This documentary, by the same filmmaker who brought us "An Inconvenient Truth" (Davis Guggenheim), is a must see. Though focused on the problems within the American public school system, its message can definitely cross national borders. After depicting and incisively analyzing the abyss that public schools have become (with dropout statistics that are staggering), Guggenheim leads us to a handful of "charter schools", many in the poorest neighborhoods of urban America, and to their visionary, even heroic leaders. Among these, Harvard educated Geoffrey Canada stands as a giant. Optimism is sparse in this film, which makes his conviction and energy even more inspiring.
A large part of the effectiveness of this film is due to the very human faces of the children (and their families) that we follow through the course of a single school year. Culminating in the lottery scenes, where an impossibly small number of children are randomly picked to attend the only schools that will give them a chance at a true education, the film is heartbreaking.
This is both the film's strength and its weakness. The injustice of a system that eats up and spits out young minds that will never be given a chance to develop and whose fate is predetermined, is brilliantly rendered. Less so is the film's single message of hope: that great teachers, no matter where they work, can make all the difference. Sadly, we are given only tiny glimpses of these committed professionals, these educational missionaries, at work.