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Review: ‘About a Teacher,’ the rare ‘inspired by’ movie that actually inspires

Dov Tiefenbach in the movie "About a Teacher."
(Hanan Harchol Productions)

That inspirational film and TV staple known as “The Inner City High School Teacher Who Tries to Make a Difference” has been infused with an affecting dose of authenticity courtesy of the remarkable “About a Teacher.”

Drawing upon his personal experiences as a film instructor at a New York public school for the arts where faculty retention is at critical mass, Hanan Harchol’s survival story, one in which he’d learn the difference between talking at his underprivileged students and actually talking to them, feels genuine from the outset.

Given an undeniably rocky start, it’s a miracle that Harchol (played with considerable conviction by Dov Tiefenbach), a classically trained guitarist ready for a steady gig, even makes it to the end of the first semester, but he receives some battle tips from fellow faculty members, some (“Don’t smile until at least November!”) less helpful than others.

While the slightly built Tiefenbach brings a palpable deer-caught-in-headlights angst to the role, and Leslie Hendrix is formidable as his unimpressed overseer, Ms. Murry, it’s the students — many of whom are played by Harchol’s actual students — whose wrenching backstories set the production apart.

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More aligned to the docudrama stylings of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach than the likes of a “Lean on Me” or “Stand and Deliver,” Harchol’s inspirational film eschews mainstream tropes in favor of a bracingly candid sociological study that has compellingly done its homework.

‘About a Teacher’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Playing: Available on VOD


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