Movie Review: The Providence Effect

October 6, 2009


Back when I was a communications student studying film and video production, I had a dream that I would produce world-class documentary films.  While other students wanted to be the next Martin Scorsese,  I aspired to be the next Ken Burns…only I had not heard of Ken Burns at that time.  The Providence Effect is the kind of documentary I would have produced.

I am happy to report this documentary not only lived up to my expectations (based on the trailer, see previous post), but it also exceeded them.  The Providence Effect is about possibility and hope not just for parents living in the inner city, but for our country’s education system.

Before I proceed, I wanted to mention that the city of Chicago is still recovering from the brutal murder of 16 year-old honors student Derrion Albert on September 24.  Albert had been walking home from school when he passed by an altercation between two groups of students and was beaten to death.  Shockingly, this incident was captured on video.

Which is why a school like Providence-St. Mel on Chicago’s west side is so important.  It has been a beacon of hope for families in the area for over 30 years.  Despite the fact that it is a private school located in a low-income area, families make a tremendous sacrifice to send their kids to PSM.

The film introduces us to Paul J. Adams, who had the vision to make PSM a top-ranked college prep school and also details the struggles to keep it funded in its early days.

I enjoyed the fact that cameras offered a glimpse into the classroom.  We see an atmosphere where everyone is held accountable: students, parents, teachers and administrators.  It is an atmosphere where hard work is encouraged, bad behavior is not tolerated and learning is considered “cool.”

One thing that intrigued me was the fact that, each day students recited the school mission statement:

“At Providence-St. Mel, we believe. We believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work. We are not frightened by the challenges of reality, but believe that we can change our conception of this world and our place within it. So we WORK, PLAN, BUILD AND DREAM – in that order. We believe that one must earn the right to dream. Our talent, discipline, and integrity will be our contribution to a new world, because we believe that we can take this place, this time, and this people and make a better place, a better time and a better people. With God’s help, we will either find a way or make one!”

Providence Pic

I thought the production team of Tom Hurvis and Rollin Binzer did a great job capturing the magic that occurs at the school.  In the press materials, Director Rollin Binzer says, “The atmosphere at this very special place was bristling with self-confidence, achievement and success. Never in my own education, or in raising three children, had I ever experienced classrooms that were so energized about learning.  Every student was engaged, paying attention and enjoying it.  Teachers were actively connecting with their students in a purposeful and caring way. Paul Adams, the founder and Jeanette DiBella, the principal displayed almost parental pride and concern for all of their students. It became very obvious to me that these kids were propelling themselves out of poverty with sheer hard work and brainpower.”

Many people go to the movies to escape reality.  This film is so inspiring and motivating that it is amazing to realize that it is reality.  Do yourself a favor and see or rent this movie.

1 Nadia - Happy Lotus October 6, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Hi Tim,

That mission statement is so awesome. Makes me think that maybe I need to write my own mission statement and recite it every day.

And thank you for the recommendation. I hope that one of the theaters here will show it.

Thank you for showing us cool movies, music, books and podcasts. 🙂

2 Tim October 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Hi Nadia:

Yeah, that mission statement got me to thinking about how important it is to have one. I’m sure the kids that start young at PSM (grades K-12) don’t have any idea what they are saying. But when they do get to a certain age, it really becomes a mantra and serves as a guide for them. I hope this movie sticks around for a while, but hopefully will be available on Netflix soon. If you get a chance to see it, I’d love to hear your reaction.

3 lori October 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Hey Tim,

I’m glad to see you posted your review after the sneak preview. I need to investigate when this will be in SF; it looks awesome!

I was getting goosebumps reading your post! Not only does the movie sound like a must-see film, (and interesting that you wanted to be a documentarian!), but I LOVE seeing films that promote hope and success. Shaka that!

Thanks for this, Tim. And, also, thanks for your and Nadia’s conversations about it. So interesting…

4 Tim October 6, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Hi Lori:

Yeah, it was a powerful movie that blew me away. Bring some tissues, you might need some (in a good way). Let me know if you get a chance to see it, I’d love to get your take on it.

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