'Know How': Film Review

Courtesy of The Possibility Project
More interesting for sociological than cinematic reasons

Youngsters living in NYC's foster care system wrote and star in this gritty urban drama directed by Juan Carlos Piniero Escoriaza

There's more passion than cinematic finesse on display in Juan Carlos Piniero Escoriaza's collaborative feature film written by and starring young people in New York City's foster care system. Depicting the social and systematic conditions that lead to teenage lives fraught by poverty, crime, drugs and endless other adversities, Know How too often reflects the amateurishness of its creators. Still, it has many important things to say, and was clearly a cathartic experience for its youthful ensemble of performers/writers.

Produced by The Possibility Project, a non-profit organization serving NYC youth, the film began life as one of many original stage musical productions created under its auspices. It interweaves the stories of five teenagers struggling with various problems: Eva (Gabrielle Garcia), forced to be a de facto mother to her younger sister when their father becomes addicted to crack; Austin (Gilbert Howard), who under the tutelage of his older brother becomes caught up in a life of mugging and other crimes; Addie (Niquana Clark), living with her aunt and desperately trying to improve her grades so she can graduate high school; Megan (Claribelle Pagan), who's removed from her abusive family and moved to a residential treatment center, only to suffer bullying at the hands of the young female residents; and Marie (Ebonee Simpson), forced to live in foster care when her grandmother turns desperately ill.

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Based on the performers' own stories, the film certainly has the ring of truth. It also admirably avoids villainizing the adults—social workers, administrators, teachers, judges law enforcement officials, etc.—who are inevitably part of the process.

But despite its verisimilitude, Know How is narratively clunky, and the decision to include musical sequences, while they might have been effective onstage, only accentuates the performers' lack of skills (Auto-Tune notwithstanding).

More suitable for classroom showings than theatrical release, the film should find generous appreciation from young audiences, even though its relentlessly bleak tone doesn't provide much in the way of hope or solutions.

Production: The Possibility Project
Cast/screenwriters: Deshawn Brown, Niquana Clark, Michael Kareem Dew, Gabrielle Garcia, Gilbert Howard, Claribelle Pagan, Ebonee Simpson
Director/screenwriter: Juan Carlos Piniero Escoriaza
Producer: Marcus Clarke
Executive producer: Paul Griffin
Director of photography: Salvador Bolivar
Production designer: Andi Sustrin
Editors: Stephen Bruckert, Amanda Moreau, Juan Carlos Piniero Esoriaza
Composers: Kasper Gaddy, Danny Rockett, Seth Rothschild

Not rated, 106 min.