Rikers Island in New York City is one of the largest correctional facilities in the world. It houses 15,000 inmates, 2000 of whom are 18 years old or under. Rikers High tells the story of three of those youths: 18-year-old William Santiago, who is serving 6 months for robbing a woman with a cigarette lighter shaped like a gun; 17-year-old Shawn Johnson, who is sentenced to 12 months for robbing two groups of teens with a gun; and 18-year-old Andre Blandon, who was convicted of arson after being hired to set a car on fire in an insurance scam. Banished to society's rock bottom purgatory, the young men now seek redemption through education, by studying math, language arts, and even attending barber school, in preparation for their GED exams. This emotionally gripping documentary also tells the story of the dedicated teachers who serve as de facto parents for many of the inmates, going far beyond their job descriptions to try to make a difference in their lives. Victor Buhler's astute and probing lens takes viewers beneath the surface details of this trio's rap sheets, relating the human stories that resulted in their becoming misguided victims of circumstance. Witnessing the sweetness, vulnerability, and sensitivity of these young men, you're reminded just how strikingly closely they resemble a gaggle of boys playing in schoolyard, more than the teen convicts that they actually are.
Director Victor Buhler studied film both at Harvard University and at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Film Program, where his teachers included Ross McElwee and Spike Lee. His first fiction short, Chaperone, was nominated for an Academy Award® in the category of Best Student Film. The short was broadcast on television in thirteen countries, and aired on HBO in the United States. Buhler, who worked for directors Norman Jewison and Robert Zemeckis, directed an award-winning drama series for the BBC and has shot films for AMC, MSNBC, and HBO. He was a finalist in the Million Dollar Film Festival, a competition organized by Universal Studios. Hypnotic Films acquired his feature script, Two Harbors, which was developed for the contest. Recently, Buhler created the dramatic series Lone Star for Fox Television.