Like teachers? See this film

If you are a teacher, if anyone close to you is a teacher, if you plan to become a teacher, or if you simply appreciate great humor, see this film. Produced by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame, and made in the comedic style of “The Office” and Christopher Guest’s films, “Chalk” is a mockumentary about the lives of a handful of teachers at Harrison High School.

The film begins by stating the simple fact that “over 50 percent of teachers quit within the first three years.”

In the film, first-year history teacher Mr. Lowrey struggles with discipline and a class he hasn’t figured out how to manage. A third-year geography teacher obsesses over his goal to receive the “teacher of the year” award within his first five years of teaching, and is not above some serious Machiavellian scheming to accomplish this.

The high-energy and outspoken Coach Webb stresses over whether all the teachers are equally “on board” with the strict new tardy policy, and also worries about whether she’s too “pushy” with the other staff. And Mrs. Reddell has just been promoted to assistant principal, only to discover that her work is quickly overtaking her personal life.

Despite the seemingly stereotyped caricatures these characters present, director/co-writer Mike Akel of Austin, Texas, adds a humanistic touch and sensitivity to this movie, avoiding a film that takes its laughs at the expense of the teachers. The film, shot on location in Austin, instead takes its laughs from the circumstances in which the characters find themselves, and treats the teaching profession with due respect.

It shows that teaching is much more than it’s cracked up to be, and includes scenes of frustration and challenges which will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a classroom.

More than just a hilarious comedy, it is a sympathetic look at high school life from the perspectives of some of its employees. In a funny twist, time in the film is marked not by dates or months but by how many days until the next vacation. Any teacher knows about “counting down the days,” and it was amusing to see the film acknowledge this.

When I saw this film at the new Magnolia Theater in Dallas, it couldn’t have been better timed, hitting the theater the first week of summer vacation. I was lucky enough to see it on the night in which the director/co-writer, actor/co-writer, and a second actor were in the audience to introduce the film and to take questions afterward.

Both Mike Akel and co-writer/actor Chris Mass have worked as teachers, so they have an idea what they’re talking about. They asked how many teachers were in the audience, and easily 20-25 percent of the hands in the crowded room were raised.

The audience received the film very well, laughing out loud and heartily applauding at the closing credits. The filmmakers acknowledged the difficulty of getting an independent, low-budget film such as this seen in a competitive environment so dominated by multibillion-dollar Hollywood products. Sales, however, have been good at theaters where it has been shown.

If you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere near an indie theater where this is playing, I recommend you don’t miss it. If you’re not, at least catch it when it comes out on DVD.

Chalk Directed by Mike Akel Hart Sharp Video, 2007 85 minutes, PG-13