La toma

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

La toma: A useful glance at BA’s public education

It’s certainly no news that the situation of public education in Buenos Aires is far from satisfying. The ongoing conflict between students of state-run schools and the administration of Mayor Mauricio Macri over education reform peaked again recently when several schools — including the legendary Nacional Buenos Aires, the Carlos Pellegrini, the Mariano Acosta — were occupied, and a protest was staged at the BA City Education Ministry.

The main reason for the protest couldn’t be more compelling: the “New Quality High-School” programme launched by Macri’s government seeks the implementation of curriculum changes that will reduce orientation programmes as well as hours of instructional time in fundamental subjects such as Geography and History.

To be more precise, the conflict escalated last year when 45 schools were occupied as a response to such reprehensible measures. Hence, a court ruling then ordered local authorities to extend the effectiveness of the reform until 2014. However, students claim the unwanted changes are already being implemented and demand to take part in the debate.

Back in 2011 and 2010, almost 40 schools had already been occupied, to demand the government to execute the budget for education, improve the infrastructure and implement the required scholarships. Among the occupied schools in 2010, one of the most important was the Nicolás Avellaneda, whose building has barely since renovations since it was built. This is, in fact, when the rightful claims for a better public education started to be chronicled by the media at large and became an important issue in the local agenda.

La toma (The Occupation), the new film by Argentine filmmaker Sandra Gugliotta (Un día de suerte, Las vidas posibles) is, more than anything else, an informative documentary that chronicles the events surrounding the 2010 occupation of the Nicolás Avellaneda. It shows meetings of the Students’ Centre, countless talks with school officials, organizational efforts for the occupation and its conclusion with its due political effects. Equally important, it shows students debating what the best strategies are in order to achieve desired results.

As Sandra Gugliotta explains it: “In La toma, you can see how the kids take charge and carry on a discussion (with all its contradictions, trials and errors) that should be of the utmost importance to all adults; in fact, they should be the ones involved in the discussion. What’s going on with public education and what things do we have to do to avoid its continual destruction? In a sense, I think the film speaks of cracks, and these cracks are taken out in the open by the students.”

On the plus side, La toma gives you a pretty good idea of the state of things, it features some eloquent fragments of the meetings and discussions, captures the air of resistance, and shows the commitment of students who want nothing but a better education. At times, it really conveys the sense of being there with them, side by side, listening to what they have to say and sharing some important moments in the course of events. For the most part, the camera is unobtrusive and in sync with the many speakers.

La toma is a didactic film, but in a good way: that is to say it doesn’t underestimate its viewers and attempts to show reality in all its complexity — including the points of view of school officials who want to fight for the school as well, but have some differences with the kids as regards the most effective strategies.

On the down side, as a film, it lacks the necessary dramatic progression to become a more visceral, fully-developed piece of work. It doesn’t individualize the students, even if it tries to do so by giving some of them more screen time.

It’s too bad that you don’t get to know much about them, other than their discourse, making La toma somewhat impersonal. And whereas sometimes it maintains a good pace, there are other times when it drags on.

All in all, La toma is the kind of film that’s more valuable for its content and its ideology than for its film form. For an informative documentary, you get most of what’s expected. In these strict terms, it works fine.