Brick by Brick Title

about the film

synopsisthe making of the filmthe crew view a clip/listen to podcastimdb


Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story is a one-hour television documentary about a contemporary American battle for civil rights.  It follows three families in Yonkers, New York, in the middle of a confrontation about the politics and law of racial discrimination in housing and schools that challenges and changes their hometown.

Brick by Brick describes how a ghetto was created through public policies.  The film initially paints a picture of isolation for many people of color in the city, most of whom are living in segregated neighborhoods served by failing schools.  The primary storytellers are local people from different backgrounds, who relate their personal encounters with housing and educational discrimination, as well as others who experience very different opportunities across town.

In education, the film details how local public school divisions grew up around a neighborhood overwhelmed with 7,000 units of public housing, further entrenching the city's color line.  Along with the harsh reality of this situation, viewers see the community react to the conditions in their children’s schools, fighting back to force Yonkers to change its ways.

Brick by Brick tracks the resulting federal US v Yonkers litigation, which challenged neighborhood and educational discrimination. Coming back out of the courtroom into the community, the story describes the bitter local confrontation about race and the very concept of community that follows.  From a first person perspective, characters weave a tale of years of work attempting to achieve justice, with a labyrinth of successes and setbacks that the struggle entails. 

At its close, Brick by Brick shows what has happened both to a community and to individual citizens, committed to their city.  It also illustrates the difference housing opportunity can make in a single family’s life. The story brings the fiery legal and political crucible of a contemporary city and its larger implications for our nation today onto the screen.

view a clip

A clip of Brick by Brick can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here and the trailer can be viewed by clicking here.

A podcast with Rob Ellman and Bill Kavanagh can be heard by clicking here.

the making of the film

Making of the film

The making of Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story has been the combined effort of an independent filmmaker, community supporters, colleagues, funders, and the support of established filmmakers like Sam Pollard.

With access to local community organizations, city politicians, and residents of both sides of the city, documentary maker Bill Kavanagh followed the confrontation of the City of Yonkers with the federal courts, local pro-housing organizations, and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the film, homeowners and tenants of the city’s public housing talk candidly about their personal trials and struggles to raise and educate their children and to fight for their ideals and neighborhoods.

Produced on a shoestring initially, Brick by Brick drew the support of organizations like the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, the Threshold Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, which set the pace for the film’s first cut.  The film is now complete, thanks to the generosity of individuals and the Bluestein Family Foundation.

Brick by Brick is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

For more information or to help get us the film in front of additional audiences, please contact us.

the crew



Esther B. Cassidy (Field Producer)

Esther B. Cassidy served as Producer/Director for Enemies of War, a one-hour public television documentary, executive produced by Deborah Shaffer. Commissioned by the Alliance for Justice and working as co-producer with Barbara Kopple, Esther worked on the two part show With Liberty and Justice For All. Part one won the Council on Foundations Award and part two won the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award.

Esther was the coordinating producer of Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award-winning documentary film American Dream which had international theatrical release and broadcasts. She served as consulting producer for Judith Helfand’s A Healthy Baby Girl which won a Peabody Award. As associate producer, Esther worked on the documentary Ballot Measure 9 which won the Audience Award at Sundance in 1995.

Also in this capacity, she worked on The Question of Equality for the Independent Television Service, the award-winning Casting the First Stone, which aired on P.O.V., and On The Bridge by acclaimed film director Frank Perry. She also worked on An American Love Story, With God On Our Side, Passin’ It On, Pursuit of Happiness, and Out of Darkness (directed by Barbara Kopple).

Linda Porto (Co-producer)

Linda Porto has produced documentary film projects for both U.S. and British television. For Oxford Television and Film, a London-based production company, she served as field/associate producer for two of the company’s edgy and irreverent signature “Naked” documentary series about American business, Naked Sport (PBS/Channel 4) and Naked News (A&E/Channel 4).

She was associate producer for the controversial Sins of the Father, a one hour HBO film about Catholicism, and clergy sexual abuse, and was also a producer for the six part documentary series, American Dream, a look at the 20th century told through the eyes of six American families (the Discovery Channel/BBC).

American Dream was nominated for both a Cable Ace and Emmy Award, and was presented at the White House.

Peter Stein (Director of Photography)

Peter Stein ASC, has shot over 36 feature films, T.V. movies, and documentaries. The son of internationally known still photographer Fred Stein, Peter began his photographic career when he won the Kodak High School Photo Contest in his junior year of high school. After college and graduate school, he decided on a career in film. 

His eye for composition and lighting enabled him to become a skilled camera operator, and he soon became a Director of Photography. Among his feature credits are: “Reuben, Reuben” (Academy Award nomination - best screenplay, best actor) for 20th Century Fox, “Pet Sematary” and “Necessary Roughness” for Paramount, “Ernest Saves Christmas” for Touchstone, “A Great Wall” for Orion, and ” Mr. Nanny” for New Line Cinema. His television movies include “Izzy and Moe” with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, a CBS Movie of the Week, “Under Siege” an NBC Special Event miniseries and “The Last Fling” an ABC Movie of the Week.

He also shot the feature length documentary “Just Crazy About Horses” and the HBO documentary “Laughs”. Two PBS docudramas “A Good Dissonance Like a Man” (Peabody Award) and “A Midwife’s Tale” (The American Experience) were also photographed by Peter Stein, and he has been nominated for two Emmy Awards (1982 and 1986). He taught  film courses at the School  of Visual Arts and SUNY Purchase, and is currently a professor in the Graduate Film School of NYU.

He is a member of the honorary organization, the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Peter lives in South Salem , NY with his wife Dawn Freer, a film editor and his daughter Katie and son Nicholas.

