Documentary Follows Five Students to Take an In-Depth Look at the Revolution of the New Orleans Public School System
New Orleans, LA—“The Experiment,” a documentary on the controversial and transforming New Orleans public school system, won Best Louisiana Feature at the 22nd Annual New Orleans Film Festival on Sunday.
“The Experiment,” directed and produced by Ben Lemoine with Fleurish Productions and shot by Leonel Mendez, follows five students through the 2009-2010 school year to gain first-hand accounts of the success or lack thereof of the current transformation of the New Orleans public schools.
“I really didn’t think we had a chance to win this award to be honest,” said Lemoine. “We set out to be objective and to give a platform to all sides, but there was no denying that in the end, this dynamic new system offers more hope than ever for New Orleans and maybe for the entire country. But because of that, many people see this as a conservative film, and that’s not what usually wins in film competitions.”
Lemoine, a former reporter for CBS affiliate-WWL, and Mendez, a former WWL cameraman, first started filming in 2009 with the desire to “do something bigger.” After locating four families in New Orleans, and with five children ages 9 to 11, they began filming and producing out of their 500-square foot apartment in mid-city New Orleans. Over two years, they captured nearly 300 hours of footage.
“These amazing families allowed us to document and show the most intimate corners of their lives, and it was pretty incredible,” said Lemoine. “We really invaded their homes for 24 months! We were there first thing in the morning and often still there when the kids went to bed.”
During the shoot, one of the featured children was forced to deal with the murder of an uncle, accounting for the latest of several family members to be murdered. For another, it was two murders during class time just outside the schoolhouse doors. These kinds of off-camera occurrences further highlight the many social issues that currently compete for the attention of students within urban school systems across America.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city – driving teachers and students alike out of the area and forcing schools to shut down at least temporarily. Since that time, the city has seen the opportunity to reinvent the education system and transitioned most public schools to charter schools.
“I think the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. “That education system was a disaster.”
Currently, almost 80 percent of the public schools are run by charter organizations, which are private companies that use public money to run schools. This makes New Orleans the home of more charter schools per capita than any other city in America, and considered by many in the education sector as “the great experiment.”
“The Experiment” investigates the basic question surrounding the public debate about school reform—are these changes ultimately in the best interests of the children of New Orleans? Interviews with national, state and local officials, as well as students, parents and community members leave viewers with an in-depth view of the issues and the current state of affairs in the Crescent City.
The production crew for “The Experiment” was comprised of just two people—Lemoine and Mendez, who felt passionate about keeping any other film-related services including public relations, advertising and film editing in the state of Louisiana.
“The Experiment” was recently picked up by the Starz network and is scheduled to begin airing on Starz in December.
This award marks the first film festival award for the movie, although it has also been submitted to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Other awards in connection with “The Experiment” include a 2011 National Gold Addy Award for the film’s poster, produced by MESH, and the Mosaic Award from the 2011 Baton Rouge Addy Awards.
For more information about “The Experiment,” please visit www.theexperimentfilm.com.
About Fleurish Productions
Fleurish Productions, LLC., began in 2009 with the beginning of filming for “The Experiment.” Ben Lemoine, a former WWL reporter, serves as Fleurish’s Director and Producer, with partner, Leonel Mendez serving as Art Director.
About The New Orleans Film Festival
The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) was founded in 1989 and hosts the New Orleans Film Festival annually. This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the New Orleans Film Festival, which has grown into a major showcase of local, regional, national, and international films. In addition to the annual Film Festival each fall, the NOFS hosts special events throughout the year: the French Film Festival, the New Orleans International Children’s Film Festival, and other events designed to benefit local film audiences, artists, and professionals. The NOFS also partners with local organizations to present monthly film series at the Contemporary Arts Center, the Porch 7th Ward Cultural Organization, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and Ash Cultural Arts Center. Throughout the year, the NOFS reaches approximately 8,000 people through its programming.