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by Indiewire
January 14, 2014 11:25 AM
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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #19: Andrew Rossi's 'Ivory Tower' Explores the Perils of the American Educational System

Andrew Rossi

Taking full note of the shockingly increasing cost of higher learning in the U.S., Andrew Rossi's documentary feature "Ivory Tower" pierces through the academic crisis and makes a desperate attempt to figure out the most ideal solution for aspiring youths. The result is a bold analysis of how college education has come to evolve and where it is ultimately headed.

What It's About: As tuition rates spiral out of control and student loan debt passes $1 trillion, "Ivory Tower" takes us through the halls of Harvard to public and private colleges in crisis and asks: Is college worth the cost?

So What It's Really About: One of the key themes of "Ivory Tower" is the idea of disruption, which has been at the core of almost every movie I've made in the last thirteen years. When we started pre-production on "Ivory Tower" in the spring of 2012, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs - the free, digital versions of some of world's best college classes) were just beginning to capture the imagination of technologists and the media. Here was a revolutionary force that could upend the ossified traditions of lecture-driven education, allowing for cost savings that might rescue future students from crippling student loan debt. The stakes couldn't have been greater for what I can only refer to as an objective and comprehensive look at the evolution of higher education.

Tell us briefly about yourself. I recently made it into the Sundance Film Festival's documentary competition with my last film, "Page One: Inside the New York Times," about the crisis in the newspaper industry. I also directed "Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven" for HBO Films, about the Italian family behind the restaurant 'Le Cirque,' and "The Sky Did Not Fall" for Current, about same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. And I served as associate producer on Jehane Noujaim's "Control Room," about the Arab news network Al-Jazeera.
 
What was your biggest challenge in completing this film? The problems with higher education don't lend themselves to a pat answer or bumper sticker-like message. Almost everyone I speak to about the film asks, "So, what did you find? Is college worth it or not?" My response is that it depends on several factors, which I believe the film lays out. "Ivory Tower" embraces contradictions. The film is not constructed as a "doomsday documentary" with an exclusively negative conclusion.

What do you want the Sundance audience to take away from your film? Every parent who is thinking ahead for their children and every student who believes they can go to college and begin their "real lives" after they graduate should empower themselves with an understanding of how this four-year investment will impact their futures. Hopefully, "Ivory Tower" can help families begin to consider these issues. And more broadly, my hope is that "Ivory Tower" will prompt us to rethink the social fabric that positions college as the key to the American dream.

Have any films inspired you? The emotional and analytical force of Food Inc. was certainly an important model for me.

What cameras did you shoot on? We shot on the Canon C-300, Canon 5D and Sony Ex1.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why? No, we were fortunate enough to have had a production budget in place when we began shooting.

What's next for you? I’m developing a film on mental illness with Participant Media.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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