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Originally published Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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‘Ivory Tower’: Hard times hit higher education

A review of Andrew Rossi’s engrossing new film, “Ivory Tower,” a documentary about the crisis in higher education. The movie is rated three stars on a scale of four by reviewer Moira Macdonald.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Ivory Tower,’ a documentary directed by Andrew Rossi. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive and partying images. Seven Gables.

David Boone, a student featured in the film, will appear at the 7:10 p.m. show Friday, June 27.

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As ripped-from-the-headlines as his previous work (“Page One: Inside The New York Times”), documentarian Andrew Rossi’s engrossing new film, “Ivory Tower,” examines the current crisis in higher education. We’re shown alarming statistics, guided through campuses both traditional and unique, introduced to students coping with college pressures, learn about a “party pathway” through college at certain state schools, watch as the students of historically free Cooper Union stage a sit-in as protest against upcoming tuition, and ponder the question behind it all: Is college worth it?

Of course there’s no simple answer to that query, and “Ivory Tower” doesn’t try to provide it. But it does provide a flurry of facts (tuition costs, for example, have in recent decades risen even faster than health-care costs) and a groaning table of food for thought — almost too much for one movie, though presented with remarkable deftness. (Should you have the time and interest, follow this film with an at-home screening of Frederick Wiseman’s 2013 documentary “At Berkeley,” a four-hour fly-on-the-wall examination of life at the University of California, Berkeley; the two films are constructed quite differently but would complement each other nicely.) Though much of the information presented by “Ivory Tower” is discouraging, you leave inspired by its success stories (such as David Boone, a formerly homeless youth now happily ensconced at Harvard) and by its reminder that the value of college, for many, may lie in something less tangible. It’s the place, someone muses late in the film, where “you figure out that there’s something better.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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