But it turns out that the movie was even more manipulative than you might think.
The NY Times reports today that some of the "documentary" was staged:
One of the many affecting scenes in the documentary “Waiting for Superman” shows a mother on a personal tour of a high-performing Harlem charter school she wants her son to attend. She looks with perceptible longing at baskets of books and welcoming classrooms, and says “Wow” when told how children struggling with reading, like her first grader, Francisco, receive tutoring.
“It’s two different worlds,” the mother, Maria, tells the filmmaker in an interview interspersed with scenes of the tour, comparing it with her son’s Bronx public school. “I don’t care if we have to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning in order to get there at 7:45, then that’s what we will do.”
But there is something unsaid about the scene. Though the film makes it look as if Maria’s tour was a real event that occurred before the school held its admissions lottery, it was actually set up by the filmmaker after her son lost. By the time she sees the classrooms, in other words, she already knows Francisco will not be going there.
And the school, Harlem Success Academy, generally holds group information sessions for prospective parents, not personalized tours, like the one Maria is shown taking.
Davis Guggenheim, the director of the film, acknowledged that he had made the decision to set up the tour because his cameras, which had to shoot characters in multiple cities, had not been there during the information session. He defended the scene as still being true to Maria and her desire to attend the school.
“In the case of Maria, we met her at the school but the cameras weren’t there, so we asked her to go back and tour the school,” Mr. Guggenheim said. “And as a filmmaker, I wanted to see her reaction to the school, and her genuine emotion. So that scene is real; her reaction, her talking to kids touring the school, is how she would play it.”
Re-enactment and reordering has been part of documentary film-making since its start, and the Academy Awards for documentary film explicitly allow it. In fact, said Jonathan Kahana, a scholar of documentary film at New York University, the history of documentary is very much a history of re-enactment, “with blips, here and there, of something that we think of as vérité.”
That said, he and four other film experts and filmmakers interviewed said they were uncomfortable with the way Mr. Guggenheim inserted the scene, because there is no signal to viewers that it is anything but a real event, and because Maria’s emotional mindset is taken out of context.
Patricia Aufderheide, the director of the Center for Social Media at American University, did a study in which she and other scholars interviewed 45 documentary filmmakers about their ethical approach. “Documentarians firmly believe that altering chronology in itself is not a betrayal of a good faith relationship with an audience,” Ms. Aufderheide said. “But altering chronology when it fundamentally alters the interpretation of what happened, that’s when you get an ethical breach.”
Indeed, altering chronology is dishonest, manipulative and ultimately harmful to the cause the director of a documentary is trying to promote.
Since Guggenheim staged this scene without indicating he had altered reality, one wonders what else he staged in the "documentary."
It has already been pointed out over and over that he glosses over how many charter schools actually suck, how the CREDO study found that all but 17% of traditional public schools either do as well as charter schools or do better than charters.
Leaving out facts in a documentary isn't new, of course.
But staging scenes and bringing the ethics of a reality show like Top Chef or Survivor to the art form is.
One wonders if all the fans of this "documentary" - from Oprah to John Legend to Alec Baldwin to Arianna Huffington - will acknowledge that if Guggenheim staged scenes in the documentary, he might just have altered facts too.
Scratch that - I don't wonder about that.
I know they won't.
But they should.
Because if Guggenheim was dishonest in this way, you KNOW he was dishonest in others too.
And the NY Times acknowledges that:
And even though the staging of the scene appears to be a “minor and not a major sin,” and being troubled by it remains “a judgment call,” Ms. Aufderheide noted, knowing that scene was shot after the lottery “makes a difference to you as a viewer.”
“You feel a minor twinge of betrayal,” she said. “And that leads me to a sense of distrust about more stuff, and we never want the viewer to have that reaction; you want the viewer to trust you.”
Ah, yes, but for the viewer to trust Davis Guggenheim, he would have to be honest and forthright.
He is neither and his film is nothing but a piece of propaganda.
Now that we know Guggenheim staged at least one scene, it is time to pick this "documentary" apart and see what else he made up or left out.
The Times finds some of that as well:
The movie has been criticized for other oversights, including its narrowness in representing only great charter schools, not great public schools, and its flawed or misleading use of some educational statistics, which wash over viewers quickly, accompanied by child-friendly animation, with tiny writing on the corner of the screen indicating its source.
Though City Room did not examine many of the statistics, the few we looked at raised questions. Take, for example, the way the film portrays national reading and math scores.
The film correctly states that the goal of No Child Left Behind is for all students to reach proficiency by 2012. But those proficiency levels will be based on state scores, which are generally higher, not national scores, as the film portrays. It also appears to misinterpret the national eighth-grade reading scores.
“When eighth graders across the country were tested for reading, most scored between 20 and 35 percent of grade level,” the film states. While its not clear what that statistic refers to, it may be referring to the fact that 30 percent of students nationally tested proficient or better on the exam, a different issue. And there is no exact grade-level equivalent to proficient, as one critic, Diane Ravitch, who helped design the exam, has pointed out.
The statistic about Harlem Children’s Zone schools also appears to be misleading. “In Geoff Canada’s program, there are more than 8,000 students, 9 out of 10 are proficient in math and on track to go to a four year college.” While the zone does provide some kind of service — after-school programs, teaching assistants, pre-school to 8,000 children in a 97-block radius, the statistic appears to refer to the 1,200 or so students who are in the zone’s two charter schools. The district as a whole is still well below average on state proficiency exams.
So I encourage people to keep digging and come up with more examples of altered reality, phonied statistics, errors and the like in this "documentary".
But don't pay to see the movie to do it.
The ed deform movement already has enough hedge fund cash and government largesse.
They don't need your twelve bucks too.
Usually I don't suggest illegal downloading, but in this one case, I'd say that's the way to go.