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Meet the Filmmakers of 'Paper Tigers'

June 3, 2015

Paper Tigers, a moving education documentary that screened at the Seattle International Film Festival in late May, 2015, captures the pain, the danger, the beauty and the hopes of struggling teens — and the teachers armed with an understanding of the effects of toxicity on the teenage brain and fresh approaches that are demonstrably changing students' lives for the better.

“I heard it’s one of the worst schools you could ever go to,” says a Lincoln Alternative High School student in Paper Tiger, a documentary by director James Redford, who also wrote and produced the film. Located in a hotspot of gang activity, assaults, drug use, truancy and mental illness, the school and the dramatic transformations of its students is the subject of the documentary.

The students at Lincoln were “in absolute chaos” according to one teacher. School administrators and staff decided something needed to change. They attended a conference that dealt with the topic of complex trauma and the effects of stress on a teenager’s brain. Lincoln became the first high school in the country to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices.

A student from Lincoln High School in Jamie Redford's documentary "Paper Tigers"

Redford spent a year following four teens at Lincoln and documenting their incredible transformations, as school staff adopted the practice of providing unconditional support and fostering a caring environment.

Redford admits that before filming, he would walk with his young daughters down the street of his hometown, and see at-risk youth hanging around the local shops and hope his kids didn’t “end up like those kids.” Redford says spending time with the teens he followed changed his view of how we judge bad behavior and label kids without looking at the root causes of their behavior.

Graduation day at Lincoln High School, film still from "Paper Tigers"

Teacher Genie Huntemann is featured in the film. According to her, when working with kids who have experienced childhood trauma, you have to come to the point where you acknowledge that they are not “misbehaving” on purpose. “The behavior is something that they have no control over, and that’s a really hard place for some people to go.”

Director James Redford on stress and health in students

Teacher Genie Huntemann on teachers' investment in their students

On the importance of having students tell their stories



Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins