This documentary follows four different families as they await the date for a charter school lottery in Harlem. As the date approaches, we bear witness to the heated debates that go on between those that wish to implement more charter schools (a charter school being one similar to public schools but relies on stringent academic results and standards from its students and operates as an autonomous public school) into a “project” area, and members of the community who believe that their children would be excluded and object to the idea of closing public schools who have failed to produce positive results.
This film clearly has an agenda, and so comparisons to the likes of An Inconvenient Truth have been made. The key difference between this film and Al Gore’s, aside from style and topic, is that The Lottery allows both sides to speak their minds and address their concerns. It is the difference between simply saying the other side is wrong versus allowing them to speak so that the folly in their arguments will present themselves naturally. Harlem Success Academy is the organization running the charter schools, and have proven their worth to both the neighbourhoods they exist in, and the nation as a whole. The debates they enter can be frustrating to watch as they are often vicious attempts to mudsling (politicians) or ignorant bravado (community members led by a hired protest group) versus reason (Harlem Success Academy) and endorsements (members of the Harlem community whose children have all been accepted into the schools despite parental history of prison, drugs, lack of money etc.). If they are not entered into unnecessary and hurtful debates, they are also bogged down by bureaucracy and challenges presented by the teacher’s unions.
As the film progresses, the mounting stats range from quite depressing to outright shocking, such as grade school academic results (we’re talking grade 7 or so) calculated from troubled areas being used to gauge how many new prison cells should be developed in the near future…it sounds sickening but that has happened. The only negative statistic I could find that is attributed to Harlem Success Academy was the overwhelming volume of applicants, which brought on the necessity of the lottery this film is named after.
Seeing the immensely cute children from the four example families warms your heart, as they are so clearly eager and capable of learning. Meanwhile, there are speeches made by some of the parents that break your heart for they know what an amazing opportunity their children would have if able to enter these sorts of schools whose goal is not entering as many students as possible, but tracking and motivating them until they have graduated college. It is hard to question the valiant and caring efforts made by these educators, and baffling to see them face such angry opposition.
Widescreen 1.78:1. A very clear picture quality. Said quality only dips when clips are being used from different television programs. This is the sort of film that does not require the most crisp picture, but it is nice to not have bad quality be a distraction from such an important message.
Dolby Digital Stereo. Surround sound is not needed as most of the film is talking heads and footage of debates. The stereo that is available is of very good quality. Every person’s voice is clear so all can be heard properly. No complaints from me.
Press: A large assembly of articles from major publications, all about the significance of this film. It is encouraging to see it receive such acclaim.
Panel: From the Tribeca Film Festival featuring director Madeline Sackler, MYC Chancellor Joel Klein, the founder of Harlem Success Academy and others. The audience gets a Q&A session with these people, and great points and good discussions arise from it. Most of it is praise for the film, but there are very constructive points made regarding the progress they can make and further explaining their position and goals.
Deletes: This is unusual as it seems less like Deleted Scenes and more like a series of Promos that specifically speak about a topic within the film. The people address the camera directly, as if making a public service announcement and so I can see how they would not fit into the dynamic of the film but are not Trailers in the sense that they highlight moments within the film themselves. I suppose it simply would have been better to call them something else.
By following four select families, the audience is not meant to see them as rare examples of people who are simply down on their luck, but more that every single child is worthy of a proper education. Each family is unique, and they are but four of thousands. The lottery within the film offers hope to only a lucky few, despite how worthy they all may be, but it shows that if more schools can be run in this fashion, then more children get a chance.