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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.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who is portrayed as part of the problem in “Waiting for Superman,” said the documentaries “play loose and free” with the facts about the performance of charter schools as a whole. She said the films vilify unions and teachers while not celebrating what is right in public education.

“Any time that public education is spoken about and the urgency of helping all kids is portrayed and depicted, that’s a good thing,” Weingarten said. “I welcome using these films as a platform to talk about the challenges. I am concerned that the heroic work being done by 3 million public school teachers is not being recognized and the challenges they go through are not being recognized.”

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.