By Basil Tsiokos | Indiewire September 3, 2012 at 12:14PM
Recognizing the deficiencies of the public school system due to inadequate resources and disturbing failure rates, many parents turn to the promise of charter schools. As Madeleine Sackler's "The Lottery" demonstrates, the competition for a spot can be heart-wrenching. She follows four families as they make a bid for their children to enroll in Harlem Success, a public charter school that has helped its students thrive.
A borough away, in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy, filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad N Walker's "Brownstones to Red Dirt" show the potential for cross-cultural understanding as they witness the blossoming of pen pal friendships between students in Brooklyn and in Sierra Leone, a country still recovering from a decade-long civil war. Learning of the lack of basic resources at their new friends' school, the Brooklyn kids mobilize to try to make a difference.
Jay W Jensen, a drama teacher in Miami's public school system, has been making a difference for decades, as shown in Sara Sackner's "Class Act." Demonstrating not only the invaluable impact teachers can have on their students, the film also serves as a plea for the necessity of arts education for kids, constantly under attack due to budget shortages.
Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy's "OT: Our Town" also points out the potential benefits of theatre for high school students. The film challenges stereotypes and assumptions about inner city students through the story of a Compton, CA high school's staging of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," the first play performed there in over two decades.
Music rather than theatre is the driving force to success for the students featured in Michael Patrei's "Ballou." Their high school is considered one of the worst in the nation, but their band leader won't let that stop them from doing their best, both in the classroom and in the upcoming high stepping marching band competition.
Alberto Arvelo Mendoza's "Tocar Y Luchar" (To Play and To Fight) also shows how a music program can make a difference in a child's life. His focus is on Venezuela's innovative Youth Orchestra System, a program which exposes impoverished kids to classical music and gives them the tools to pursue music as a career, changing their lives in the process.
Finally, Emma Joan Morris' Sundance winner "Something Within Me" shares the story of the South Bronx's St Augustine School. Faced with declining enrollment and underperforming students, the administrators took a chance by shifting its focus to music and the arts - and the results took everyone by surprise.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "Indiewire @ Hulu Docs" is a regular column spotlighting the Iw-curated selections on Hulu's Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Be sure to check out the great non-fiction projects available to watch free of charge. Disclosure: Some of the selections are titles provided to Hulu by SnagFilms, the parent company of Indiewire.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance and a consultant to documentary filmmakers and festivals. Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).