This weekend’s Mavericks sessions at the Toronto International film Festival brought star power in the form of acclaimed directors (Davis Guggenheim), billionaire philanthropists (Bill Gates) and an NBA All-Star-turned director (Steve Nash).
Guggenheim, last seen here with guitar doc It Might Get Loud, returned to Toronto to promote his acclaimed Waiting for ‘Superman’. The film explores issues hampering the U.S. education system – overcrowding, statistics showing seriously low proficiency levels, et cetera – and points towards a hopeful future, with charter schools like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and KIPP (or Knowledge is Power) public schools turning out highly successful students.
After the screening, a panel comprised of Canada, Guggenheim, producer Lesley Chilcott, and Microsoft co-founder/philanthropist Bill Gates talked about their hope that the film would bring such education issues to the forefront.
Guggenheim described how Participant Media had asked him to make a film about education, and he responded that he’d already done that, with his 2001 documentary, The First Year. However, he reconsidered as he drove past numerous public schools on the way to drop off his children at a private school. ‘I remember looking at the public schools my kids should have gone to,’ he recalled. ‘What about the kids in my neighborhood? The film is a product of that.’
Geoffrey Canada says the film is a necessary piece of the puzzle towards finding a solution for the education system’s ailments. By having the doc follow a handful of children, parents and grandparents who are struggling to find good schools, the message is even easier for people to swallow. ‘[The film] gives us a way of taking rhetoric and policy and giving them faces,’ said Canada.
Gates said he had two reasons for becoming involved with the film (he also appears on screen). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has picked education as one of its primary concerns and secondly, ‘This is a special time to make visible how critical this is.’
On Sunday’s Mavericks’ session, Canadian NBA player-turned director Steve Nash and co-director Ezra Holland held court for the world premiere of their ESPN ’30 for 30′ doc Into the Wind. First-time filmmaker Nash chose his debut film subject to be Canadian icon Terry Fox, who planned on running across Canada on an artificial leg to raise money for cancer, because as a six-year-old, he was mesmerized with Fox’s Marathon of Hope.
‘I felt like he was my big brother, that I knew him,’ said Nash after the screening.
The key intention of the filmmakers was to tell the story from Fox’s perspective, using excerpts from Fox’s diary. ‘[The audience] goes on that journey with Terry,’ said Holland.
‘For me, he’s an athlete. He had the doubts and insecurity that athletes deal with every day, but it’s about overcoming them,’ said Nash.