“There are two important days in your life. The day you are born and the day you find out why.” This quote is referenced by Luis Martinez, one of the subjects of Chris Hanna’s documentary, Beyond the Dream. Martinez and Daniel Valdez co-founded The College Mindset Academy in El Paso, TX. Their mission is to help El Paso’s youth find the right college and develop their voices as young adults. Indeed, one of the most difficult decisions young students have to make is what they want to do and where they should study.
The two teachers are introduced early on as having similar backgrounds and wanting to provide sufficient educational resources. Martinez shares that he grew up with immigrant parents in public housing, surrounded by students who didn’t have much. Valdez, meanwhile, felt he was not given the push to explore other opportunities as a student. So together, they formed The College Mindset Academy. In the sessions they hold with students, they work on elevator speeches, eye contact, business cards, and make college plans. One of the more unique exercises includes making a tower out of dry spaghetti to develop team building.
The students then get the opportunity to visit Ivy League schools on the East Coast, making this the first time most of them have left El Paso. They stop in Washington, D.C., and visit schools such as George Washington University as well as visit the city’s monuments. From there, the students visit New York City and Boston. The week-long journey opens their eyes to what is outside their comfort zones. It also provides possibilities for their futures.
“…students then get the opportunity to visit Ivy League schools on the East Coast…”
Filmed in 2018 by ZGN Productions, Beyond the Dream tells an admirable story. It is evident that the subjects, Martinez and Valdez, are passionate about what they do. The students also gain a lot from the experience. But, unfortunately, the viewer does not. Clocking in at one hour and thirty-five minutes, the slow pace makes it feel twice as long. The trouble is that the narrative lacks punch and conflict, so the overall story cannot sustain the length. The majority of the time is spent seeing the colleges and city sights. Multiple montages feature slow-motion photography. This works well at first but quickly becomes filler.
The style and tone give the feeling of this production being an extended promotional video for The College Mindset Academy and its services. The majority of the interview content is of Martinez and Valdez. While we hear from the students, they merely express their excitement for this city or that landmark. It would’ve helped to see a student’s struggle when transitioning to higher education. It would have also helped to see why there is a need for more opportunities in El Paso. As it is, we are left wondering why this plot and the Academdy’s goals matter.
It is unfortunate not to be as invested as the teachers and students on the screen. There is a gem of inspiration at the film’s core, but the slow pacing and lack of story undermine it. Beyond the Dream would have worked better as a short. Nevertheless, seeing what The College Mindset Academy does for these students is commendable.
"…a gem of inspiration at the film's core..."