New Documentary Tells Balanced, Compelling Story

Got awayThere’s a new documentary coming out soon called “The One That Got Away,” which explores education issues in a more balanced and thoughtful way than many other films of this kind in recent years. Screened recently at the Montclair Film Fest (where it’s based) and at Scholastic in Manhattan, it tells the story of a charismatic, bright young middle school student named Tourrie (Ray Ray) Moses, whose life goes awry despite an array of attempted supports and interventions.

The most interesting and helpful aspect to the film is how it describes a situation in which there are no black-and-white heroes or villains, and no bright or artificial line between parents, school, and social services agencies tasked with supporting families and children in tough circumstances. It’s not the school, or the teacher, or the kid, or society. It’s all of them. 

This balance of perspectives and possible causes came naturally, according to filmmaker John Block, a 30 year veteran at NBC among other places. “Things are rarely black and white,” says Block, who recently added some footage to the latest version to make clear that Tourrie’s father wasn’t a simple villain.

The feature is also notable for the incredible access it achieves — including both parents, the protagonist, and more. The filmmakers were even able to gain access to Tourrie’s child welfare file. How’d they do that? Calling on participants’ good will was one helpful avenue Block said he pursued. Persistence and confidence was another. “I guess I’m accustomed to getting the kind of access that I need.”

Last but not least, Block avoided or ignored all the hot-button issues by staying focused on one compelling story. “I set out to tell one story, not necessarily dictate or get into a discussion about policy. I really just wanted to tell T’s story.” (One visual left on the cutting room floor is the high school social worker’s so-called Wall of Choices, an office wall at Montclair High School which Block says has Tourrie’s mug shot front and center.)

Block says his wife is a teacher and that he considers teachers heroes.  However, some potential viewers will be concerned that there are some tangential connections to Waiting for Superman, including the enthusiastic support of Jonathan Alter, who appeared in that 2010 documentary and who is on the board of Campbell Brown’s new site, The Seventy Four.

Block objected to my initial review of the film, which described his interviewing of the mother about her drug use as heavy-handed. He’s right. The scene is intensely awkward, and the interviewer’s presence onscreen asking the questions is distracting to me, but the questions are not themselves heavy-handed. Block could have left himself and his questions out of the final version — presenting the mother talking about herself as if to an empty room — but he didn’t want to do that and there’s no rule that he should have.

The self-funded film is likely to be screened several more times in the Montclair area. After that, who knows? The filmmakers are talking to a variety of broadcast outlets, commercial and public. Some possibilities that come to mind include Oprah, CNN, PBS, Al Jazeera, and VICE. 

Related posts: Follow Up To Documentary Criticizing School ReformMorgan Spurlock Goes To Finland (& Comes Back)#MiddletownFilm Chronicles “Midpoint” Students, Blended Learning“Standardized”.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.