Raising Bertie

RAISING BERTIE is a six-year portrait of three young African American men coming-of-age in North Carolina’s rural Bertie County.  Like MOONLIGHT and BOYHOOD before it, the intimate portrayal of these young men interconnects narratives of family, youthful innocence, and isolation with the will to succeed in the face of formidable odds.

The feature-length documentary RAISING BERTIE, winner of Best Documentary Feature at Atlanta Docufest, is produced by Kartemquin Films and executive produced by Jermaine Cole aka rapper J. Cole.

This powerful vérité film delivers an authentic and tender portrait of the lives of three young boys – Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry, and Davonte “Dada” Harrell – as they face a precarious coming of age in Bertie County, North Carolina.

Director Margaret Byrne brings audiences deep into the emotional lives of these young men as they try to find room for themselves in a place where life is dictated by a slow pace, opportunities are limited and tenuous family ties simultaneously offer comfort and heartache. Shot over the course of six years, RAISING BERTIE is an experience that asks us to see this world through their eyes: boys navigating between finishing high school and an elusive first job, as millions of young Americans similarly take their next step into an inherited idea of adulthood.

Set in Bertie County, a rural African American-led community in Eastern North Carolina, Raising Bertie offers viewers an authentic and tender portrait of the lives of three young boys – Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry, and Davonte “Dada” Harrell – as they face a precarious coming of age.

Rural minorities like the youth in Bertie represent some of the nation’s most vulnerable and least visible. Like many rural areas, Bertie County struggles with a dwindling economy, a declining population and a high school graduation rate below the state average. The Perdue chicken processing plant is Bertie’s last major employer, and the 27 prisons that lay within a 100 miles of Bertie cast a long shadow. Bertie County is predominately African American – its challenges compounded by generations of economic and educational discrimination and exclusion.

Bertie also is the home of Junior, Bud, and Dada, three engaging young men with difficult pasts attending high school at The Hive, an alternative school for at-risk boys. There, we meet Vivian Saunders, a passionate community activist from Bertie County. At The Hive a combination of respect, socio-emotional learning, and mentorship helps to put these young men’s lives on track. The Hive is a beautiful model of effective, supportive, and innovative interventions that help to improve opportunities and the quality of life for African-American boys and young men in Bertie.

But, when budget shorgalls lead the Board of Education to close The Hive, Junior, Bud, and Dada must return to Bertie High School and a system that once failed them.

This raw and starkly poetic Kartemquin vérité documentary weaves the young men’s stories together as they navigate school, unemployment, violence, first love, fatherhood, and estrangement from family members and mentors, all while trying to define their identities.

Intimate access depicts an honest portrayal of the boys’ perspectives and the caring adults in the community who understand what it means to take care of their own. The film is an in-depth look at issues facing many of rural America’s youth of color and what happens in the everyday lives of young people caught in the complex interplay of generational poverty, economic isolation, and educational inequity. Raising Bertie is an experience that asks us to see this world through their eyes and incites recognition and understanding of lives and communities too often ignored.

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