Featured as part of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival's Winter Series, Waiting for Superman tells the story of five American public school students, hoping against all odds that their names will be picked in a charter school's lottery system. For them, being chosen to attend a charter school is the difference between staying in the projects and making a better life for themselves; going right into work or attending a good college; joining a gang or joining an honors society. The film makes a powerful statement about America's public schools: If students have to travel across town to a charter school for a good education, what's wrong with our public school system?
As an analysis of public policy the film was controversial, and Indy reviewer Nathan Gelgud found fault with it aesthetically in his review last year. It's certainly true that director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) tugs on the heartstrings: Look out for the close-ups of Daisy, a fifth-grader in Los Angeles who writes letters to medical schools in her spare time, asking for early acceptance. Or Nakia, a kindergartener in Harlem who watches from her apartment window as her friends attend their graduation ceremony, because her mother can no longer afford to send her to the Catholic school across the street and is terrified to enroll her in the poor-performing local public school. Yes, Guggenheim plays up the melodrama. But darn it if you aren't shedding a tear or two by the end as students anxiously wait to hear their names called in the charter school lottery. See the film at the free screening at 7 p.m. —Lauren Shute