San Diego Film Festival Shining Documentaries: Waiting for “Superman” & My Run

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At the 2010 San Diego Film Festival, what stood out the most were the documentaries, including Waiting for “Superman,” about the state of American public schools by Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim, and “My Run” by director Tim Vandesteeg about an unusual marathon runner. Waiting for “Superman” opens in San Diego on October 8, 2010.

Waiting for “Superman”

(4.5 out of 5 Starfish)

Do you think high quality private school is too expensive?  Apparently not as expensive as prison!  Do you know that if the same amount of taxpayer’s money we’re spending to send criminals (many are high-school dropouts) to prison could have paid for their private school tuition and leave over $20,000 for their college scholarship?

Education is vital for kids and their future.  The U.S. used to lead children’s education decades ago, now it’s lagging FAR behind other developed countries, except in one category: confidence (albeit a misguided one).  Many people don’t realize this, but the shocking truth and the reasons behind the failing public education system are revealed in Waiting for “Superman,” a powerful, thought-provoking new documentary.

I also attended the movie’s red carpet premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 22 with my mom.  The film introduces five young children from different cities and most of them in poor neighborhood.  Together with their families, they are trying as hard as they can to get into good public charter schools where they will have higher chance of graduation.  But the odds are stacked against the kids: only 10 to 30 spots are available for hundreds of applicants.  Their fate lies in the spinning balls inside the lottery machine.

Bad education is often the fault of bad teachers who sap money and resources.  They cause devastating damage to children in return, and can’t be easily fired.

Geoffrey Canada, an American activist and educator featured in Waiting for “Superman,” founded public charter schools including “Harlem Children’s Zone” in New York City, a shining example of success in poor neighborhoods. Success in this case was dependent on great teachers and accountability.  With great teachers, even disadvantaged kids can learn and show their true worth.

I interviewed director Guggenheim twice at LAFF and SDFF, asking about what students can do to catch up and what we can learn from other countries that are doing better than the U.S.  Watch the videos for his answer:

(at LA Film Festival)

(at SD Film Festival)

I give “Waiting for Superman” 4.5 starfish.  I highly recommend it to school age children, parents, teachers and all who care about education to see this “Perrific” film when it opens on October 8. It is about fear, struggle, and hope for a better education for American children.  I feel connected to the characters and their stories. I can’t help but root for them as I watch their daily struggle. I especially like how the director used animation to spice up statistics that would otherwise be boring if he were to use talking heads. I wish the film could show more about what we can do to improve the broken state of the education in the United States, just like what the director shared with me during the interviews.

Compared to all the kids featured in this film, I feel so fortunate to be able to go to Torrey Hills elementary school, one of the best public schools in San Diego’s Del Mar Union School District.  I have been blessed with many wonderful and dedicated teachers who nurtured my creative pursuits, including my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Harris, who encouraged my writing movie reviews.

There is nobody else to save us from our public education crisis, not some mystical force, not Superman, but OURSELVES.  If we don’t take action NOW, many children will no doubt be left behind.

My Run

(4 out of 5 Starfish)

Imagine a man running 75 marathons all the way from Minneapolis to Atlanta in 75 days. That seems impossible, right? Now imagine the man as a 57 year old and in poor health, who just lost his wife to cancer, and is raising three kids on his own! No way. Yet Terry Hitchcock did it!

In “My Run,” a powerful and uplifting new documentary, Terry’s life story is told through interviews of his three children, his supporters, trainers, partners, and in vivid shots of his marathons at various cities along the way, including when he had bone fractures and chest pains. Against all odds, Terry is determined to run for single parents across America and all who are impacted by cancer.

“This film is also a tribute to my mom who is a single parent,” said director Vandesteeg during an interview at the San Diego Film Festival. “I was ready to do an inspiration film, and a friend who knew Terry Hitchcock introduced him to me.” Asked about the most unexpected experience working on this film, Vandesteeg said, “it’s the audience reaction to the film. We got so many hugs and kisses from the audience. It’s incredible!”

“It took us over three years to make the film,” said Christine Redlin, a co-producer of the film. “We were thrilled that Billy Bob Thorton who narrated the film, allowed us to use a great song in the film also.”

I give this film 4 out of 5 starfish, it’s “Perrific!” It is about determination, courage, and the power of ONE. It is heartening to see how Terry and his son who accompanied him during his marathons grew closer, and how the son matured along the way.

I wish I could learn more about Terry’s wife before she passed away, and Terry’s feelings about her. It would also be nice to show what Terry and his children are doing nowadays. Perhaps these can be addressed in the feature film that the filmmakers are planning to explore.

The film has received seven film festival awards, and will be released in theaters nationwide next year. I hope many people will go see this inspiring film when it comes out in theaters in 2011!

When there is a will, there is a way.

Other films I enjoyed at SDFF include: “Teenage Paparazzo,” a documentary about a 14-year-old aspiring paparazzo; a few shorts: “Wanting Alex” about love and desire, “Just about Famous” about celebrity impersonators and our fascination with famous people (I met director Jared Hess and Oprah and Dr. Phil impersonators), “Always a Bride,” a hilarious piece about divorce as a fad. I enjoyed meeting many filmmakers and watching their creativity realized on the big screen at the festival.


At 10, Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning entertainment critic, TV personality, Annie Awards presenter, filmmaker/animator, and radio host, reviewing movies and entertainment with his trademark kids-friendly starfish from a child’s perspective.  Perry became a national sensation on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and National Public Radio (NPR) with Liane Hansen, and a frequent star on the red carpet at film festivals and premiers.  He is the youngest columnist for the San Diego Entertainer Magazine and recently won the San Diego Press Club 2010 Excellence in Journalism Awards.

Read all of Perry’s reviews and upcoming events on his website

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