Waiting for Superman: Interview with director Davis Guggenheim

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Davis Guggenheim is the director of "Waiting for Superman," a new documentary focusing on the flaws of the American public education system. The film is being released by Paramount Vantage on September 24. 

"When people ask me what inspired WAITING FOR 'SUPERMAN'," says Guggenheim, "it was really that feeling I had every morning driving past my public school – the feeling that I'm so lucky to have found another way for my kids, and the feeling that this is not enough, it's not enough that I take care of my kids and move on. Unless each one of us fights for change, our schools won't get any better."



Guggenheim continues: "My father made documentaries and he taught me that films should always be stories about people and if you're going to make movies they've got to say something. I think that every kid, no matter where they are born or what they have been given in life, deserves a great education and a piece of the American dream. That's what drove me to tell this story and to make this movie."

"In 1999, when I made THE FIRST YEAR, the problems in our public schools felt hopeless. But now there are reformers out there who are defying the odds and proving it's entirely possible to create outstanding schools even in the most troubled neighborhoods," Guggenheim notes.

Guggenheim himself knows first-hand how the power of a single teacher can turn a kid's life around. The director recalls: "In the 10th grade. I had a teacher who changed my life – he was hilarious and fun and, even though I was a C-Minus student at the time, he saw great things in me. If I didn't have a teacher like that, I wouldn't be a filmmaker now, I wouldn't be a storyteller, I wouldn't be invested in the world or care so much about our public schools." 


The human face of the system


"We wanted to show the human face of the system," explains Guggenheim. "By getting to know these children — and the mothers and fathers who are fighting for them – then maybe people will be outraged enough to demand real change in their own neighborhoods. The idea of education reform becomes a lot less abstract and a lot more compelling when you see these beautiful kids and realize all their potential."

Guggenheim sums up his reasons for following these particular reformers in this way: "The big idea of what America is about – that every person can have a chance — is at stake. And right now, at this very moment, these are the same people who are proving that it's possible and even practical to fix it. It comes down to something that we say in the film: you can't have great schools without great teachers. When you get past all the noise and all of the debate, that is what it is all about." 


"As much as politicians, reformers and the press know what some of these real problems are, they don't talk enough about them," Guggenheim says, "because they're politically deadly. But the only way we're going to address this crisis is if these uncomfortable truths are spoken out loud. And the only person who can do that right now is someone independent of the system, like maybe a documentary filmmaker."