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“Waiting for ‘Superman’” opens with Guggenheim reflecting on his decision to send his children to a private school in Los Angeles. As they drive to class each day, the family passes by three public schools. Parents believe in the idea that every child should get a great education, Guggenheim says.

“And then when it comes time to choose a school, your priorities shift,” Guggenheim said at a recent screening at the Toronto Film Festival. “You go to this place of, I will do anything for my kid, and you don’t care what it is.”

The film follows Daisy, a driven Los Angeles fifth-grader who dreams of becoming a doctor or a nurse; Anthony, of Washington, D.C., who wants to study and escape the path that led his father to a fatal drug addiction; Bianca and Francisco, both from struggling New York City neighborhoods but who have determined, relentless parents; and Emily, a middle-school student from Silicon Valley who worries about getting into college.

Each places their future in the hope they’ll get into a high-performing charter school, which have public funding but their own set of rules. High demand means there isn’t a seat for everyone. Students are picked in a lottery.

Teacher unions, painted as being a roadblock to reform, say the film does a disservice by focusing only on charters, when public schools are the only institution that can guarantee every child a quality education.

“My challenge to the David Guggenheims of the world is, ‘Come back to public schools and bring your support and enthusiasm and resources to make those schools work,” Wilson said.

Guggenheim said he is not blaming unions for all the ills of public education. He said the film also points a finger at politicians, school bureaucrats and others.

“The union piece probably screams the loudest, but I’m tough on all the adults starting with myself,” he said.


AP Movie Writer David Germain and writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.