Subtitle Options: English Closed Captions, Spanish Subtitles
Subjects: Class Disparities, Race Power and Privilege, Employment
The Road Up opens in a large conference room at Cara, a job-training program in Chicago’s South Loop. Cara provides services and opportunities for low-income adults who face barriers to employment, with the goal of placing them in jobs they’re expected to hold for at least a year. But first, every Cara student is required to attend a month-long “boot camp” called Transformations. And that’s where Mr. Jesse comes in.
Equal parts preacher, teacher, comedian, and coach, Jesse Teverbaugh developed and runs the Transformations class. Jesse treats every four-week session like a boxer entering the ring, exhausting himself in an effort to spark hope in the hearts of his students, a sense of possibility that most have long since lost.
FOR SOME, HE BECOMES A SURROGATE FATHER, BUILDING THEM UP, BUT ALSO CALLING THEM OUT.
While profoundly sensitive to the pain and trauma they’ve endured, he has little patience for excuses. It’s a “tough love” approach—emphasis on “love”—firmly grounded in the reality of the jobs he’s preparing them for. He knows they have no safety net, no room for error; one misstep—showing up late for work, arguing with a supervisor—can get them fired, reigniting a cycle that might land them back on the streets, in a shelter, or behind bars.
Jesse’s classroom lessons are reflected in the lives of the film’s four main subjects—Kristen, Clarence, Alisa, and Tamala—whose journeys, both during and after Transformations, are woven throughout. Taken together, their stories create a powerful mosaic of the struggles that millions of Americans face every day, the daunting and often interconnected barriers that prevent so many from getting—and keeping—a job.
The Road Up premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in October 2020, where it won the Audience Award for Documentary. It went on to win the Spotlight on Inspiration Documentary Award at the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Michael Sullivan Award for Documentary Journalist at the Salem Film Fest, and premiere internationally at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.
The film’s national impact campaign began even before its theatrical premiere in October 2021, with internal screenings at a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Aon, JPMorgan Chase, and Google. The goal of the campaign is to create space for challenging conversations around the issues raised by the film—in particular, second chance hiring, racial equity, and inclusive employment.
Official Selection for the 2021 Ashland Independent Film Festival, 2021 Omaha Film Festival, and 2021 Berkshire International Film Festival
“The Road Up is a truly amazing documentary that manages to inspire without glossing over the harsh realities of life…Perfectly paced editing, beautiful cinematography. 5 stars (out of five)” – Christopher Lewis, MXDWN
“The Road Up breathes new life into what it takes to overcome deep-seated challenges largely because Teverbaugh is so good at his job. But so are these filmmakers. The care Teverbaugh brings to his work, and they to theirs, comes through in every frame.” – Erin Trahan, WBUR-Boston
“The Road Up is an uplifting journey of second opportunities and reaping the rewards of self-reflection and perseverance.” – MovieBabble
About the filmmaker
Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel are the co-founders of Siskel/Jacobs Productions, a Chicago-based documentary production company that seeks to tell compelling stories with integrity, complexity, emotion, and humor.
Most recently, Greg and Jon co-directed (with Danny Alpert) No Small Matter, the first feature documentary to explore the power and potential impact of early childhood education. Completed in late 2018, No Small Matter has helped moved the needle on the issue at a national scale, through over 1400 screenings and an ambitious impact campaign.
Prior to No Small Matter, Greg and Jon produced and directed the documentary feature Louder Than a Bomb, which follows four Chicago-area high school poetry teams as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest youth slam. The winner of 17 festival prizes, Louder Than a Bomb was hailed as “one of the 10 best documentaries of 2011” by Roger Ebert, and received a perfect 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. In January of 2012, Louder Than a Bomb had its world television premiere on the Oprah Winfrey Network, as an official selection of the “OWN Documentary Club”. The film has become a staple in middle- and high school classrooms, and has helped seed LTAB-style slams in fifteen cities and counting.
In 2008, SJP produced the landmark History Channel special 102 Minutes That Changed America, which won three Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Nonfiction Special, and was named the best nonfiction TV episode of the year by iTunes. SJP has produced shows that have aired on PBS, Discovery, and the National Geographic Channel, including Witness: Katrina, which won the 2011 News and Documentary Emmy for Outstanding Historical Programming.
Greg is a 2016-2017 New America Fellow and the author of Getting Around Brown, a history of school desegregation in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Jon is the former board president of Free Spirit Media, a Chicago youth media organization.