Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rubber Room Movie a Hit With Audience

With the recent publicity over the UFT/DOE settlement, last night's premiere of "The Rubber Room" at NYU's Puck Building attracted such a large audience, the screening had to be held in three separate spaces. That the settlement came a day before the premiere was not lost on the participants. Since the film was getting so much publicity it seemed to act as a spur to the UFT and DOE to avoid further embarrassment.

The audience was an interesting mix of current and former denizens of the RR, activists associated with the RR, and a large number of young people who are undoubtedly students. I was curious why they attended. Was it the very idea of a free movie? But then I saw them bring out the wine, cheese and cookies at the follow-up reception and the answer was clear.

The film moved smoothly through 75 minutes. There was so much potential material to use and so much to focus on, that making these choices where to go with the theme must have been very difficult. One thing everyone seemed to agree on: Joel Klein comes off looking like a total ass. If I were doing the film I might have gone in other directions, but there is not doubt the film is entertaining. In the Q&A afterwards, Jeremy Garrett and Justin Cegnar said they used the most interesting people. I can understand that. I sat through 3 hours of one of their interviews with a 5 year denizen of the RR and they used about 5 seconds of that footage. I don't blame them.

The film does make the point that RRs have existed for 20 years but doesn't go into some of the reasons behind the rubber room intensification under BloomKlein as a way to create enough fear at the school level as to make the union ineffective. One New Action/Mulgrew apologist blogger was already celebrating (prematurely): "A huge obstacle to rebuilding, or building from scratch, real chapters in the scores of mini-schools – the threat of being rubber roomed – that obstacle is history." Sure, dream on.

In the Q&A it was clear that people believed that though the rooms as an entity may be gone, the fear and loathing entailed in unchecked power in the hands of principals may continue. Of course people are counting on the time limits (60 days) to be adhered to. Of course the current time limits (6 months) were not adhered to. Will teachers be told to file a grievance? I didn't look closely enough but if someone finds a monetary penalty for the DOE for NOT adhering to time limits, let me know.

We have been in touch with the filmmakers Jeremy Garrett and Justin Cegnar almost since the beginning of the project. They attended an ICE meeting and some of their initial trailer had many ICE member comments embedded. They have this great quote from ICE's Gene Prisco at their Five Boroughs web site: "In American jurisprudence you have the right to know the charge, who made the charge and to defend yourself. This is a system designed by Kafka and carried out by Mussolini." I wish that made it into the film.

There's a short segment in the film with Jeff Kaufman but by and large, the film stays away from the actions of the union and focuses on a group of the more interesting and colorful people who were affected.

The film makes some important points while also being entertaining. There were quite a few burst of laughter from the audience during the film and I had a sense people really enjoyed watching it. There are a few uneven spots and some of the early sequences were a bit confusing to people who are not involved with all the aspects of education in NYC. There was a lot of titling on a black screen. That is a choice filmmakers must make as an alternative to having a narrator. From my own experience it seems that when you have a paucity of good b-roll action footage, the choices Jeremy and Justin made seem to make sense.

There is an interview with Randi Weingarten whose appearance caused some snickers in the audience, a hilarious sequence where an outraged UFT member is seen screaming about the union as the camera pans to Randi holding a bull horn and looking like a deer in the headlights as she didn't know how to respond to the outburst.

I filmed the same sequence Jeremy did from another angle since this event was filmed at the ATR rally in November 2008, the day of the notorious wine and cheese party at the union HQ that attempted to subvert the ATRs waiting at Tweed, where I was attacked by Randi for filming. As a matter of fact, Jeremy also tried to film that event and wasn't allowed, so he waited outside while I was shooting in the room. (That event led to the DA passing a reso that no filming was allowed.) Jeremy headed over to the rally at Tweed while I filmed the scraggly march of what UFTers were left from 52 Broadway up to Tweed, where the outraged ATRs were awaiting Randi. If you haven't seen that yet, check it out.

The Video the UFT Doesn't Want You To See: The ATR Rally

See Rachel Monahan and Meredith Kolodner with a sympathetic RR piece in the Daily News
Kimani Brown waited in the rubber room for 1 1/2 years; he hopes for faster justice for others

Note: Meredith was working at The Chief years ago and did an interview with one of my colleagues who was arrested and railroaded into the RR 3 years ago and is still there.

See Chaz for his take and comments. Mine was:
I believe that principals still had to get permission from above to send someone to RR. They were always supported. Now the question is what the network will do. Has anyone seen any enforcement penalties for the DOE? What they did accomplish is breaking up the mass of the RR and putting individuals in more isolated places. As one RR person said to me at the premiere of the movie last night: it will be harder to organize or get info out to people. Most RR people initially go into a real funk and the union doesn't do much for them other than to tell them to wait it out with the argument they are getting paid. So for some it will be worse. Isolation. Now we know how these arbitrators work and how someone who rules too much for the teacher is let go - see the Pakter guy Douglas Bantle who is being let go and seems like the fairest guy I've met. By the way, what ever stopped the DOE from hiring more people all along? Someone should keep count and get a list of these people and when they work.

Check back later for a clip I shot of Jeff Kaufman commenting on the rubber room which I am trying to locate.


Anonymous said...

As a student at NYU Wagner, I would like to offer that many of the students attending the Rubber Room event care deeply about education issues and are interested in eradicating failed education policies. In fact, it was students studying education policy at NYU Wagner that approached the filmmakers and made the event available to the public. Almost all of the daily events that occur at the Puck building are free for students and are followed by a reception but yet do not have as large of a student turnout. I would hope that education activist would look to students as potential allies in their causes as opposed to questioning their commitment.

ed notes online said...

I was just making a lousy joke about the food. I ate more than anyone.

It was great to see all that interest by the students and we hope they get involved with GEM and other activist groups.