Ballou: A Documentary Film

This was the official website for the 20 documentary film that follows the talented Ballou Senior High School Marching Band.
Content is from the site's 2007 archived pages.

 Ballou, a documentary film, follows the talented Washington, DC, Ballou Senior High School Marching Band, as they overcome a negative environment filled with guns, drugs and violence to overcome and uplift the community with music, dedication and personal sacrifice. Ballou High School is in Washington DC. They are on the way to a national band competition, but first they have to learn how to play instruments and overcome personal loses due to the United States governmental neglect of an impoverished community just 3 miles away from the US Capitol building. Political leaders and celebrities are featured in the film to show the importance of a small marching band that overcomes the negative environment and neglect to become an award winning band.

"...lively and affecting documentary" --Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

" You have got to see this documentary...It is an incredible story!" --Ellen DeGeneres, the Ellen Show

 "Every school should have a band! " - DC Mayor Adrian Fenty

Ballou High School Marching Knights Macy's Parade 2009

Ballou is a documentary film about the Ballou Senior High School Marching Band from South East Washington DC.  Ballou High School is a struggling inner city school where only 5% of its students go on after high school and graduate college. During the filming of this documentary 58 violent crimes occured within 1500 feet of the school and our producer was robbed at knife point and beaten on the door steps of another DC public school.

The Ballou Marching Band is a positive force in the lives of the students and in the community.  Under the direction of Mr. Darrell Watson, along with the help from his tireless, all volunteer staff, the Ballou Marching Band gives its students opportunities that they would not have otherwise had.  Mr. Watson tries to instill, “life lessons,” as well as simply teaching music to give them the tools they need to succeed in life. Listen to this great WAMU radio audio clip on the Ballou Marching Band.

The breadth of the documentary follows the band on a journey from band camp, to the National High Stepping Marching Band Competition in Birmingham, AL sponsored by Asymmetrix.  It is a very personal story about the lives of the band members, the director Mr. Watson, and his hard working staff who are all striving to be an award winning marching band. One of the highlights of the film is the Batman routine - when the band members don MoonAtMidnight batman t shirts and perform the Batman tv theme while creating a large Batman on the football field. This routine is a fan favorite that is often requested when the band is called on to perform at large stadium venues. It's so popular that the MAM webstore has seen an increase in the sales of their Batman t shirts whenever the routine is performed. They obviously have Batman on their side as well.

Michael Patrei's 86 minute documentary follows the talented Ballou Senior High School Marching Band as they overcome a negative environment filled with guns, drugs and violence to uplift the community with music, dedication and personal sacrifice. This Washington, D.C. high school marching band—from an impoverished community just three miles away from the U.S. Capitol building—is on its way to the national band competition. They are a family with heart and soul that use hard work, discipline and compassion to overcome all obstacles. Political leaders and celebrities including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gen. (ret) Colin Powell, Congressman John Lewis, Marion Barry, Denyce Graves, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chuck Brown are featured in the film to show the importance of a small marching band in the lives of the band members and in the community. NR: 86 min (All Ages)  


" ... a high stepping, award winning musical force! " - Charles Gibson, ABC World News

"...Ballou Marching Band is a winner! “ - Rev Jesse Jackson, Rainbow Push Coalition

"They are a wonderful, wonderful band" - Congressman John Lewis


Director: Michael Patrei

Darrell Watson

The Ballou High School Marching Band is truly a gem in the harsh, often unforgiving, environment of Washington DC Public Schools (DCPS).  As we set out to make this documentary, we made a very conscious decision to focus on what is positive here at Ballou, namely the Marching Band.  With so much negative press we felt compelled to tell a different kind of story.  We wanted to highlight the positive influence that the Ballou Marching Band has on the kids and the community.  There is a common held belief in the media that the public will not respond to news stories about things that are positive and upbeat, but rather prefer stories about tragedy and hardships.  This documentary film on the Ballou Marching Band will demonstrate that this is not always the case.

