LOS ANGELES TIMES | June 18, 2010 | Gary Goldstein
On the face of it, the Harlem Success Academy, an upper Manhattan public charter school that's providing a dramatically superior education for a lucky number of the area's lower-income children, would seem an unlikely target for controversy. But, as Madeleine Sackler's absorbing, often tender documentary "The Lottery" shows, when it comes to the world of charter education, no seemingly good deed may go unpunished — or at least undercut.
Set two months before the Success Academy's annual lottery wherein a small percentage of some 5,000 mainly African American and Latino hopefuls will be randomly chosen to attend the college-focused school's fall session, the film takes an effective, two-pronged approach to tell its enlightening tale. First, it follows four charismatic youngsters from Harlem and the Bronx — and their devoted, forward-thinking parents — as they wait to compete for an academy spot. At the same time, it stirringly captures the anti-charter school sentiment facing Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, courtesy of the United Federation of Teachers (she calls the union's tactics "thuggish") as well as from territorial local parents Moskowitz must debate at a heated community hearing.
Interviews with such observers as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and educator-social activist Geoffrey Canada add further dimension to the proceedings.
"The Lottery." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.