The annual Fort Myers Film Festival opens tonight with a documentary that strikes at the heart of one of Southwest Florida’s most impassioned debates: public education.
Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education in the United States and its shortcomings before delving into innovative new approaches that filmmaker Greg Whiteley (who will be in attendance tonight at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall screening) urges educators to consider. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Southwest Florida parents and community members are insisting on change. Overflow crowds at Lee County School Board meetings last fall insisted the board suspend standardized testing, which it did—briefly. Even though the board rescinded its vote, the incident served as a catalyst for districts nationwide to join the anti-testing chorus. Florida lawmakers are now considering legislation to reduce the number of mandated exams.
“You’ll be hearing about this film months from now—it’s going to really reverberate in this community,” says Eric Raddatz, the festival’s founder and executive director. “What we hear a lot of is complaining. … What this film does is offer some innovative solutions.”
Education is not the only matter of interest in Southwest Florida to be spotlighted at the festival, which runs through Sunday. Food Chains, a documentary featuring the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, will be shown Friday at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts.
“The New York Times called it ‘breathtaking,’” Raddatz says. “It’s everything you could want in a documentary film, and it is about people who live 20 miles away from us.”
And—a special treat—audiences can explore a story of personal triumph and a woman’s fight for equality in Hardy, a documentary about professional boxer Heather Hardy by NBC2 anchor Natasha Verma. Verma encountered Hardy while she was a freelancer in New York and was intrigued by the fighter’s struggles to make her name in a “man’s” sport while raising a child and coping, briefly, with homelessness.
The film asks an important question that transcends boxing: Why do women earn less for the same work as men?
“I’m really excited to show it here,” Verma said earlier this week. “For me to bring it to Fort Myers is so important. It is such a powerful message of pay and inequality.”
Hardy debuted at the Austin Film Festival and won Verma “best first-time director” honors at the Irvine International Film Festival in California. This is its first Southwest Florida showing.
For a complete festival schedule, visit fortmyersfilmfestival.com.