In 2009, Chicago filmmaker Margaret Byrne landed in rural Bertie County, North Carolina, to shoot a movie about a school for at-risk youth. She fell in love with the community, where, she says, “everybody is family.” The school closed, so Byrne focused on three students, following them for six years. The result is her new documentary, Raising Bertie.

Produced by Kartemquin Films’ Ian Kibbe, Bertie examines the struggles faced by young black men in the rural South. “I grew up two and a half hours from Bertie, and we didn’t talk about its problems,” says Kibbe, who spent two years helping edit and raise funds for the film. “It’s been invigorating to learn more about the place.” But Bertie isn’t just a struggle film: It also captures moments of joy, such as football games and school dances. 

A single mom, Byrne often had her daughter with her and says her subjects “knew as much about my life as I did about theirs.” If you’re going to film somebody for six years, she advises, “you have to be friends.”