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Oscar winner puts education to the test in latest doc
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth," turns his attention to education in his latest documentary, "Waiting for 'Superman'."


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Published: 10/1/2010 12:02 AM

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Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for his global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

He's threatening to do it again with his new doc on American public education, "Waiting for 'Superman'," opening today.

Guggenheim, 46, is the son of the late Charles Guggenheim, who held the record for the most documentary Oscar nominations at the time of his death in 2002. Davis Guggenheim is also married to Elisabeth Shue, named best actress by the Chicago Film Critics for her role in "Leaving Las Vegas."

I talked with the director of "Waiting for 'Superman'" this week at the St. James Hotel in Chicago.

Q. Let's begin with the most important question everyone really wants to ask: What did you think of your wife's work in "Piranha 3-D"?

A. I went to the premiere with her and we were screaming with laughter. It's not the sort of movie that we usually go to. It was really fun. It was fun!

Q. She could have played Roy Scheider's role in "Jaws."

A. She can kick butt. She kicks my butt! And she doesn't get eaten by the piranhas at the end, either.

Q. Were you surprised that "Waiting for 'Superman'" has gotten support from the political right who weren't exactly your fans in the past?

A. The amazing thing is that everybody wants great schools. The frustration is so high. The problem has been so bad for so long. I made a film about inconvenient truths, now we have to uncover some uncomfortable truths, that if we don't face them, we're never going to fix our schools.

When I found out what they (the truths) were, they were especially uncomfortable for me, because I'm a Democrat, and I believe in unions. I think unions are good. But when I found the Democratic Party and unions are a big part of the obstacle for reformers, it's a tougher story to tell. I really wrestled with that.

Q. Why has it taken so long for people to deal with education?

A. I think the biggest problem is a psychological barrier people have. People think it's too complicated. There's too much noise in the debate. It can't be done. They say I'm going to send my kids to a private school, stick my head in the sand and hope the problem goes away.

Q. Where are we now?

A. Sometimes we think we can fix our schools through some political ideology or some educational fad. We want some clever solution. The real solution is putting a great teacher in every classroom.

If we dedicate ourselves to doing that developing great teachers, recruiting great teachers, rewarding great teachers and the ones that aren't working, removing those teachers. That takes a real renewal of purpose to get that done.

Q. Do you think it can be done now?

A. I think it's really hard. But I'm inspired. I feel like this new generation of reformers we're all teachers have proven it's possible. They've gone into the toughest neighborhoods. They've proven you can do it.

The question is do we have the political will? Do we have people demanding we do this for every neighborhood?