Undefeated – best sports film of the year

The nation, indeed the world, is enthralled by Jeremy Lin, the undrafted humble Harvard underdog who has stunned the NBA and the New York Knicks with his performances on the basketball court these last couple of weeks.

But hidden in the deep South, somewhere around the decrepit environs of North Memphis, Tenn., a high school football team struggles to succeed just as it did in 2010 when The Tigers, the school’s football team, for the first time in the school’s 110 year history, made it to the playoffs.

“Undefeated” is an Oscar-nominated feature-length documentary about that team that enthralls from the first two minutes. I admit, I was not enthusiastic about reviewing another sports film, let alone football.

Now I can say that I understand why people see football as a religion — in a good way. Why? Because over the six years that the chubby white volunteer coach Bill Courtney guided this team, they prayed, fought, asked forgiveness, and lived genuine “agape” as a community.

Continue reading here …

Hallmark hits a home run with ‘A Smile as Big as the Moon’

My review in the National Catholic Reporter: Hallmark hits a home run with ‘A Smile as Big as the Moon’.

Senna: documentary about a champion with faith

 

 

Sports films are the timeless cinematic metaphor for life. I think it is a fair question to ask which of them made you cry the most? Was it “Rudy”? “Field of Dreams”? “Brian’s Song”? For me it’s David Anspaugh’s 1986 “Hoosiers.”

Some new releases, whether based on fact or fiction, fuse sports and faith quite well and are entertaining and inspiring without falling into the “message” trap. They also avoid sentimentality, though are wrought with emotion and tension. “Senna” is one of those.

“Senna” is a brilliant documentary about Brazilian Ayrton Senna da Silva, a three-time Formula One racing champion, whom many consider him the best of all time. Formula One refers to a set of rules to which all drivers must adhere. Formula One racing takes place on racecourses and through city streets. It began in Europe in the 1920s; the current rules were established after World War II….

Continue reading on National Catholic Reporter Online

 

Religious Education Congress 2011: A vibrant human mosaic

The labyrinth

 

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Ask anyone who participated in the Religious Education Congress March 17-20 how they would describe the event in terms of art, and they will tell you: It’s the people. Ask author/speaker Jesuit Fr. James Martin and he will tell you that the congress — not Disneyland across the street — is the happiest place on earth.

Charity Sr. Edith Prendergast, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office for Religious Education, told me that she loves the congress for its poetry and beauty. “It is an authentic expression of the life of the church and people come to be enriched.”

At the opening ceremony, people from various cultures and costumes processed in the arena that holds 6,000; there was a lovely liturgical dance, and the music and singing engaged everyone. Prendergast presented our new archbishop, José H. Gomez, “the chief catechist of the archdiocese,” with the illuminated Gospels and Acts of the Apostles from the St. John’s Bible from Liturgical Press. After Gomez opened the congress in prayer, he introduced Prendergast. When she got to the lectern to give her presentation, she said, “You will hear from the archbishop later.” Then she paused and turned back to the archbishop and said, “That is, if it’s OK with you.” It brought down the house.

Click here for the entire article: Religious Education Congress 2011: A vibrant human mosaic.

Mirtha Vespi talks about Congress and Magnificat Ministries

 

 

Waiting for Superman – DVD release today

I am reposting my review … the DVD came out today. REally too bad it was not nominated for an Oscar. One of the most important films of the year – the decade.

‘Waiting for Superman’

by Sr. Rose Pacatte

Davis Guggenheim got the idea for Waiting for “Superman” one day as he drove his kids to an expensive private school. He passed a downtrodden public school and wondered about kids who didn’t have a choice. The film’s concept was formulated in early 2008 and Waiting for “Superman” screened at the Sundance Film Festival last January where it won The Audience Award.

The film’s title comes from’ a comment made by Geoffrey Canada, founder and CEO of Harlem’s Children Zone, a consortium of three charter schools and other educational entities, for poor families. “One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me ‘Superman’ did not exist. ‘Cause even in the depths of the ghetto you just thought he was coming…. She thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.”

The film follows five children as they seek an authentic American public education. Daisy is a fifth-grader from Los Angeles; Francisco, a Bronx first-grader; Anthony, a fifth grader from Washington D.C.; Emily, is an eighth-grader in Silicon Valley and, unlike the others, from a economically sound family, and Bianca, is a kindergartner from Harlem. These children are determined, as are their parents. The kids all end up in actual lotteries for places in schools that have chosen children over everyone else. The film affirms parents of every social and economic class and region who work hard to prepare their children for school and support them, as well as teachers who do care. But the few stories about teachers who do not, are chilling.

