A first-time feature director channels Wiseman and the Maysles as she spends two years observing the inner workings of an unconventional school.

As a child, director Amanda Wilder once visited England’s Summerhill School, the first “free school,” an experimental school structured around shared and equal decision-making by educators and pupils, as well as interest-directed learning versus a mandatory curriculum. Also known as democratic schools, “free schools” have since popped up around the world, numbering in the hundreds. When Wilder learned about a free school opening in Little Falls, NJ, she arranged to film The Teddy McArdle Free School’s first day but ended up filming for two years. Employing an observational rather than interview focused approach, Wilder and producer Jay Craven capture not only this relatively novel and unusual approach to education, but also the learning curve that comes from starting a new institution – especially one intentionally divorced from traditional hierarchical models.

At the time of this writing, Wilder’s reached over 80% of her Kickstarter goal of $14,500, so it looks assured that she’ll be funded by the time the campaign ends early next month. To keep updated on the project, check out its Facebook page.

The project’s fundraising trailer gives a good sense of the approach Wilder is taking for this observational portrait while also providing glimpses of some of the students and educators she followed over the course of filming – the selection of subjects being a key component to engender connection with the film’s audience. Her referencing of direct cinema pioneers suggest the doc will have a natural dynamism that is so often lost in talking heads-oriented projects – as indicated in the brief clip of a student putting a proposal to a vote. One sticking point for me, however, is the title. Although the Kickstarter page reveals its origins as a JD Salinger reference, it still strikes me as somewhat too esoteric or distancing, potentially obfuscating what the film is actually about (then again, another education doc, WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN,” did pretty well with an arguably more cryptic title.). Setting that aside, and the question of what the overall arc of the film will be – the Kickstarter page offers some hints of dramatic highlights that took place, while a Google search reveals perhaps too-telling information about the school – the basic concept is in itself intriguing enough to make me want it finished, if only to see how such a potentially anarchic idea can hope to work in a practical way on a daily basis.

1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, In the Works

One response to “In the Works: APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT

  1. Pingback: Basil Tsiokos blogs about Approaching the Elephant! | Approaching the Elephant

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