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Photo of students the first year
production (title graphic)



Film Crew
Web Team


Call: (800) 343-4727

Teachers Documentary Project
1350 Armadale Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90042
tel: 323-256-8208
fax: 323-256-8071

Davis Guggenheim, director

“It became immediately apparent that it was the private moments between a teacher and child that would form the basis of the film.”
- Davis Guggenheim

Julia Schachter, producer

“As a filmmaker, you shine a light on something that you care about and hope that the audience will care about it too.”
- Julia Schachter


The First Year documents the lives of new teachers entering the Los Angeles public school system. It is an emotional journey that raises the issues of public education through intimate portrayals of five teachers at the beginning of their careers.

Filming began on the first day of school in September, 1999. The filmmakers shot for a hundred and ten days, collecting hundreds of hours of footage. Early on in the process, the director, Davis Guggenheim, purchased a small digital video camera and microphone so that he could be ready to shoot at a moment's notice. Much of the film is shot in this intimate manner, without crews, heavy equipment and lighting - just the director and a camera. Davis explains, “There is talk about how the digital age will change how feature films will be made. I didn't realize how it would impact the documentary world. After a half an hour of shooting, the students forgot I was there. When I shot without a crew, I got to witness extraordinarily intimate moments that I couldn't have captured with a full crew.”

Davis teamed up with academy-award nominated documentary producer Julia Schachter whose previous film, Colors Straight Up, had also been filmed in Los Angeles inner city schools and in a similar verité style. Together with producer Senain Kheshgi who headed up their research, they scoured Los Angeles for the film's subjects.

The team sought out teachers who were willing to have their first and hardest year scrutinized on camera. Teachers who could learn to trust the filmmakers, engage in the documentary process, and allow the camera to record their most private moments. We see them as they are - innocent, passionate and flawed. They capture the idealism that drives a person to want to make a difference against all odds. We are there with them when they succeed and when they fail. We feel their losses and we rejoice in their triumphs.


“I wanted to make a film that would simplify the issues and portray
the teacher's life as heroic.”

Director Davis Guggenheim grew up apprenticing his father, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim. He worked on documentary films covering subjects such as Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign and documenting senators and governors, even filming in coal mines. Davis collaborated with his father on several projects, including short-form documentaries Thomas Dodd and The Legacy of Nuremburg, JFK and The Imprisoned Child and Norton Simon: A Man and His Art. From an early age, Davis was taught to confront and communicate vital and relevant social issues in America through the lens of a camera.

After graduating Brown University, Davis felt he needed to challenge himself as a director in his own right. “My father wanted me to come to work with him, but I needed to get as far away from his influence as possible.” He flew to Hollywood where he joined Outlaw Productions, working on feature films, including the critically acclaimed, sex lies and videotape. He soon landed directing jobs on high profile television shows, NYPD Blue, ER and Party of Five. In 1999, Davis directed his first feature film for Warner Brothers called Gossip.

As a father, Davis found himself drawn back to the social issue of education out of personal concern. “Suddenly, I found myself a parent living in Los Angeles. I was starting to think about sending my children to school and I was faced with some difficult questions: Do I send them to a public school that is poorly funded and understaffed, or do I send them to an elite private school and turn my back on public education?” These questions led Davis on a journey, which resulted in the creation of the film, The First Year. “My hope is that The First Year will change the way people look at the issue of education and start to view it as a human issue.”

Following The First Year, Davis began developing a film about young public defenders and a film that explores the issue of the minimum wage.

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“I was drawn to this project, because the school experience is
something we all share.”

Julia brings a diverse filmmaking background to The First Year. Soon after graduating Oberlin College, she became story editor for independent British producer Davina Belling (Gregory's Girl, Comfort and Joy, Tea with Mussolini) at Kings Road Entertainment. She then went on to become associate producer on the CBS reality series Rescue 911, supervising production in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Julia's previous documentary, Colors Straight Up, was honored with thirteen awards, along with Oscar, Directors Guild and Independent Spirit nominations. The film premiered nationally on PBS, and continues to be shown in schools across America. Julia's experience working on Colors Straight Up, which focused on a performing arts program in a Los Angeles inner city school was ideal preparation for working on The First Year.

“I knew the territory, the long schedules, and how to work within the Los Angeles School district. And, I'm passionate about education. At the time, I thought, I'm not a politician and I can't reorganize the school district, but I can be part of a film that will look at teachers in a new way.”

“When we set out to make The First Year, I thought it would be an interesting portrayal of five lives that would hopefully inspire people to become teachers. I'm discovering that the film is touching more than potential teachers. It's reaching educators, politicians, school district leaders, high school students, parents and working teachers. I realize that The First Year affects such a large audience because the school experience in America is universal. Everyone goes to school. It's something we all share.”

Upon completion of the film Julia continued to work on distribution and teacher recruitment outreach. “We planned an outreach effort from the beginning of the filmmaking process. In the end, we wanted to create something we could use as a concrete recruitment tool and hand it off to education leaders, administrators, teachers and students across the country.”

Julia's next project is a documentary about Latin music and dance culture in Los Angeles.

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© 2001 Teachers Documentary Project, Inc.