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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pressure Cooker is a must-see for kids hoping to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and a wonderfully inspiring documentary for anyone working hard to make their own dreams a reality. The film chronicles a group of inner-city high school students in Philadelphia who learn high-end cooking from their tough-but-caring teacher, Mrs. Stephenson and compete in a local high school culinary arts contest for scholarships. In the midst of the difficulties of growing up poor, and the universal concerns of teenagers, these students show through example what hard work and a positive attitude can achieve.
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What's the story?
In this award-winning documentary, Mrs. Wilma Stephenson teaches Culinary Arts in Frankford High School in Philadelphia. She is a tough, no-nonsense teacher who is also absolutely dedicated to the success of her students. Her students come from low-income backgrounds, and with her discipline and tough-love, she inspires them to learn to cook, and to compete in a city-wide culinary arts contest in which winners earn college scholarships. There's Erica, who is helping to raise her blind younger sister. There is Tyree, who as a child woke up one Christmas to find his home had been burglarized and all his families' Christmas presents stolen. There is Fatamatou, a recent arrival from Africa learning how to succeed in a new environment. Together, these students are shown working hard and making sacrifices to attain their dreams, all while keeping positive mental attitudes.
Is it any good?
This is an excellent film. It stands as a powerful counter-argument to anyone who believes the American Dream is dead, that teenagers are inherently lazy and unmotivated, or that there are no more great teachers in our schools. Through their actions and efforts, the teenagers chronicled in the film show how hard work, sacrifice, and a positive attitude go far in life to help make aspirations come true, no matter how difficult the circumstances. As a high school teacher, Mrs. Stephenson is conveyed on film as a force of nature: inspired, blunt, stern, and never less than 100 percent dedicated to the success of her students.
The challenges are there, and they're familiar to anyone who lives or has grown up in an urban area. And yet, these students are shown meeting these challenges. What emerges from Pressure Cooker is a film documenting a tough-love teacher teaching not only the skills to be excellent chefs, but also the life skills needed to be successful beyond the classroom and kitchen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the documentary shows the lives of these teenagers. How much of it is filmed in the moment, and how much of it is shown through interviews in which they discuss their backgrounds? What do you think were the challenges the filmmakers faced?
There are no direct, one-on-one interviews with Mrs. Stephenson, but she is prominent throughout the film providing guidance and discipline to many facets of her students' lives. Why do you think her story isn't given as much weight as the stories of her students?
In a brief scene, Tyrell's football coach is filmed driving around their neighborhood, talking about and pointing out all the factories that have closed in the area in recent decades. How does this heighten "what's at stake" for the students competing in the culinary arts competition? What would have been lost had this scene not been in the film?
- On DVD or streaming: April 20, 2010
- Cast: Fatoumata Dembele, Tyree Dudley, Wilma Stephenson
- Director: Jennifer Grausman
- Studio: First Run Features
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Cooking and Baking, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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