Mike Akel

It’s never a good sign when a high school teacher visits the school library where he works for books on classroom management as a last ditch effort to gain control of his classroom. In Mike Akel’s funny, uncomfortable, and painfully real mockumentary, we take a look at the over-stressed state of education in America in writers Akel and Chris Mass’s quest to uncover why 50% of teachers quit within their first three years on the job. Drawing on their own experiences as teachers in Austin, Texas, Chalk earned five awards including one for its Outstanding Ensemble Performance at the Los Angeles Film Festival where it gained a supportive fan in Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock used his pull in the independent film world and knowledge of the festival circuit to help get the film a wider audience due not only to his affection for the film and individuals involved but also because of the special place in his heart for the piece since most of his relatives growing up were teachers as he explains in the introduction to the film on the DVD. Using some of Akel and Mass’s former students as cast members, Chalk follows around four main characters during a challenging school year such as the aforementioned man who realizes he is out of his element, the new and uncomfortable teacher Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer). Afterwards we encounter educational veterans including choir teacher turned Assistant Principal Mrs. Reddell (Shannon Haragan) who must juggle the politics and daunting schedule of her new position along with the military minded principal, the pushy but well-meaning Coach Webb (Janelle Shremmer) who develops a crush on Lowrey proving that all physical education teachers are not gay, and the hilarious scene-stealing Mass as Mr. Stroope who campaigns like mad, even prompting his students not to seem smarter than him in the classroom in his dream of becoming the teacher of the year at Harrison High School. While the budget restraints and self-conscious cinematography to make the film look amateur may have hindered a more ambitious cinematic epic, it suits the mood of Chalk very well, seeming like it is comprised with footage leaked out from a classroom project and placed on youtube.com. There’s some worthwhile extras on the disc but mostly, you’ll find yourselves wanting to watch the feature again as some of the humor (much like NBC’s The Office) is so excruciating the first time around that it warrants a second glance to fully appreciate the impact and those of us who have any experience with the world of education will recognize it at once.