Living in Britain I have watched with interest the debate over the film “Waiting For Superman” in the United States. I have managed to see a trailer for the film and a few scenes that were shown on news reports. It occurred to me that the director Davis Guggenheim had managed to use the experience of making his powerful documentary on global warming “An Inconvenient Truth” to bring about the effects and feelings that he wanted to portray in this film.
Now I wouldn’t expect a very good documentary filmmaker to just give us a few talking heads seen in a boring manner. He has at his disposal a number of techniques which he can use…music .. to heighten the atmosphere or suggest menace, the use of camera angle to represent someone to be looked up to or an overbearing individual. Then there is the ultimate power that any filmmaker has.. the ability to edit the interviews and place them where he wants them and how he wants them so that they will have a particular effect on the person watching.
A few weeks ago I watched Chris Anderson’s excellent TED talk called “How Web Video Powers Global Innovation” I enjoyed this talk and took on board his idea about video as the new learning literacy of the new technological age that we have moved into. I agreed with this but it seems to me that we have to make children critical users of the new literacy. We would not , for example, teach them to take every article that they read in a newspaper as the honest truth…we teach them to be critical, to examine motives and to see what the writer has done to bring out an effect. Well video should be the same. I would let children examine Guggenheim’s film, not from the point of view of whether it is right or wrong about education… but how it has been made as a film to shock, to influence and to persuade.. indeed to put forward a particular point of view.
If we teach critical skills then the future generation may not be so easily bowled over by the brilliant use of music, the powerful use of close-up and the making of heroes such as Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee. This is not to say that they cannot agree with the ideas put forward in the film but at least they will know how to “read it” and come to a conclusion based on what they can find out not what the filmmaker has influenced them to think.