Memphis venture capitalist Bob Compton isn't a filmmaker by trade, but a visit to India and China inspired the father of two to utilize the medium to explore what he saw as a worrisome divide between the quality and intensity of the education American students are receiving relative to students in those countries.
Inspired, Compton hired journalists Chad Heeter and Adam Raney and then conceived, produced, and financed Two Million Minutes, an ambitious hour-long documentary about this divide. The film already has gained national attention, with Compton recently appearing on ABC's Good Morning America and on National Public Radio to talk about the project. This week, he'll debut it locally with a screening Thursday, February 28th, at Malco's Paradiso theater.
The film's title premise is that students have roughly two million minutes during their high school years and that American students may not be using this crucial time wisely, thus threatening the U.S.'s competitive advantage.
Two Million Minutes uses six high-achieving students at three high schools as case studies for the divide between American high school education and education in China and India.
The American students, who attend public high school in Carmel, Indiana, are aspiring doctor Brittany Brechbuhl and class president Neil Ahrendt. The Chinese students, from Shanghai, are violinist Hu Xiaoyuan and math wiz Jin Ruizhang. The Indian students, from Bangalore, are engineers-in-training Apoorva Uppala and Rohit Sridharan.
The film crosscuts smoothly among these three pairs of students, examining their school, home, and social lives. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese and Indian students experience a more structured and more intense class environment, with much more homework each day and with career tracks mostly settled by the end of their high school years.
All of the kids featured in the film are intelligent and charming, and all seem to be on a solid track leaving high school, but Two Million Minutes still makes a strong case about the difference in educational and developmental priorities between the U.S. and its Asian competitors. While the Chinese and Indian students' time is closely monitored and geared around study, the American students (to their counterparts' envy) are presented with many more options — the ability to drive, to get jobs, to socialize.
Two Million Minutes acknowledges the argument that this freedom makes American students happier and more well-rounded, but it doesn't seem to take it very seriously. No less than a Michael Moore film — if far more soberly — the film has a viewpoint it wants to advance. Brittany talks about being more well-rounded than students from other countries, but the film shows her studying while watching Grey's Anatomy with friends and then flashes a factoid on the screen: American students spend 900 hours a year in classrooms and 1,500 hours watching television.
Neil is the class president of his high school and has won a full scholarship to Purdue, but the film shows him pulling together a school project with a last-minute all-nighter and working 20 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant, implying that his considerable ability still isn't being fully tapped. Along the way, the film implicates such institutions as the after-school job and the emphasis on scholastic sports as drains on American students' precious high school time.
And, ultimately, Two Million Minutes posits these distinctions as a national problem, asserting that the U.S. underestimates the costs of this educational slippage.
Compton will introduce the screening this week at Paradiso and will conduct a Q&A session afterward. All proceeds will go to benefit the Indie Memphis Film Festival.
Two Million Minutes
Showing on Thursday, February 28th
6 p.m.; admission $10