Thursday, June 12, 2014

SF DocFest: Ivory Tower

Monday night at SF DocFest I saw Andrew Rossi's Ivory Tower, a wide-ranging critique of higher education in the US. It's a sound bite documentary, containing snippets of inteviews with academics, students, parents, administrators & politicians. The film covers a lot of of stories, including the history of public education, the rise in tuition & student debt, the shift of education from a public good to a consumer good & the emergence of online courses, to name just a few. It adds up to a compendium of urgent issues rather than a specific argument.

Footage of students in luxury accommodations & at notorious party schools makes going to university look like a holiday cruise, while the study hall for Harvard's freshman computer science class looks like a sinister hive mind. The film's most dramatic storyline tracks students at Cooper Union who take over the president's office to protest the end of the school's tuition-free policy. I liked seeing alternatives to the 4-year university, such as Deep Springs College, whose curriculum is split between student-directed academics & manual farm labor. The uncollege movement refashions school as a tech startup.

One angry audience member could not refrain from uttering his opinions aloud & had to be sushed early on. The film may have left the DocFest audience depressed, since its ending was met with dead silence. Festival founder Jeff Ross & David Sapp of the ACLU led a discussion about some the film's issues afterward. Ivory Tower plays again at the Oakland School for the Arts on Sunday, June 15th at 5p. It also opens theatrically in the Bay Area starting June 20th.

§ Ivory Tower
dir: Andrew Rossi, 2014, USA, 97 mins.

SF DocFest 2014
Roxie Theatre, June 9, 9:15p
OSA, June 15, 5p

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