If You Build It

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
If You Build It Movie Poster Image
Inspiring docu shows young people capable of great things.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 85 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Teamwork and perseverance are major themes. Kids can do a whole lot more than they think, and definitely a whole lot more than most adults are willing to let them do. In this documentary, a class of 10 high school juniors in rural North Carolina, design and build a new farmers market for their town. It's a big project, and the manage to pull it off. In the process, they discover their own capabilities. Additional themes are compassion and empathy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily and Matt, the two educators at the center of this documentary, make huge sacrifices to help the kids in their class. The focus of the task is to teach the students how to design and build things, but the real point is to help the young people learn that they have the power, and the abilities, to plan and execute real things.


Some mild bickering.


"Dangit" and "piss off" are about the roughest epithets heard here.


Some consumer brands make brief appearances, including Pabst Blue Ribbon and Subway sandwiches.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few scenes show adults drinking beer while they relax and one person mentions once his desire to "have a few beers" at the end of the day.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that If You Build It is an inspiring documentary that shows just what can happen if you empower young people. Teen viewers will see admirable role models in the educators who persevere against challenging odds to bring a special program to high school kids. They will also see teens like themselves accomplish a lot when given the opportunity. There are a few scenes that show the adults drinking beer, but there's no swearing, smoking, drugs, violence or sex. This a film that almost any teen would benefit from seeing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11, 14, and 17-year-old Written byKaren S August 31, 2019

Appropriate for any age, but a bit dull.

This documentary is inspiring, but a little boring. I wanted to show it to a small group of teens but wondered if they would be too bored - in the end, our age... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

IF YOU BUILD IT is an inspiring documentary directed by Patrick Creadon, who also worked on the acclaimed behind-the-scenes look at crossword puzzles, Wordplay, and shows that teens have the ability and the talent to make a difference, if adults will let them. In the fall of 2010, 10 high students in Bertie County, North Carolina, enrolled in a unique class -- an updated version of shop class that eventually has them designing and building an actual structure, a new farmers' market for their rural community. The brainchild of Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, who applied their backgrounds in design and architecture to education, the Project H program is designed to empower young people; first, by teaching them the skills to create something, and then letting them actually do it.

Is it any good?

This documentary is neither flashy nor action-packed, but its subject matter -- how to inspire kids in a town that the economy seemingly forgot -- is enormously appealing. Pilloton and Miller are fascinating subjects, altruistic and optimistic and desperate to make a change, and as such, they're interesting to watch.

When monkey wrenches are thrown their way, however, we don't always get a clear picture as to why they persist. Their plan is heartily endorsed by the superintendent of schools, but he's ousted early in the film and it's not clear why. Several local residents appear onscreen to laud Project H, but nobody ever explains why the school board is so dubious about it. No matter, there's plenty of inspiring stuff going on to interest viewers, including students who, through the class, identify a much-needed life direction. It's uplifting to watch the teens in If You Build It  as they slowly begin to realize that not only are they capable of great things, they are actually going to create something wonderful.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges Emily and Matt face while trying to bring their program to the school in If You Build It. How do they manage to make it happen anyway? What can you learn from their example?

  • Why do you think the filmmakers chose to document this story? What do you think they hoped to achieve?

  • How does If You Build It promote teamwork and perseverance? What about compassion and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love making a difference

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