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An exploration of the state of public education in the United States and how it is affecting children. Daisy is an LA 5th grade student with big plans; Francisco is a Bronx first grader whose mother is keen to do anything to give her son a chance; Anthony is a Washington DC fifth grade student hoping for a better life than that of the father he lost to drug addiction; Emily from Silicon Valley is an eighth grade student worried she won't make college; Bianca is a kindergarten student in Harlem who, with her mother's support, hopes to make it, despite the odds.

Review by Louise Keller:
Just as he passionately got stuck into Al Gore's global warming theories in An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim explores the US school system in an expose of its appalling inadequacies. There is no question that the specific issues are more relevant to an US audience however the essential notion of offering our children the opportunity to learn is one to which we can all relate. Guggenheim has constructed an excellent and sobering documentary that showcases the problems and issues through five specific stories involving disadvantaged youngsters who want to better themselves. It's informative, entertaining and involving as we get to know the kids, understand their aspirations and grapple with the huge odds that confront them.

The film begins with a simple maths question for Anthony, an endearing black kid from Washington DC who struggles valiantly with the one-digit answer, but later shows he knows more than we think. With great insight, he suggests it might be 'bitter sweet' if he wins a place at a better school by the random public draw. There are far fewer places than applications and Anthony, like the other kids we meet, have to let Lady Luck decide their fate. Sure, he wants to be selected, but he knows it is at the cost of less play time and more homework. Bittersweet indeed. He hesitates, gulps and our hearts go out to him as he reveals why he lives with his grandparents: his father died as a result of drugs.

We learn about alarming statistics of children left behind and being at the mercy of the local neighbourhood school (often called a Drop Out factory). In this dysfunctional system, the fact the government spends more money on inmates in correctional facilities than kids at public school, is a real eye opener. We hear about the problems of bureaucracy overload and the shocking truth about student tracking and teacher tenure, when teachers are guaranteed a job for life (and cannot be sacked), irrespective of how poor a teacher they may be.

Guggenheim meshes the information and the human stories with interviews, animated graphics and the plain, unsavoury facts. The film has snatched various accolades and awards and rightly so - we get to swallow the cold, harsh reality that there is little point of waiting for Superman to rescue the situation. After all, he only exists in comic books.

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(US, 2010)

CAST: Documentary featuring The Black Family, Geoffrey Canada, The Esparza Family, The Hill Family

PRODUCER: Michael Birtel, Lesley Chilcott

DIRECTOR: Davis Guggenheim

SCRIPT: Davis Guggenheim, Billy Kimball

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richman, Erich Roland

EDITOR: Jay Cassidy, Greg Finton, Kim Roberts

MUSIC: Christoph Beck

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 24, 2011 (Limited release)

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