7.0/10
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2 user 6 critic

Approaching the Elephant (2014)

Year one for Lucy, Jiovanni and director Alexander at the Teddy McArdle Free School in Little Falls, New Jersey, where classes are voluntary and rules created by democratic vote. Wilder is ... See full summary »

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2 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »

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Storyline

Year one for Lucy, Jiovanni and director Alexander at the Teddy McArdle Free School in Little Falls, New Jersey, where classes are voluntary and rules created by democratic vote. Wilder is there from the beginning, observing an indelible cast of outspoken young personalities as they form relationships, explore their surroundings and intensely debate rule violations, until it all comes to a head. Written by Production

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27 February 2014 (USA)  »

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$84,000 (estimated)
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Audience at Maryland Film Festival loved this film
13 May 2014 | by (Baltimore MD USA) – See all my reviews

Saw this at Maryland Film Festival and it was received very well.

It's a documentary about a free school in New Jersey. The film maker and the sort of main character (the director of the free school, Alex) presented the film, which was shot in 2007 and 2008, at the Festival.

The movie follows a group of kids who are the first students of this new free school. Without giving anything away, there is much conflict that arises around a couple of kids, especially one particular child -- if you watch the movie, you'll probably have a pretty good idea of which kid is going to be at the center of the conflict pretty much from the beginning. There is also one child who takes charge of the situation in a way that I think most adults would not be capable of. The children, given huge amounts of autonomy, behave in various admirable and not-so-admirable ways.

What stands out in this documentary is the ability of the director, who operated the camera, to seemingly always know where to point the camera. Of course, the viewer doesn't know what events were missed, but what was captured is woven together into an fascinating narrative, complete with an amazing climax.

I was a homemaker and homeschool parent from about 1987 - 2000 -- I worked with lots of homeschoolers (mainly unschoolers) and much of what is presented in "Approaching the Elephant" was familiar to me - the balance between allowing the children autonomy and self-direction on the one hand, and creating chaos and child tyrants on the other.

Luckily for the filmmaker, although not necessarily for the students and the administrator of the school, there were lots of interesting things going on at this place.

This film is utterly absorbing, and there's never a dull moment.


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