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The Lottery Makes a Strong Statement About Charter Schools

An interview with the flimmaker behind the new documentary that highlights the desperation of parents and children affected by school choice — or the lack thereof.

by
Christian Toto

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July 23, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Madeleine Sackler is no Michael Moore.

The documentary filmmaker felt the urge to tell both sides behind the charter school debate, the subject of her new feature The Lottery.

Only one side wasn’t talking.

“I thought it was really important as a documentary filmmaker to try to capture all perspectives,” Sackler says.

So the filmmaker sought out the school union members who slam the charter school model and tried to shoot footage inside some public school buildings.

Nothing doing.

The sources claimed they didn’t have time to speak to her for the film even though she tried repeatedly over the course of an entire year to let them defend themselves. And the few folks who agreed to speak to her from the union perspective, like families opposed to charter schools, never showed up at the appointed time, she says.

“You have a choice as a filmmaker. Either stop making the movie or make the movie you have access to,” she says.

The Lottery proves the forces behind the charter school movement are only too proud to share their educational story. The film follows four families who apply to a lottery for the chance to enroll at Harlem Success Academy, an elementary school where students are expected to thrive — and typically do.

Audiences get to know four sweet-faced children and the parents who pray they won’t have to enter the public school system, a portrait in underachievement.

The film details the sorry statistics of union-fueled schools and, more importantly, reveals how desperate many urban parents are to flee them. The Lottery winners get no cash reward for their troubles. They simply get the chance to enroll their children in a school which will give them a greater chance to thrive later in life.

The Lottery will be viewed by some as partisan reportage, especially given the conservative position on school choice. Variety’s John Anderson calls the film “advocacy to the point of propaganda” – a charge critics rarely level at the aforementioned Moore.

Sackler begs to differ.

“It’s political but not partisan,” she says. “Of all the interviewees in the film, almost all are Democrats, which was in no way intentional.”

The charter school debate is evolving, she says, leaving ideological name tags behind.

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