Winner of the 2024 DocLands Audience Choice Award, MAKE A CIRCLE follows a group of child care providers who are determined to change how society values the education of its youngest citizens. With a mix of humor, outrage, and passion, MAKE A CIRCLE captures the unfolding stories of Patricia, a leader of the California child care workers union, as she fights on behalf of a largely immigrant workforce; Charlotte, another union member who tirelessly lifts up the low-income families in her care; and Anne, the director of a large preschool, who finds novel ways to value and support her teachers when jobs at Starbucks are offering higher pay. Within their stories are interludes that offer a cinematic glimpse into the unique, imaginative world of the young children in their care. The film culminates as thousands of child care union members march on their state capitol demanding better working conditions, just as their contract is set to expire. Weaving together the magic they create in the classroom, the struggles they endure at home, and their tireless activism for their profession, MAKE A CIRCLE is a moving portrait of life as an early childhood educator and a promising blueprint for fixing our broken child care system.

MESSAGE FROM THE FILMMAKERS

It is one of the greatest disconnects in American society: the importance of a child’s first five years versus how the work of early care and education is valued. We are among the 25 million parents of young children in the US who have felt the struggle to access and afford quality child care, as well as the heartbreak of seeing talented early educators leave the field for better paying jobs at coffee shops and delivery services.

There is a common misperception that early care and education is just a form of “babysitting.” We believe the invisibility of the work helps perpetuate a system that pays poverty wages and offers little professional respect – that we cannot value what we cannot see. A mentality shift is needed about when “real learning” starts, the skill and expertise early educators bring to their work, and what voices we should be listening to for ideas about how to fix our broken child care system.

During a preschool parent-teacher night, exploring what an anti-racist curriculum for young children could look like, one of our protagonists, Leila, spoke about the power of storytelling. She talked about how inequality and discrimination are perpetuated by the stories we tell ourselves about some people being more worthy than others. And how, with our youngest citizens, we have a unique opportunity to tell a different story from day one. As two filmmakers who have collectively worked on dozens of documentaries, Leila’s statement about storytelling resonated deeply for us. We’ve seen first-hand how a viewer’s attachment to characters undergoing against-the-odds journeys can change minds, change culture and change policies. At the same time, we saw an opportunity to play with the form. To use the medium of cinema to invite viewers into the world of young children and to feel their innocence, their process of discovery, their joy, and their tears.

MAKE A CIRCLE immerses viewers in both the imaginative, whimsical world of young children and the passionate, hopeful, but imperfect world of the adults who teach and care for them. The result is a portrait of the beauty, complexity, and impact of this work.