By Rachel Stern | Patch Staff
Palo Alto Patch

United Nations Association Film Festival brings documentaries such as Facing Forward to Palo Alto high schools.

It's a rigorous and structured academic environment. The middle schoolers are entitled to only two bathroom breaks in their 10 hour day, have to be in class at 7 am every morning, and must don the same plaid uniforms throughout the non-stop academic year.

"Would you want to go to a school like this?" director Laura Paglin asked an auditorium of East Palo Alto's Eastside College Preparatory School before her film screened Tuesday afternoon, garnering an unanimous chorus of "No!"

Yet many parents outside of Cleveland, Ohio vie to get their children into the high performing Entrepreneurship Preparatory School (E-Prep), the subject of Paglin's documentary, Facing Forward. Twenty five percent of students pass Ohio's mandatory state test when they enter, but by the time they exit almost 95 percent do.

The film was screened late Tuesday afternoon at the 14th United Nations Association Film Festival to an audience of about 40 high schoolers, who eagerly asked Paglin questions about her film and experiences before and after it played.

UNAFF has been screening movies in schools this year in order to attract wider audiences. On 2 p.m. Tuesday, two films were screened at Palo Alto High School, and another film, the Brazilian Wasteland, will be screened there Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastside College Preparatory has also showed its students the South African documentary Shantytown Cinderellas and the Egyptian documentary Raising Yusriya.

Paglin stationed herself for three years in E-Prep Charter School when it opened in Cleveland in 2008. She documented the struggles, successes, and the day-to-day life of the school hailed for its high achievement rates of children who come from rough home environments.

"What they fail to realize is that they need that support at home," explains one teacher in the film about how parents drop their students off at school, automatically expecting them to be fixed.

Her protagonist, Tyree, is one such case. Paglin only discovered him after collecting footage for a year at the school. Charming but troubled, he both receives high marks and faces expulsion, pushing forward while being held back by his chaotic home life.

"The first year I was kind of floundering around because they didn't really want me in the school," said Paglin. "I went into it not really knowing what my intention is."

But as the months went on, Paglin blended into the woodwork of the school, and was able to candidly capture heart wrenching and heartwarming moments alike on film.

"The kids just began to know me as the camera lady," she said after the film on Tuesday.

The film she presented on Tuesday, tying in with the UNAFF's theme of "Education is a Human Right," is a little over an hour, and succinctly chronicles the two years of tumult at a school perhaps not as different than Palo Alto's as it initially seems.