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Originally published Monday, June 23, 2014 at 6:16 AM

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‘Page One’ director turns camera toward the ‘Ivory Tower’

An interview with Andrew Rossi, director of “Ivory Tower,” which looks at the nation’s higher education system and the challenges it faces.


Seattle Times movie critic

Coming up

‘Ivory Tower’

Opens Friday, June 27, at the Seven Gables, 911 N.E. 50th St., Seattle (landmarktheatres.com). Rated PG-13 for some suggestive and partying images.

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Filmmaker Andrew Rossi, once again, is right on time. Three years ago, with the newspaper industry in upheaval, he completed the documentary “Page One: Inside The New York Times.” Now he’s back with the straight-from-the-headlines “Ivory Tower,” opening Friday, June 27, at the Seven Gables ­— a film that examines the current state of higher education.

“I wanted to do another story about a cultural institution that’s very important to our society, and in some way seems invincible or impenetrable, and tell the story of how disruption and change are affecting that institution and how that affects our lives,” said Rossi earlier this month, in town for the Seattle International Film Festival. “Ivory Tower” examines a wide range of issues related to the cost and experience of college (from spiraling tuition costs to falling graduation rates), and Rossi traveled around the country for two years, visiting institutions and crafting his film from a variety of voices.

One of those voices — and a success story who quietly dominates the film — is sitting with him at the interview: David Boone, a Cleveland native who’ll enter his junior year at Harvard this fall. In Seattle this summer for an internship at Microsoft, Boone was homeless during much of his high school years, but focused on his academic future.

“Growing up, I always had it in the back of my head that I was going to do something,” he said. “I was always taught to dream big.”

Working hard in high school and “taking advantage of every opportunity presented” (at one point, living with the family of his school principal), Boone applied to 22 colleges — and was accepted to 21. (Only M.I.T. said no.) He selected Harvard, a dream since middle school, and “a place where I knew I could prosper.” Rossi noted that Harvard is one of very few colleges able to offer “full-need financial aid” to qualifying disadvantaged students, so that they may graduate without debt.

The two met when Rossi was filming at Harvard and looked specifically for Boone, whom he’d read about in a “homeless to Harvard” story on Twitter. “It quickly became clear that David’s story represented such an important narrative that gets lost in the conversation about higher education, which is, being able to bring students from marginalized communities into the big tent of higher education,” said Rossi. “David is very modest, but he’s a Gates Millennium scholar ... he’s representative of the fact that it does take a village and a lot of different support networks to bring one individual student from a really tough position into a school like Harvard.”

Boone, approached in his freshman Intro to Computer Science course, said that “one interview turned into a few, and a few turned into many, and before I knew it, I was being featured in a film.” Being part of the process, he said, was an education for him. “Though I understood what the expense of higher education was, I didn’t realize how many people were suffering because of the rising cost.”

Excited to be testing software at Microsoft for the summer, Boone hopes to one day become a business leader, with graduate school in computer science a possible step along the way. Though college isn’t always easy, he’s still thrilled to be at Harvard, and is already helping others with their dreams: mentoring students through their college application process. “People helped me, and it meant a lot when they did it for me,” he said, “so I know it means a lot for the people I’m doing it for.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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