Social Documentation director is executive producer of new PBS documentary

New principal Edward Tom works with 14-year-old Sharifea at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. (Photo by Christopher Wong)

Edward Tom was a successful executive with Saks Fifth Avenue. He quit to become principal of a new, small high school in the South Bronx. His mission: Get all of his students into college.

Tom's story is told in Whatever it Takes, a new independent documentary scheduled to air nationwide on PBS stations at 10 p.m. March 30.

Executive producer is Renee Tajima-Peña, professor and graduate director of the Social Documentation program at UC Santa Cruz, who worked on fund raising for the film, reviewed cuts, and advised on distribution and broadcast strategy.

"I got involved because I've been mentoring young filmmakers for a long time," Tajima-Peña said. "This story really hit home to me. I have a son in a 'majority minority' public school and we've witnessed from the ground up how a whole set of kids are being left behind."

Tajima-Peña's films have been broadcast around the world. One, Who Killed Vincent Chin? was nominated for an academy award.

Whatever it Takes, is the first feature-length documentary by producer director Christopher Wong. The film has traveled the film festival circuit, winning awards in Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. It was funded by the Sundance Institute Documentary Program and the Center for Asian American Media.

Four years in the making, the documentary follows Tom and the first year of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. Halfway through the term, Tom's ideals of teaching low-income, minority students runs into the reality that more than half of the students are failing.

The film follows one student, 14-year-old Sharifea, daughter of a recovering drug addict. Sharifea aspires to be a pediatrician but lacking time, because she must care for two siblings, and motivation to study, Sharifea's hopes are dashed by failing grades. Whatever it Takes, shows the efforts of Tom and his staff to get Sharifea into a summer college-prep course at Dartmouth College.

"The implicit message of this film really is that every school, and every child, is too big to fail," Tajima-Peña said.

The broadcast March 30 is part of the PBS series Independent Lens. A companion web site has more information: