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by Thomas M. Sipos, L.A. bureau chief.  [February 20, 2003]





[]  While the public image of homeschoolers has vacillated from hippies living on communes to Christian fundamentalists escaping Godless classrooms -- many homeschoolers are average middle class folks -- just like YOUR neighbor!

That's the shocking revelation exposed by indie filmmaker Fernanda Rossi in her award-winning documentary, Inventing a Girl, as revealed to the Hollywood Investigator in an exclusive interview!

"There are as many reasons for homeschooling as homeschoolers," said Rossi to the Hollywood Investigator.  "Some homeschoolers want their kids to have access to a variety of things. Others want to control what the kids see.  Some want their kids to take their time. Other parents homeschool so their kids can attend college when they are sixteen.

"What has changed over the past decades is public perception. In the 1800s, only rich people homeschooled. Today, homeschoolers cover a wider gamut because in addition to [hippies and fundamentalists] you can add the progressive middle class, who are not happy with public schools and think that private schools are prohibitively expensive. They also have ideological concerns about both the public and private schools."

Homeschooling has also changed legally, with fewer hurdles than in years past. "The law differs in each state but people don't go to jail for homeschooling, as they used to. It's just a question of knowing -- and following -- state regulations. There are lawyers who specialize in this narrow field, and an association providing advice to homeschoolers." (The Home School Legal Defense Association).

"But homeschooling remains what it has always been: a method. And people can use it to achieve different goals."


* Inventing a Girl


Rossi's documentary follows the Borenstein-Burd family of Elizabeth, New Jersey; progressive Jews whose decision to homeschool their son and daughter (Russell and Lily) was disapproved of by their extended family.

Inventing a Girl interviews the Borenstein-Burd parents, and follows them preparing lessons and activities for their children. But the focus is on their daughter, Lily, age 9. In keeping with a Borenstein-Burd goal -- creating independent and self-confident children -- Rossi invites Lily to interview her parents, deciding on what questions to ask.

"They followed the filmmaking process closely along the way," says Rossi of the Borenstein-Burds. "They saw me from when I carried my camera into their home and ran out of batteries, to setting up my website and going to festivals. They came to the cutting room several times. They were very moved when they saw the first cut, and they helped promote Inventing a Girl. Paula Borenstein also gave me incredible emotional support during the hard times."

Rossi shot 25 hours of tape, which she edited down to 52 minutes. Her film, like those of many other indie filmmakers, was made possible partly by technical advances in digital equipment. "I began using Hi 8 video, until DVD came out," says Rossi. "I switched right away, as did many filmmakers.  It was a post-production nightmare, but I'm happy I did it."

Homeschooling critics worry that homeschooled children don't learn the social skills to be had from interacting with other children. But while the Borenstein-Burds teach from books and art projects, they've also networked with other homeschoolers to arrange group activities for all their children.  Rossi interview some of these other parents, and Paula Borenstein is pleased to announce that the other parents represent a diversity of religious and political views.


*  Response to the Film


Rossi says the response of the homeschooling community has been "very positive" to Inventing a Girl. "Because there is not one way of homeschooling, many homeschoolers were curious to see into another homeschooling family's daily life. They were also grateful that many of the prejudices against homeschooling were openly discussed, without preconceived ideas.

"John Taylor Gatto [author, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling] is a supporter of my film. So is Helen Heneger, of Home Education Magazine -- and many others that I wish I had time to list.

"But showing my film to homeschoolers is preaching to the choir. The people who can really benefit from it are parents considering a variety of educational possibilities for their children. My film gives them the chance to see what homeschooling can be about. Then they can research further and make an informed decision about their children's education."

The indie filmmaking community has also been positive. Says Rossi, "My peers felt it was a nice original portrait. They particularly liked that the filmmaker's vision, my vision, is present, without clouding the freshness of Lily, the main character.

Inventing a Girl premiered at the Contemporary Issues Film Festival in Portugal in June 2000, and won the "Woman's Eye" at the Riverrun Film Festival in North Carolina. It screened at the Anthology Film Archives, a New York art house, but has yet to air on a broadcast or cable network.

"At the time I was approaching networks, there was no 'official' opinion about homeschooling, and still there isn't," says Rossi. "Homeschooling is not condemned, but it's not fully supported by non-homeschoolers either. Also, it's not a sensationalistic film that can guarantee ratings. Not is it politically correct. It's controversial. It dares to show homeschooling up close, without judging it.

"Maybe today would be a better time to present it to TV programming directors than it was a couple of years ago."


*  Fernanda Rossi


Fernanda Rossi was born in Argentina, earning "the equivalent" of a Masters in Film Production from Buenos Aires University. "Our degree system is different over there. It's a very demanding program that combines the technical and theoretical aspects of filmmaking. In one course I had to read philosophers such as Barthes and Eco and then write a paper on the language of cinema.  Then I would be in a course -- all compulsory -- dealing with cameras and lenses.

"It was very complete. Many of the things I use in my practice as a script doctor, I learned back then." Although Rossi's script consultancy covers both fiction and non-fiction, she specializes in finding a dramatic story-telling structure for documentaries. On her other website, Rossi refers to herself as the Documentary Doctor.

Rossi worked with Frederick Marx on Boys to Men (Marx was a writer, producer and editor on Hoop Dreams), and is currently in pre-production on a feature film to be shot in Buenos Aires. "I have another script in the works, and a book. And I pen a column for The Independent."

Many people are thanked in end credits for Inventing a Girl, including actor Gary Oldman. "While I was shooting my film, I was working as an editor in documentaries and TV to earn a living. I got the opportunity to be an assistant editor in Gary Oldman's feature film, Nil by Mouth. He wrote a letter of recommendation for my documentary.

"I credited everyone who did something for my film, no matter how little. Credits are free, and sometimes it's the only thing you can offer. Besides, everybody who crosses your path is affecting you in some way. For this reason, I credited friends who gave me encouragement. That's worth a big credit!"

Rossi's two websites are Inventing a Girl (where one can purchase the video), and Documentary Doctor.

Copyright 2003 by


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