||PRESSURE COOKER (90')
DIRECTED BY JENNIFER GRAUSMAN & MARK BECKER
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There's a force-of-nature behind the door to Room 325 at
Frankford High School in Philadelphia. Her name is Wilma
Stephenson and she teaches Culinary Arts. Infamously
blunt, Mrs. Stephenson runs a "boot camp", disciplining
her students into capable chefs and responsible students.
Behind her tough-talking exterior is a teacher, who cares
passionately about getting the best out of her students
and making sure they receive the opportunities including
scholarships to top programs that will help them escape
the meager minimum-wage job opportunities of Northeast
Wilma Stephenson has taught at Frankford for 40 years,
long before Culinary Arts became part of the school's
curriculum. She can be cantankerous, and she knows it, but
she will do anything for the students who get with the
program and show true promise and the hunger to succeed.
Those who fall short of her discipline will not be missed;
many will drop out before the first week is over.
PRESSURE COOKER documents Mrs. Stephenson and those
students committed enough to surrender themselves to her
enlightened despotism through both semesters in Culinary
Arts. By the end of the school year, 13 of her students
will have made it through the gauntlet. These seniors
aspire to scholarships that can enable them to escape the
status quo of Northeast Philly and move on to a future of
more opportunities. Mrs. Stephenson spells it out on the
first day of school by telling the newcomers that 11
members of last year's class earned over $750,000 in
scholarships, a staggering amount. At a school where over
40% of students don't even make it to their senior year,
Ms. Stephenson's class stands in stark contrast. She
offers these kids her version of the American Dream: You
choose a realistic goal. You work hard. You work the
system. And you get out.
At the end of their school year, there is a one-day
competition, where top chefs judge the students' skills
and talent. But, in the end, the scholarships are even
more dependent on the kids' capacity for sustained drive
throughout their senior year. Can they endure the
stressful challenges wrought by their home lives - having
to hold low wage jobs after school, and acting as
surrogate parents to their siblings - while still finding
the motivation to wake up at 6AM to get to Mrs.
Stephenson's class early enough to master
their crepes and tournée potatoes?