Beyond the Dream is about two teachers from El Paso and the program they started to help local kids gain the knowledge and skills to attend Ivy League schools. Daniel Valdez and Luis Martinez both come from non-traditional backgrounds, at least in terms of collegiate education, but they’ve dedicated their lives to helping other kids have an easier path to higher education. Their College Mindset Academy recruits students each year and provides a crash course in presenting yourself, planning ahead, writing admissions essays, interviewing tactics and participating in extracurricular activities to create a competitive application. This documentary, directed by El Paso filmmaker Chris Hanna, focuses largely on the most exciting part of the curriculum — a weeklong visit to the East Coast, where prospective students from the city are shown just what these types of schools are like.
On one hand, Beyond the Dream is a fairly boilerplate inspirational documentary. Hanna interviews Valdez and Martinez about their lives and how they ended up so passionate about helping students. They break down some of their methods and missions. Most of the students who attend the Academy already excel academically; it’s the two adults’ mission to turn them into well-rounded students. It’s not exactly an advertisement for their program, but it’s edited and shot like one, with testimonials and such. Still, it’s clear their passion is real and their mission sacred to them.
When the trip starts, it becomes a bit more fun, taking the form of a college travelogue across some of America’s most iconic campuses and locations. The students’ excitement is a little infectious. It helps to have traveled to and experienced a few college campuses, and the film may bring back some kind memories. Most of these students seem to be ready to have their pick, whether it’s Georgetown or Harvard, Yale or Swarthmore. You hope they managed to land at their first choice.
Beyond the Dream was filmed in 2018, so I’m curious how a program like the College Mindset Academy changed and grew over the next few pandemic-ridden years. It appears to still be active in the area. While those outside El Paso might simply enjoy it as a light documentary about kids learning how to get into college, it’s possible El Paso audiences might benefit from learning about this program. At the very least, it’s sometimes nice to see a short film of this sort and be reminded that there are decent people out there dedicated to bringing the ideal of a college education to demographics that don’t usually have that option.