Documentary critique: The Lottery

I watched the film “The Lottery” for my next documentary critique because I was looking for films that tell stories of the struggle for adequate education in public schools, particularly as it impacts low income families, since this will be a core topic explored in our film. 

During this film, I paid close attention to the characters selected, the topics presented and the way the issues and the main characters were portrayed in the film. What resonated with me was the choice of the filmmakers to select four families on their journey toward the lottery to see if their children will be chosen to attend Harlem Success Academy. While there are only four families, each family has at least two, if not more individuals. For me as a viewer, I wondered why the filmmakers chose to include so many families, as I thought that this distracted from the overall goal of the film: to help viewers understand how difficult it is to find adequate education in low income parts of cities and to show that people who live in low-income neighborhoods care very deeply about the fate of their children, a stereotype I think the film worked hard to overcome.

For this film, I ultimately think that the filmmakers were trying to achieve two goals with the choice to feature four families. First, I think they wanted to show that countless families are struggling in the fight to get their children the best education possible. Second, I think they wanted to show the variety of families vying for a spot at Harlem Success Academy.

Still, by the end of the film I had heard four heartwarming stories, and wanted each child to be selected for Harlem Success. But I found it difficult to keep the families’ stories straight, forgetting which details belonged with which family when many faces being shown at the end of the film. For our film, especially since it will be much shorter in duration than The Lottery, I think it is important for us to remember that if we include multiple main characters, it will be useful to consider selecting people with different perspectives and voices, such as a family, a teacher, a community organizer, etc. I think if we approach our film this way, and allow one family to essentially represent the overall issues school closings pose for children and families, and then allow educators to speak about how school closings negatively impact education and finally allow community organizers to speak about something such as the impact that an empty school will have on the community of Englewood, we will paint a much richer and more balanced picture of what the situation is like in Chicago that is easy for our audience to follow.

Another aspect of the film that I greatly appreciated was the treatment of those for and against expanding Harlem Success Academy into another school already existing in Harlem. We will also have to make sure that we represent two sides of an issue: the community’s perspective and the administration, or CPS/Rahm Emanuel’s point of view. I think the filmmakers did an excellent job of giving viewers the statistics, visuals and testimonials that they needed in order to explain the point that they were trying to make: that charter schools are in high demand in Harlem, and that they truly help students. The film shows a town meeting in which people opposed to the expansion of Harlem Success Academy speak ignorantly about the topic of charter schools (in which the main character representing the charter school is treated with extreme disrespect). But the filmmakers have given us the statistics, facts and testimonials that we need to know that this is a much more complex issue. In essence, they let the “villains” speak for themselves, and the statistics and testimonials that we are given allowed the filmmakers to present their point of view in a way that is logical and compelling, ultimately making the film incredibly strong. I would like to keep this treatment of the “villain” and the “heroes” in mind as we begin to edit our film together.


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