Read about my first festival screening earlier in the week – Project Nim.
For my second and final screening from the AGH World Film Festival, I decided to attend one of the free showings downtown at Central Library. It was great to see that so many films were offered as free screenings at the library – I hope people took advantage of the opportunity to watch some fantastic films that wouldn’t normally be shown in larger theatres. It was also another reason to revisit the newly renovated Central Library, which was a brief tour stop for us back in May.
This time around, I managed to spot something we missed then. High up on a wall of the lobby inside the Jackson Square entrance to the library, there is an impressive art installation by Canadian artist Micah Lexier entitled “Said the Source”. The quotation, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not the whole story” struck me immediately when I saw it – it just resonated with me in that moment and I was intrigued by what it could mean. Not to mention the English Major in me was delighted by the editing notes around it. Upstairs, there is a plaque to accompany the installation, which was first commissioned in 1989, describing its meaning. In short, the quotation was taken from a newspaper article and the piece “honours the art of book production”. The description also acknowledges that the quotation, “can reveal a variety of meanings.” I’m so glad I found this little hidden gem and I encourage others to go have a look at it in person; a photo does not do it justice.
Onto the film – after thoughtfully pondering the art of book production, I appropriately chose to see Waiting for “Superman”, directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. The documentary takes an in-depth look at America’s education system and the outcome was shocking. The film presents staggering statistics concerning public schools and shows how corrupt and complicated the system is. Following several young students and their families, Guggenheim weaves together their stories and also interviews educators and others in government positions. The interviews are interspersed with Guggenheim’s voice-overs narrating shocking statistics over simple graphics which emphasize their gravity. The film covers many different states and cities as examples, demonstrating this issue is a national crisis and is not limited to specific cities or areas.
One point that struck me in particular was the dismantling of the common belief that certain inner-city neighbourhoods are bad environments which result in bad grades. The film poses that it is actually other way around – children are being poorly educated, and this negatively affects their surroundings. When students thrive, so do their communities. Many schools are shockingly referred to as “dropout factories” and it is revealed how oppressive the system is; children are not being given a fair chance.
Further showing the injustice of the education system, the documentary builds to its climax of various lotteries that take place in many different schools to determine students’ admissions. The young, hopeful, bright-eyed children who we have been following throughout the film must await their fate among hundreds of others who are vying for the same spot in a school. For many, gaining entrance to that particular school is their only chance for getting an education, getting the chance for post-secondary education, and the chance for a better life. It is a gripping and emotional sequence.
The education system is in dire need of work to turn things around and, while the film leaves you feeling pretty hopeless and at a loss for what can be done, the film also spotlights a few individuals who offer hope and change. Geoffrey Canada is one of those inspiring people and he effectively bookends the film. These remarkable individuals remind us of how one person truly can make a difference, even if it is on the individual level, one child at a time.
This film made me appreciate how lucky I am to have received the education I have. It made the lesson even more poignant that I got to screen this film in a library, obviously a vital educational tool. Speaking of which, Waiting for “Superman” is available to borrow at the Hamilton Public Library, and I highly recommend that you do.