Sylke Froechtenigt (Co-Director and Editor)

Born in the former Democratic Republic of Germany, Froechtenigt began her artistic career there, working in theater production. Sylke graduated from University of Vienna with a M.A. in Theatre, Film and Television Sciences. She shifted to a career in film production in Munich as a property master, but quickly moved her focus to editing. In 2000 she went on staff as an online editor at Munich’s B.O.A. Videoart, and worked on fine cuts of many projects broadcast on German television and shown at festivals worldwide.

Inter alia she did the finishing work on a feature length documentary "This Not That," portraying the artist John Baldessari and has color corrected and restored footage on many sponsored films and videos. Sylke's passion for film and video led her to New York, where she has been editing with Producer/Director Bill Kavanagh since 2005.  Froechtenigt has also created her own video art, outside the broadcast genre.

Bill Kavanagh (Producer/Director)

Producer and director Bill Kavanagh was Field Producer of Enemies of War (2001), a PBS documentary on the civil war in El Salvador. With filmmaker Esther Cassidy and on his own, Bill made several journeys to El Salvador, interviewed rebel commanders, Jesuit priests, officials from the Salvadoran and US governments, human rights workers and ordinary Salvadoran citizens.  He covered the first elections after the ceasefire there. Kavanagh extensively interviewed the late Congressman Joe Moakley and his aide, Jim McGovern, who broke the wall of silence around the killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter by the Salvadoran military in 1989. Enemies of War was offered nationally on PBS.

Kavanagh was Line Producer and Director of Healthcare Dollars and Sense, (2003) on NJN, New Jersey public television network.  The program features Kavanagh’s interviews with healthcare experts and a panel discussion hosted by Susan Dentzer, health correspondent for the Jim Lehrer Newshour.

Kavanagh was studio director of World in Focus, a PBS series on world affairs produced by the Council on Foreign Relations for air by the now deceased WNYC-TV, public television in New York City. 

Bill also directed many episodes of Manhattan Connection, a popular series about U.S. culture for Brazilian television audiences.  The show tapes at Reuters television studios in New York.

He also was Series Producer of Story Café for Rainbow Programming.  Story Café was a 13-part series on the art and lives of storytellers, featuring a single artist in each half-hour episode. 

In addition, Kavanagh produces and directs fashion, corporate, and sponsored films, as well as broadcasts for professional audiences.  As a cameraperson, Mr. Kavanagh’s work has been shown on the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, Rights and Wrongs, NBC Dateline, Nickelodeon, MTV, and the former Visnews network internationally.

Sam Pollard (Consulting Producer)

Sam Pollard’s professional accomplishments as a feature film and television video editor, and documentary producer/director spans thirty years.  His first assignment as a documentary producer came in 1989 for Henry Hampton’s Blackside production Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crosswords.  For one of his episodes in this series, he received an Emmy. 

Eight years later, he returned to Blackside as Co-Executive Producer/Producer of Hampton’s last documentary series I’ll Make Me A World: Stories of African-American Artists and Community.  For the series, Mr. Pollard received The George Peabody Award. He recently received another Peabody Award as one of the producers on the 2002 PBS series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.

Between 1990 and 2000, Mr. Pollard edited a number of Spike Lee’s films:  Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers, Bamboozled.  As well, Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lee co-produced a couple of documentary productions for the small and big screen:  Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson, a biographical sketch for HBO for which Mr. Pollard received an Emmy, Four Little Girls, a feature-length documentary about the 1965 Birmingham church bombings which was nominated for an Academy Award and Jim Brown All-American, a two hour profile of the acclaimed football player, actor and activist. 

Mr. Pollard began this journey in 1972 as an apprentice in a WNET-sponsored film-training workshop.  Under the tutelage of a number of veterans in independent filmmaking, he spent the remainder of the 1970s polishing his editing skills on everything from celebrity profiles to Dateline: Israel, a film series about the history of Jerusalem.  His feature experience as an editor started in the mid- 1970s with films like Just Crazy About Horses, Body and Soul, Private Resort and Style Wars.  In between films, throughout the 1980s, he edited for the highly acclaimed children’s programs NBC's Vegetable Soup and The Children’s Television Workshop’s 3-2-1-Contact for which he received two Emmys.  In the early 1990s, there was Fires In The Mirror, a performance art film directed by George Wolfe, starring Anna Deveare Smith. 

In 1993, he produced for The American Experience a documentary called, Goin’ Back to T-Town, about life in a black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma during legal segregation.  Recently, Sam has continued his prolific work as Editor on POV’s Chisholm ’72:  Unbought and Unbossed (2004), Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (2005), and Premium (2006).  Sam Pollard is a Professor of Film Studies at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

K.A. Chisholm (Editor)

K.A. Chisholm is one of the rising young stars of the American editing scene. Since beginning as an editorial assistant on Michael Jackson’s video, “They Don’t Care About Us”, she has worked on numerous commercials, music videos and feature films. Currently Ms. Chisholm is Editor with Sam Pollard for "Premium", directed by Pete Chatmon.  Recently, Chisholm edited “UR4 Given,” directed by Jamal Joseph, and “Miracle’s Boys” (episodes 1 and 6).

Her editorial experience in the documentary form include recently, “Still, The Children Are Here,” “Hughes’ Dream Harlem”, Emmy nominated “Half Past Autumn, The Life and Works of Gordon Parks” (as Associate Editor), and “The Original Kings of Comedy.”

For Spike Lee she has been the associate editor on two dramatic pieces: the Peabody Award winning “A Huey P. Newton Story”  and “We Wuz Robbed”; as well as commercial campaigns including “Farewell Casanova (Absolut Vodka), “The Art Of Performance” (Jaguar) and “Knick’s Therapist” (N.Y. Knicks).