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Chicago Documentary Giants Unite For The School Project

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 22, 2015 4:50PM

In the field of documentary filmmaking, the name Gordon Quinn, co-founder of Kartemquin Films, looms large. Bob Hercules is another name very recognizable to frequent doc viewers, as his Media Process Group (MPG) productions have been broadcast on PBS, The Discovery Channel and elsewhere. Both men and their many collaborators have produced work celebrated at top film festivals and showcases.

As Executive Producers, Quinn and Hercules have brought the considerable talents of Kartemquin and MPG to The School Project, a large-scale and interactive effort to shine a light on issues surrounding the controversial recent closings of 50 Chicago neighborhood schools. Three other award-winning local production companies are also involved, while enterprises ranging from Ebony magazine to WTTW to the Chicago History Museum are supporting the project and/or providing complementary content.

With the Chicago mayoral election barely a month away, The School Project has the potential to encourage more debate about what stands as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's most controversial decision to date. But the short documentaries that will make up the core of the project address issues concerning the city's school system that will be argued over long after Election Day.

From personal accounts of people affected by the massive closings to an historical overview of the system's reputation as "the worst in the nation" (hotly debated) and various reform efforts, the documentaries seek to explore the issues in all their complexity. The economic, social and racial underpinnings of school closings are also a major focus.

Along with the six short documentaries being produced (debuting one at a time throughout the 2014-15 school year), The School Project website features links to news articles and opinion pieces from the project's print and online partners, as well as an interactive map showing all the schools affected, with vital facts and figures for each.

Free public screenings and discussions are also planned for each of the documentaries. An event tonight at the University of Chicago is already at full capacity, but four remaining events are scheduled between March and April. Visit The School Project website for dates and locations as they are announced. You can also share your own comments about the closings and their impact.

The School Project is a co-production of Kartemquin Films, Media Process Group, Kindling Group, Siskel/Jacobs Productions, Free Spirit Media, and Melissa Sterne and Rachel Dickson.