The Lottery -- Film Review

Timely documentary about the educational subject of the moment: charter schools.

Madeleine Sackler's documentary about the public-vs.-charter school debate couldn't be timelier.

With fierce arguments, often drawn on partisan lines, raging across the country, The Lottery will be of vital interest to anyone interested in the topic, especially the parents of young children.

Hardly objective in its stance, the film comes down strongly on the charter school side, using a number of authoritative figures -- including Cory Booker, the charismatic mayor of Newark, N.J., and New York City Department of Education chancellor Joel Klein -- to bolster its arguments.

The film centers on the Harlem Success Academy, one of the most successful examples of its type. It follows four families (three of them headed by single parents) as they go through the potentially cruel process of participating in a publicly held lottery to determine which preschoolers will be granted admission -- space is very limited -- and which will have to take their chances in the notoriously underfunded and understaffed public school system in that struggling neighborhood.

As the school's founder and head Eva Moskowitz is all too willing to brag about in her extensive onscreen commentary, it boasts literacy and test score rates that are far higher than the public schools in the area. One reason for the school's success, she asserts, is their extending of both the school day and the school year in order to give its students far more time in the classroom.

Although the film suffers at times from an excess of statistics and talking-head posturing, it also features the dramatic titular spectacle in which young children and their hopeful parents desperately watch as their futures are determined by the bureaucratic equivalent of a roll of the dice.

Opens: Friday, June 11 (Variance Films)
Production: Great Curve Films
Director-editor: Madeleine Sackler
Producers: Blake Ashman, James Lawler, Madeleine Sackler
Director of photography: Wolfgang Held
Music: Tunde Adebimp, Gerard Smith
No rating, 81 minutes