minute documentary film. That was eventually expanded again into the film which premiered last night.
“The hope is that the film will bring exposure to the program,” said Levy, “so that the business community will take an interest and want to help fund the program, and ultimately bring in sponsorships so that Rock in Schools can expand to the whole school district. That is my dream.”
While the long term impact of the film on the Rock in Schools program within MCPS and in the wider world is still unknown, the impact on the audience assembled for the premiere was clear. The kids were excited and could be heard giggling and laughing at seeing their classmates on the big screen.
At one point in the film, eighth-grader Dyan Snow is asked why he plays music and his response is simple, “I want to be famous.” The film’s director Simon Kim began his remarks after the film by scanning the crowd looking for Dylan and saying, “Hey Dylan. You are famous.”
The plan now, according to Gray, is to host a series of screenings in the area and then submitting the film to a number of film festivals around the nation. “We plan on distributing the film so that the original goal of spreading the amazing story of Randi and the students connects with as many people as possible. The hope is to show how much of an impact the Rock Band program is to middle school students, and hopefully have it spread to other middle schools around the country/world.”
Photos by Germantown Pulse