By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007
When Darrell Watson returned to his alma mater and became director of Ballou Senior High School's Majestic Marching Knights, the former band member fulfilled a lifelong dream.
Although he has developed a nationally acclaimed band with limited resources, Watson was not fully aware of what people thought of his work until he saw Michael Patrei's "Ballou," a documentary on the Southeast school's marching band.
"When I saw the movie, I didn't realize that was me," said Watson, 37. "I was just doing what I thought was right."
The film highlights Watson's dedication to his students and has placed him in the national spotlight with an appearance recently on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Students Lewis Franklin and Kenneth Horne appeared on the set with Watson while the 90-piece band performed via satellite from the school's gymnasium.
The 90-minute film, which began shooting in August 2006 and is in the final stages of editing, chronicles the efforts of Watson and several volunteers who try to teach their students life lessons through music and provide them with support, discipline and encouragement despite the adversity they might encounter.
Although the documentary has not been shown publicly, it has received praise through private screenings and generated publicity. "Good Morning America" aired a segment about the film last month.
Watson along with several band members, the filmmakers and D.C. government officials attended a private White House screening of the film last week with first lady Laura Bush.
The filmmakers have submitted their project to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it could debut in January. The film will be shown publicly after it debuts at a festival.
"We haven't gotten into the big festivals yet, but we're hoping to," said Casey Callister, who served as the film's executive producer with his wife, Maiko Callister, a teacher at Ballou, and childhood friend Patrei. "We feel it's been a success whether it gets into [them] or not."
DeGeneres stunned Watson during his interview on the daytime talk show by presenting two checks from online payment company PayPal totaling $100,000. The first check, for $25,000, went to the band; the school received a check for $75,000.
"PayPal's donation was our way of helping the students of Ballou Senior High School to continue to achieve their dreams," said Dana Stalder, a senior vice president at PayPal.
"Mr. Watson and the Ballou High marching band are truly an inspiration," Stalder said.
Despite the influx of congratulations from colleagues, friends and relatives, Watson said he will rely on the guidance from his parents to remain "rooted and grounded" and hopes the spotlight will compel community leaders to increase their support for music and art programs in all public schools.
"I want [my students] to appreciate this," Watson said. "We still have to put the work in. There's nothing worse than having new uniforms or new instruments and looking a mess."