I will tell you now that I was in tears at the end, happy for a few, but desperately sad for the many. I went to public school until my junior year in high school; I know what it was like to be “tracked.” We kids figured out that because my brother and I were in the same grade he got all advanced classes because he must have tested higher. I instead was in large, experimental 120-student “team classes” where I earned straight A’s on my history tests and papers and A-‘s in English. When my first quarter report card gave me a B+ in history with a comment that I had earned the highest mark in the class, I questioned it and was told that they graded “on the curve”. Without even asking my parents first, I marched out of class to the school office and demanded to be changed to advanced classes. The counselor said I could not do the work. I said, “Try me.” I was in 8th grade and made the National Honor Society the next year. That was public education in California in 1964 and, truth to tell, I remember all my teachers well and liked all of them. I was so lucky. It wasn’t the teachers; it was the system. The film’s premise is that today it’s pure chance for a child to get a good education.

Besides Geoffrey Canada, Waiting for “Superman” profiles Michelle Rhee, education reformer and School Chancellor of Washington, D.C., who took on the NEA for its role in maintaining the status quo by refusing to reframe contracts and teacher tenure. To be fair, the film also looks at restrictions placed on creative teachers by standardized testing and teaching-to-the-test.

Production notes given to film critics state that “Eight years into No Child Left Behind, the U.S. has four years left to reach the landmark education act’s goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading. Most states currently hover around 20 or 30 percent proficiency. Seventy perecent of 8th graders in the U.S. cannot read at grade level.”

As other workers in the early 20th century, public school teachers unionized because they were paid a pittance and had no benefits or rights. Now, however, the teacher unions function like any of those in the AFL-CIO (the NEA is an AFL-CIO union and the AFT is a partner) Teaching children is considered the same as a forty-hour a week job on the assembly line, office or in the restaurant industry. The definition of a teacher and of education needs to change because the current system is not working. Education has to be about students first, not teachers and school administrators and their benefits.

Rhee sums this up best when after the teacher union refused to vote on her proposal to remove automatic tenure from contracts and pay six-figure incomes to teachers who deliver, she said, “There’s this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony amongst adults.”

Is there anything we can do? The film tells viewers to celebrate teachers, ensure world class standards, invest in great schools (not great prisons), and raise literacy rates. Families and communities must let their voices be heard.

Davis Guggenheim has delivered another inconvenient truth, but no one can argue with the facts that this film illustrates so clearly. “Our system is broken, and it feels impossible to fix, but it can’t wait.”

Don’t miss this one, even if it seems a bit long at two hours. It’s classy and artfully produced. Stay through the credits and listen to the lyrics of the song “Shine” by six-time Grammy winner John Legend. Public education is everyone’s business. I usually advise responding, rather than reacting, to films. This film, produced under the banner of Paramount, Participant Media and Walden Media, calls for both. Check your local drop out rates and this will be proof enough.

Waiting for “Superman” releases on DVD Tuesday, February 15.  For more information visit www.waitingforsuperman.com.

 

 

Waiting for Superman

The Los Angeles Times‘ observant and opinionated journalist Steve Lopez is often irritating but always honest about life in the city of angels. In Sunday’s paper Lopez recounts his visit last Friday to A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. Duffy reacted negatively, as would be expected, to the L.A. Timesrecent investigation and values-added formula analysis of teachers. Los Angeles Times published on its website a database of names and grades of teachers in the L.A. Unified School District , the largest in the nation in terms of students. Duffy organized a march by union members at the Los Angeles Times building and even canceled his subscription to the Times in protest.

But Duffy and his colleagues at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) haven’t seen anything yet. When they and their members get a look at Oscar-winning director David Guggenheim’s (“An Inconvenient Truth“) new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” they may well get angry, too, but hopefully for the right reasons.

Click here to continue reading Waiting for Superman review

Here is John Legend singing the song SHINE that he wrote for WAITING FOR SUPERMAN:

Oprah interviews Michelle Rhee, School Chancellor, Washington, DC

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Michelle-Rhee-Talks-About-Evaluating-Teachers-Video

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Introduction to Media Literacy & Church and Communication Online Courses Registration deadline May 26

If you’ve ever been frustrated at how to engage in our media culture in meaningful ways, consider taking one of these terrific online courses offered by the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation.

Click here for the course description for Introduction to Media Literacy

Click here for the course description for Church and Communication

I am the course facilitator for the intro to media literacy course; another fine catechist will facilitate Church and Communication.

If your diocese is a VLCFF Partner (click here to check) the cost for each five week course is only $40.00 (otherwise $75.00).

In terms of time, there are five week-long sessions for each course. On average you would want to reserve one hour a day to complete the work that requires some reading, interactive exchanges, and responses to the reading and each week’s material in semi-essay form. The fruit of your dedication will be renewed energy in your faith life and ministry. And it’s not only what you will learn; your contribution will enliven the interaction and your experience will enrich us all.

The deadline for registration is May 26th. Don’t miss this opportunity! Five weeks goes by so swiftly.

Feel free to contact me here if you have any questions or go directly to the  VLCFF website.

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