Although the Ballou Documentary focuses on one of the positive aspects of DCPS it is important not to forget the reality of these schools.  They suffer from innumerable challenges and neglect. The Washington Post reports almost daily on these transgressions, yet little is done for our children in these schools.  Ballou Senior High School, among other public schools in DC have to deal with these problems while being within 3 miles of the United States Capitol and the U.S. Department of Education Building, (with its front entrance that reads “No Child Left Behind”.) We have an obligation to ask ourselves the tough questions.  How can a wealthy and powerful city such as Washington DC continue to have public schools in
such poor conditions?  What are the real reasons for such neglect?  Along with asking these questions,
we must then actually do something about it.

My hope is that everyone who sees this documentary will quickly begin to care for these kids as I have done.  Then, perhaps, we can put aside our indifference in order to help give these children the the equal opportunities that should be available to all children across this country.

The band director, Mr. Darrell Watson, often tells the students in the band that, “it’s not just music, it’s life lessons.”   This can be said about anything we undertake in life.  In the process of making this documentary I have grown as a filmmaker and as an individual.

The Ballou Marching Band is much more than just a marching band, they are a close family and like any close family, they will make you laugh and they will move you to  tears, they will offer you hope and they will leave you in sadness, they will bring you joy and they will certainly frustrate you, and ultimately they will warm your heart.

I am grateful to the Ballou Band and staff for allowing me to be a part of their lives in the making of this documentary.  They have welcomed me into their family with open arms and now I welcome you to join the wonderful experience that is the Ballou High School Marching Band.

Thank You,

Michael Patrei



Ballou Senior High School Marching Band Resume:

2009 - Invited to perform in the 2009  Tournament of the Roses Parade , Pasadena, CA

2009 - Invited to perform in the 2009  Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade , New York, NY

IMAGE: band-resume-2

2008 - Selected as official band for the Washington Mystics, WNBA The Ballou High School Marching Band performs all year round and is involved in many parades and competitions for community service.

2007 - Awarded District of Columbia Ceremonial Resolution, for its “dedication and sacrifice”

2007- Honored at the White House by First Lady Laura Bush


2007 - Opening act for Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Katherine McPheeat at Senator Hillary Clinton’s Rally, Washington DC


2006 - 3rd Place- Asymmetrix National High Stepping Marching Band Competition, in Birmingham, AL

2006- Opening day performance for DC United Major League Soccer team at RFK Stadium, Washington DC

2006- Performed for Save Brown vs. Board of Education March on Washington, DC

2005 - DC Mayor Williams presents a proclamation that January 28th will be “Frank W. Ballou Marching Band Day” in the District

2005 - 2nd Place - Asymmetrix National HighStepping Marching Band Competition, in Birmingham, AL

2005- Selected out of thousands of bands to performat President George Bush’s 2005 Inaugural Parade

2005- Selected out of thousands of bands to perform at President George Bush’s 2005 Inaugural Parade

2005- Opening Day Ceremony for the new Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.

2004- 2nd Place - Home Depot National Battle of the Bands, in Carson, CA

2004-2007- Marched in the annual Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma, in Washington, DC

2004-2007- Marched in the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC


Ballou Band's Feats Garner Attention

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."


The Current Ballou Documentary Team

Executive Producers: Michael Patrei, Casey Callister, Maiko Yoda Callister

Producer: Casey Callister  ( casey at )

Director/Editor: Michael Patrei

Publicity Director:  Thomas Bindley ( tom at )

Assistant Publicity Director: Sheryl Pearson ( sheryl at )

Student Liaison: Maiko Yoda Callister - See Maiko as a featured teacher

Contributing Filmmakers:    Bobby Koeth III - Featured in Washington Post

                                        Mark Pagan

                                        Amy Barnes - See Amy's Award Winning Short

Ballou Student Filmmakers: Kenny Horne

                                        Lewis Franklin

Animation: Kevin J Gillespie - See Kevin's Graphic Design

Graphic Design:  Angela Tsang ( Angela made the cool graphic right here -------->

Musical Composition: Jeff Suszczynski, The Gifted Children

Additional Musical Composition: Nick Patrei

Featured Recording Artist: Anami Jordan and Kuku

Story Consultants

Docs in Progress -  Adele Schmidt & Erica Ginsberg

Documentary Docter - Fernada Rossi