STUDIO: New Curve Films
Running Time: 80 Minutes
- Director Q&A
- Deleted Scenes
Kids want to go to a nice school, so obviously, they have to compete and hope for luck to get them in.
Geoffrey Canada, Eva Moskowitz, Cory Booker, Joel Klein, Susan Taylor
The Lottery is a documentary about a social subject that has a very definite point of view. Some people will see that and use it to immediately discredit the film’s coverage of the subject. Rash, reactionary people. People who grasp at straws to rebrand and diminish the things they disagree with. Insisting Michael Moore makes essay films, and not documentaries. As an aside, that’s putting Moore in the same category as Godard, and that’s incredibly stupid. I’m going to refer to The Lottery as a documentary, because that’s what it is. It belongs in the blanket genre, no matter how skewed and manipulating it is. Subjectivity under the scrutiny of a lens is the hulking elephant in the room for any documentary. It’s a pointless debate though, and would only take away from any actual discussion the film tries to bring up. There is no doubt this film is one sided and wants you right there with them. If that angers you, you might want to know; this film is about education, and education is all about the kids. Kids are our future. America’s future. So if you hate this film you hate small children and America. Also, the flag.
The guy has not done nearly enough to fix The Situation crisis that is currently affecting his state.
So, now that I’ve pissed off the people just looking to get angry, I can actually talk about the documentary. The film uses the titular lottery as a framing device as it explores the politics and people involved with charter schools and Harlem Success Academy. We follow four families hoping to win their children a better education. It sounds like a sappy reality show or a sick precursor to Session 9, but it actually works and, unless you are an outright misanthrope, it’s hard not to empathize the struggles these families face. Parents should not be forced to play a game for their children’s future, and watching it actually play pretty clearly show the failure of our educational system. Charter schools are not a black and white issue, their appearance is an almost guarantee of gentrification in many of these neighborhoods and they split the public funding both charter and traditional schools rely on, but you put a human face on a problem and it tends to bring it to down to earth. The Lottery uses every trick in the book here to pull at your strings, and it will work. If you have a soul, you will find an adorable little kid who translates her deaf mother’s sign language heartbreaking. You will, because it’s really fucking sad and you’re probably not a cyborg. The film has every right to do this to us though; it’s not false, everything we’re shown is easily believable, it’s a neglected area that all too easily gets shown to us as statistics and facts. Of course we don’t see everything, but it’s pretty hard to alter the mix of desperation and hope on these parent’s faces. The lottery is a truth too, that is happening, parents and children are forced to hope for a lucky draw to get a proper education. No matter where you fall on the charter school issue, it’s pretty hard to deny that that should not be happening.
I seriously have no idea why kids would want Brett Ratner to come to their school, but at least they speak his language.
The other side of the film is the more political half, lots of talking heads and statistics here. Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of the Harlem Success Academy, gets a big chunk of the screen time trying to organize the community where they plan to replace a public school with an HSA school. It’s a little tricky in these spots; there are lots of unions trying to keep jobs and community members afraid of the very real threat of gentrification, not to mention all the hopeful kids and parents wanting the more robust education of a charter school. I know, very much so, the film wants me to pick a side, their side. The statistics are insane, and the other side is out to kill. We hear stories of death threats, and see a strange town hall meeting where Moskowitz’s residence in Harlem is called into question because of her race. The other side is doing bad things to get what they want, at least what the film shows. It’s easy to see that isn’t always the way it is, and there is no point in the film trying to make the case for the other guys. This is the part of the movie that will anger you if you hate films of it’s ilk being called documentaries. My only defense here, and the only one worth giving, is of course it’s choosing a side. Human beings made the film after all, and we tend to have opinions on the important stuff.
Teaching kids The Super Bowl Shuffle is key to success in education.
Here’s the part where I want to point at the elephant and jump and scream, only it doesn’t matter what side of the fence you are on, the large issue here is pretty basic. Education is important, and everyone should have equal access to the best education at all times. Take out costs, take out statistics, leave any personal baggage behind, and you’re left with children who deserve the best education possible. Charter schools are one, far from perfect, option. The other options don’t have a movie yet, so for the cinematically inclined The Lottery is a look at a large social problem and one small possible solution. It isn’t the full picture, and it shouldn’t have to be. I may not agree with everything the film puts on the table, but afterwards I learned a little bit and wanted to learn a whole lot more.
The Lottery comes with a clean, oddly bright transfer. The film has a composed look that translates nicely to disc. The only real extra of note is a nearly half hour Q&A with the director and a few people involved in the Harlem Success Academy. Not a whole lot of actual film info is shared, but it’s a nice place to start if you want to learn more about the issues brought up in the film.