In response to a doctor’s diagnosis that her daughter was physically sick because of school-induced stress, Vicki Abeles directed Race to Nowhere to portray the unglamorous side of over-scheduled students who are pressured to succeed.
“The film explores the meaning of success in an era when teenagers often struggle in isolation without telling their families. And it questions whether memorizing material to pass a test fosters the kind of critical thinking students need for college classes and jobs down the road,” wrote Donna St. George of the Washington Post.
Photo: Reel Link Films
Please Vote For Me
A third-grade classroom in Wuhan, China, serves as the backdrop for this chronicle of three students vying for the class monitor position. Throughout the film, the candidates employ various tactics and receive intense coaching from their parents in order to win the election. And along the way, they learn something about democracy.
“Extraordinarily rich...[with] a fascinating glance at the complexities of modern Chinese society,” wrote A.O. Scott in The New York Times.
Waiting for ‘Superman’
Waiting for ‘Superman,’ a documentary produced by Participant Media (TakePart’s parent company) takes a close look at the current state of public education and how it is affecting our children. In the film, Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim sets off on a probing journey into the lives of five unforgettable kids whose dreams, hopes, and untapped potential reveal all that is at stake. Richard Corliss of Timegave the film high praise, saying it “stirs discussion, and perhaps moves it to the front of our national concerns, because it is so smartly and feelingly constructed.”
Photo: Participant Media
The Academy Award-nominated film Spellbound follows eight contestants as they prepare for the 1999 National Spelling Bee.
“Mr. Blitz’s real achievement, though—what makes the last 40 minutes of Spellbound not only exciting but also tremendously moving—is his attention to the contestants and their families,” applauded critic A.O. Scott.
Photo: Sony Pictures
Mad Hot Ballroom
Deemed “warm, funny and very difficult to resist,” Mad Hot Ballroom introduces us to fifth-grade public school students in New York as they learn traditional dance techniques and get ready to compete in a citywide ballroom competition. Not only do the students learn about determination, but also cultural rituals and gender roles.
Photo: Paramount Pictures
At Harlem Success Academy, one of the top charter schools in New York, spaces are so limited that good luck may be the key to getting in. The Lottery features four families anxiously hoping for a spot in the school’s first-grade class.
“It’s impossible to watch...and not be thoroughly moved by the situations of the Harlem Success hopefuls and their parents...by the time that fateful lottery day rolls around, you’ll be tensely watching the anticipatory expressions on their faces,” wrote Jen Chaney of the Washington Post.
Photo: Great Curve Films
Former TV reporter Bob Bowdon uses the New Jersey public school system to debunk the argument that schools are in need of more funding. While New Jersey is one of the states that spends the most per student, only 40 percent of its eighth-graders are proficient or advanced in math. Kevin Thomas wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the film is a “brisk, incisive, and mind-boggling—no other phrase will work—exposé.”
Directed by Kelly Amis, a former corps member of Teach for America, Teached examines the “achievement gap” encountered by urban, minority youth.
“What motivated [Amis] was a fervent belief that film could reach new audiences beyond the policy elite—and with emotional storytelling that would be much more powerful than anything written on the printed page,” said Michael Petrilli of Education Next.
Photo: Loudspeaker Films
Ten9Eight: Shoot For the Moon
The film Ten9Eight is an inspirational story about inner-city teens from Compton to Harlem who are given the opportunity to compete in a nationwide business plan competition.
“Any teenager, regardless of circumstances, can learn how to start a successful business, and for 84 minutes it’s pleasant to think that might be so,” said Mike Hale of the film in The New York Times.