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San Diego Film Festival: Waiting For Superman

Waiting For Superman.

Day Three of the San Diego Film Festival left me filled with moral indignation. That, actually, is the intention of filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, whose new documentary, Waiting For Superman, is a stinging indictment of the negative effect teachers unions have on the U.S. education system.

Waiting for Superman opens in theaters next week (it’ll play in San Diego at the Landmark Theater in Hillcrest). It follows the lives of five children from lower-income neighborhoods as they try to get the most from their schools.

The kids’ parents find their schools lacking, so they look elsewhere, to charter and magnet schools. Sadly, these institutions can only take on a limited number of students, so they have to hold lotteries—lotteries!—to determine who gets admitted.

“The lottery really is a metaphor in the movie, about the kids trying to get a chance to get into a good school,” says Guggenheim, the force behind the Oscar-winningAn Inconvenient Truth, who was on hand after the SDFF screening for Q&A with the audience (about a third of whom identified themselves as teachers).

While giving praise to individual teachers, the movie casts a negative light on the powerful national teachers union, which supports the notion of tenure after two years, and won’t consider the idea of merit pay.

Waiting For Superman showcased success stories around the country in schools that aren’t mired in the bureaucracy of the public system. One example is KIPP, a national network of free, college preparatory charter schools. Joining Guggenheim for the festival Q&A was Christa Coleman, director of high school placement for San Diego’s KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy.

Guggenheim praised Coleman and KIPP, and urged the audience to become energized to work toward solutions.

“The most important message from this movie is to re-connect with our schools, and show the impact they have and how important they are to America’s future,” he says.

I won’t give away details of the film. But imagine young hopeful children and caring parents sitting at a lottery—a lottery!—to try to win a shot at a decent education that might be a ladder to a good career and a better life than they now know.

You should leave this film feeling indignant.

If you buy tickets at the movie’s Web site, you get a $15 credit on DonorsChoose.org, which donates money to teachers for classroom materials.

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The San Diego Film Festival continues today and Sunday at downtown’s Gaslamp Theater. Movies screen all day until 8 p.m.; parties begin at 9 p.m.

Saturday night’s party is at the Andaz Hotel; The Sunday closing party is at Vin de Syrah. For more information, go to: SDFF.