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Los Angeles Film Festival: Movie Review & Director Interview – Waiting For Superman

Published on: 8th October, 2010

Perry Chen & Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim after panel discussion@ LAFF (Photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen & mom Zhu Shen with Waiting for Superman poster @ LAFF

Perry Chen asking question@ Waiting for Superman Q&A 6-22-10 (Photo by Zhu Shen)

Waiting for Superman panel discussion (L to R: musician John Legend, director David Guggenheim, educator Geoffrey Canada, producer Lesley Chilcott) 6-22-10

(4.5 out of 5 starfish)

by Perry S. Chen

Since writing the review for Waiting for Superman at the LA Film Festival in June 2010, I want to share some updates about the film.

The film will open nationwide, distributed by Paramount on Friday Oct 8, 2010.  I interviewed Director Davis Guggenheim again at the San Diego Film Festival ( on Oct 1, 2010!

Perry Chen thumb up on Waiting for Superman @ SDFF (photo by Zhu Shen)

I had a great co-promotion with San Diego Entertainer Magazine to give out FREE press screening passes to my teachers and our friends and my Facebook fans:

(My interview of Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim and educator/activist Geoffrey Canada@ LA Film Festival) (director Davis Guggenheim interview @ SDFF)

Perry Chen with Kipp Adelante principal Christa Coleman @ SDFF after Waiting for Superman Screening (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen, mom Zhu Shen with Perry's teachers Lisa Wilken (R), Scott Wilken (2nd R) & friends @ Superman press screening


Do you think high quality private school is too expensive?  Apparently not as expensive as prison!  Do you know that if the same amount of taxpayer’s money we’re spending to send criminals (many are high-school dropouts) to prison could have paid for their private school tuition and leave over $20,000 for their college scholarship?

Education is vital for kids and their future.  The U.S. used to lead children’s education decades ago, now it’s lagging FAR behind other developed countries.  Ironically, the U.S. students do best in one category: confidence (albeit a misguided one).  Many people don’t realize this, but the shocking truth and the reasons behind the failing public education system are revealed in “Waiting for Superman,” a powerful, thought-provoking new documentary from the Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim who made “An Inconvenient Truth.”

I attended the movie’s red carpet premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 22 with my mom.  The regal theater was packed.  Before the film started, director Guggenheim came on stage to thank his colleagues and all the people who helped to make the film possible.

As the movie opens, we meet Anthony, a nice African American boy from Washington D.C. who lives with his grandma because his dad took drugs and “passed.”  We are then introduced to four other young children: Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, from different cities and most of them in poor neighborhood.  Together with their families, they are trying as hard as they can to get into good public charter schools where they will have higher chance of graduation.  But the odds are stacked against the kids: only 10 to 20 spots are available for hundreds of applicants.  Their fate lies in the spinning balls inside the lottery machine.

The air is electric, full of anxiety, fear, and hope as the lottery is drawn one by one.  I felt so anxious and then sad for the kids who lost the opportunity.

Bad education is often the fault of bad teachers who sap money and resources.  They cause devastating damage to children in return.  Bad teachers cannot be easily fired once they are hired because of the school tenure system set up by the teachers union.  Do you know that it is much harder to fire an incompetent teacher than an incompetent doctor or lawyer?

Michelle Rhee, the D.C. Schools Chancellor, proposed a great opportunity to reform the school by doubling the salary of non-tenured and great teachers.  Sadly, the teachers union felt so threatened that it did not even allow a vote.

Geoffrey Canada, an American activist and educator featured in “Waiting for Superman,” founded the “Harlem Children’s Zone” in New York City.  He established highly successful public charter schools in poor neighborhood but supplied them with great teachers.  Over 90% of students from his schools graduate and go on to colleges.  They perform better than many from schools in rich neighborhood.  Canada’s example shows that it is the teachers who truly make a difference.  With great teachers, even disadvantaged kids can learn and show their true worth.

(Video of my interview of Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim and educator/activist Geoffrey Canada @ LA Film Festival)

I interviewed director Guggenheim and Mr. Canada during a special filmmaker panel discussion after the screening.  I asked, “Since the U.S. is lagging far behind in children’s education, what can the students do to catch up?”  Director Guggenheim said, “Every child in America deserves a great teacher, a great principal, and a great school.  Kids can do a lot.  Start by demanding great schools.  And people listen to kids.”

Mr. Canada said, “We want to ask young people to take education seriously because the rest of their lives depend on how well they do in schools.  A lot of children today find school to be a dreadful place.  We want to reengage them and give them a sense of hope.  Just like the song in the film, these kids want to shine.”

I give “Waiting for Superman” 4.5 starfish.  It’s “Perrific!”  The film is about fear, struggle, and hope for a better education for American children.  I feel connected to the characters and their stories. I can’t help but root for them as I watch their daily struggle.

Compared to all the kids featured in this film, I feel so fortunate to be able to go to Torrey Hills elementary school, one of the best public schools in San Diego’s Del Mar Union School District.  I have been blessed with many wonderful and dedicated teachers there who encouraged and nurtured my creativity in and outside of the classroom.  My 3rd grade teacher Ms. Joli Harris was the one who started working with me and my mom to encourage my writing book and movie reviews starting in October 2008.  I also owe much to my mom whose endless love and encouragement has kept me going.  Our shared love for movies, books, and art is the foundation for my education in my creative endeavors.

The film has excellent data to support its issues and made me think about what each one of us can do to make a difference.  Producer Lesley Chilcott suggested that everyone pledge to go see this film and tell friends to see it when it opens on Oct 8, 2010.  One can text “Pledge” to 77177 to see the film and make a difference.  Visit its website:

There is nobody else to save us from our public education crisis, not some mystical force, not Superman, but OURSELVES.  If we don’t take action NOW, many children will no doubt be left behind.


Copyright 2010 by Perry S. Chen


At 10 years old, Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning entertainment/film critic, radio talk show host, and TV personality, reviewing movies with his unique, kids-friendly starfish rating system on a multi-media platform on TV, radio, print, and web.

Perry became a national sensation after his debut on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and was a popular hit on NPR with host Liane Hansen.  He has been extensively featured on regional, national and international media.

Perry was the first child film critic invited to present at the prestigious Annie Awards for animation, the youngest blogger on Animation World Network (AWN), the youngest member of Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA), and San Diego Press Club, and the youngest honoree of Cox Communications’ annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Perry has become an authoritative spokesperson for his generation about movies with his insight and humor from a child’s perspective, and focus on combining entertainment and education for children.

Perry is also an award-winning artist, filmmaker and animator, partnering with Oscar-nominee Bill Plympton to create a new animation short about the Holocaust, “Beyond the Forest,” told through the eyes of a child survivor.

Perry’s Previews webseries is slated to launch in the summer of 2010.

Perry reviews films on a starfish rating system, 5 being the best.  His reviews are available on his website:

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