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This "illumination by collision" is at work throughout Waiting For "Superman." For example, there's a scene early in the film where we see Anthony walking by John Philip Sousa High School, the school that he's scheduled to go to the following year. We have already learned that, if Anthony goes there and performs like most of his classmates, by the time he finishes he will be three years below grade level in all his major subjects. And then the film cuts right to Michelle Rhee, the District of Columbia's superintendent of schools, saying, "Most of the kids in my city are getting a crappy education." Through that juxtaposition, the personal story of Anthony is immediately amplified into a picture of an entire system, and even an entire society, that's in crisis.

In other cases, we do the opposite...we start with the big picture and then cut to the personal story. For example, we have a scene in which we discuss how teacher tenure is making it harder for schools to improve the quality of their faculty and how teachers' unions are standing in the way of reform. And then we cut to Daisy, talking in her bright-eyed, idealistic way about her aspiration to someday be a doctor, and you suddenly understand not only how dysfunctional the system is but also how it affects these real-life kids whom you've come to care so much about.

As film makers, we're working both the brain and the heart. And this system of having two very different movies colliding in a single film feels to me like a powerful way to achieve that.
Ultimately, of course, these two worlds come together at the charter-school lottery, which is almost the final scene of the movie. We follow a kid showing up at the gymnasium with his grandmother to see his educational future determined by the bounce of a ball in a cage. It's the ultimate, surrealistic expression of the folly of the adults...that we allow a child's future to be a matter of sheer chance. And in that lottery sequence we see how the folly of the adults and the heartbreak of the kids comes together in this very painful way.

It's not an effect I planned in advance...but it's there, and to me, when I watch it, it's devastating...another example of the power of film ...o help you see things that might otherwise be invisible.

FROM: Waiting For "Superman": The Movie That Could Revolutionize Schools
Published on September 20, 2010

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