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A&E Blog

Sundance 2010: An Education

by Scott Renshaw
- Posted // 2010-01-24 -

Contributed by Jeremy Mathews

Two very different documentaries at this year’s Sundance look at what parents are willing to do for their children, and how much they sacrifice in the hopes that the next generation will have a better life.


Waiting for Superman—the new documentary from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim—follows five personal stories to give meaning to its examination of the United States’ public school system’s failure. From New York to California, we meet kids and parents from different classes who all share a common desire to get out of their current school and into a more successful charter school for the sake of their future. Charter schools are required by law to admit students based only on a random lottery, so anyone who can't afford a private school relies on luck to determine whether they can get the education they need to make it to college.

Waiting for Superman is full of sad stories, but also finds a way to inspire hope. Solutions have started to reveal themselves. We just need to find a way around the red tape and implement them.

The Chinese documentary Last Train Home tells an even sadder story, in which a family must remain separated for the sake of education. It follows three years in the lives of a married couple and their two kids, who are raised by their grandmother while their parents try to earn the money for their education. The relationship between the parents and teenage daughter is particularly strained. She breaks their hearts when she choses to follow them to the workforce instead of taking advantage of the education they worked so hard for her to access.

Director Lixin Fan not only reaches a level of extreme intimacy with the family, but captures their story with remarkable visual grace. The film is so well photographed that if I didn’t know better, I might have taken it for a drama. From the first shot to the last, Fan shows a visual precision that many dramatic directors at Sundance could only dream to display. And those guys weren't shooting on the fly at a train station overflowing with stranded passengers, either.

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