Tag Archives: films

Race to Nowhere

Children Are Not Numbers

Missoula held a screening of “Race to Nowhere” during the Replace the Race Nationwide, March 2014 campaign, thanks to the Missoula Forum for Children and Youth, MCCHD Suicide Prevention, MCCHD Tobacco Prevention, Potomac School District No. 11 and United Way of Missoula County.

This powerful documentary about our education system and its challenges presented much food for thought. As I sat in the darkened theater, I was moved by the film and its message and jotted down the following:

  • The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
  • Six hours of homework a night. Plus soccer.
  • Looks good for colleges.
  • He is all about learning to take tests.
  • People get caught up in the race to nowhere.
  • Kids are our leaders. Without creativity, they are not going to be prepared to lead us.
  • Play is a critical part of a child’s growing mind and growing body.
  • Blue Man Group founder: “Why can’t we have happiness as important a metric as reading skills?”
  • What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?
  • “If every day there wasn’t homework, he would love school.” Mother of a 4th grader (in response to a special “no homework” day).
  • Nobody knows me at all.
  • Stanford’s Denise Pope’s Challenge Success Facebook page.
  • Catching up or leading the way.
  • U.S. has never led the world in scores.

There were numerous gut-wrenching comments I didn’t write down. A fourth grader talking about stress-induced stomach aches. A high school student saying she didn’t eat because, by not eating, she could concentrate so much better. Conversations about drug use—Adderall to stay up, sedatives to come down; about cutting; about not sleeping, or sleeping only a few hours; about over-scheduled students of all ages; about suicide; about stress-related ER visits and hospital admissions; and about teacher burnout. It was heartbreaking to hear passionate, skilled educators speak about the pressures to teach toward test results, critical thinking skills be damned. Sadly, but understandably, our system is pushing some of these educators out.

Students spoke about the stresses imposed upon them by parents, by teachers, by the pursuit of admission to “top schools.” I was reminded of a conversation I had with my younger son at the beginning of his sophomore year. “Why don’t you join Key Club? It’d look good on college applications,” I said, certain the latter would be a selling point. He replied, “How many times are you going to tell me that?” I made a silent pledge that would be the last.

And it was.

According to a recent Washington Post article, “Local [McLean, VA] school board representative Jane Strauss says she is routinely contacted by parents asking how to prepare their 2-year-olds for a test to get into the Advanced Academic Program for gifted students in third grade.”

Is this what we want for our kids?

I don’t think so.

I do know this. When seniors come into our high school library to get signed off this June, I won’t be asking, “What’s on your horizon?” I don’t want them to think I’m assigning values to their lives-beyond-high-school. And whether they’ll be taking time off; joining the workforce; or going to a community college, a state-funded university, a private or an Ivy League school; my wish for them will be the same. “Congratulations. Take good care.”

2014 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

It’s back. Today marks day five of nine of the eleventh annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. As in years past, the festival is packed with films which make you laugh. Make you cry. Make you think.


This year, viewers may vote once per day for their favorite feature film and favorite short/mini doc. The winners in each category will receive the first ever BSDFF Audience Awards. An audience member will be a winner, too. Everyone who participates in the BSDFF Audience Survey will be entered to win an All-Access Pass to next year’s festival.

One Missoula woman, Shanna Lodge, may consider herself to be the biggest winner of the festival to date. Following a big-screen-turned-live marriage proposal, she said, “Yes. This is yes!

Five days remain in the 2014 BSDFF. A seat is calling your name.

Our Introduction to the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

The 10th Annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was held February 15th-24th in Missoula, Montana. For the fourth year running, my husband, Rich, and I were fortunate to partake in many of the Festival’s films.

Our introduction to the BSDFF was in 2009. That year, our brother-in-law Lance’s friend, Kimberly Reed, directed and starred in one of the feature films, Prodigal Sons. Missoula Independent’s Nick Davis wrote, “In a story that would push the limits of even the most madly creative of fiction writers, this reality show just keeps getting better.”

He was right. In addition to Reed’s thought-provoking film—about identity, family, and relationships—we were treated to a lively Q & A with her following the movie.

Rich and I left the theater that evening asking each other how we had overlooked the Festival the previous five years. We left, too, wanting to see more. There were 143 films that year and though we did see more in the following days, we barely skimmed the surface.

Since 2010, we’ve purchased all-screening passes for the Festival. We have friends who’ve joined us as well, and collectively we’ve applauded, laughed, cried, and discussed a variety of the subjects and people we’ve watched on the big screen. We are better stewards of the earth because of the BSDFF.  We’re more conscientious about our use of water and electricity. We bought reusable produce bags and a composter which have decreased our use of plastics and reduced the amount of garbage we generate. And we recycle everything we can.

Seven people attended the first film of the inaugural BSDFF ten years ago. The numbers have multiplied since then.

This year, the winner of the Best Feature Documentary was Blood Brother, a poignant story about Rocky Braat and his journey to care for HIV-positive orphans in India. Our efforts to be more mindful of how we live pale compared to the difference Rocky Anna, as the children call him, is making in the lives of the children he serves.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, now heading into its eleventh year, is held each February in Missoula. Filmmakers from across the country and around the globe grace our city with their presence and their films. Keep an eye out for the 2014 dates and mark your calendars. The BSDFF is a treat beyond measure.