Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) possesses a unique talent, one that cannot be taught at film school or learned in an editing suite. Here, he tackles large-scale sociopolitical subjects and still manages to present a story in an intimate and humanistic way. Guggenheim's latest doc, Waiting for Superman, is a look at the public education crisis through the stories of five families struggling to gain access to a quality public schools. Premiering at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and recently completing its festival circuit at the Toronto International Film Festival, Waiting for Superman continues to build favorable audience responses and critical reaction prior to its September 24 platform release. Paramount, which bought worldwide rights to Waiting for Superman at Sundance, is supporting the film via target marketing, promotional partnerships for special screenings and vast social networking. All of it should pay off for Paramount, who enjoyed a box office close to the $24 million domestic for An Inconvenient Truth, and who could likely reach the number one earnings spot for documentary releases this year with this film.
Guggenheim and co-writer Billy Kimball address the issue of poor test scores in arithmetic and reading and the declining percentage of high school students that graduate to college by following the five children and their families: Anthony Black, a Washington D.C. fifth-grader; Bianca Hill, a kindergarten student in Harlem; Daisy Esparza, a fifth-grader in East Los Angeles; Francisco Regalado, a Bronx first grader; and Emily Jones, a middle class high school student in Silicon Valley.
Working with editors Greg Finton, Jay Cassidy and Kim Roberts, Guggenheim brings their stories alive with animation, archival clips and face-the-camera interviews from educators. Guggenheim, who discloses himself as the parent of a private school student early in the film, addresses the subjects of teacher unions, charter schools and the use of lotteries to determine which students get into magnet schools and which do not. Guggenheim clearly shows the lottery to be a flawed practice; yet, with regards to his film, it makes for a compelling climax.
After winning an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth and directing President Barack Obama's 30-minute campaign commercial, Guggenheim revisits many of the themes from his 1999 documentary The First Year, (about public school teachers). Armed with new directing skills and additional experience, Guggenheim articulates the issues facing public education, offers the solutions presented by his various subjects and, through the journeys of these five kids, raises awareness in a powerful manner.
When a filmmaker like Guggenheim is capable of doing that with a topic as complex as the public education crisis, you know you're watching the work of an extraordinary storyteller.
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Screenwriter: Davis Guggenheim and Billy Kimball
Producers: Leslie Chilcott
Rating: Rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking.
Running time: 111 min
Release date: September 24 ltd.