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ASTRA 2019

Review: Teach

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- Alex Brendea's movie on the Romanian education system won the Best Romanian Documentary Award at the Astra Film Festival

Review: Teach
Dorin Ioniţă in Teach

Shown as a world premiere at the 26th Astra Film Festival, Romanian director Alex Brendea's documentary Teach won the festival's Best Romanian Documentary Award (see the news). Teach will meet the international audience at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, where it is competing in the Between the Seas competition.

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There are few documentaries where the directing is as discreet as it is in Teach. And there are few documentaries where the protagonist's psychology is explored with greater respect. Sometimes, a director's consideration for the main character's sensibilities may very well constitute a flaw, but not in Teach, a documentary that sheds light both on the faulty Romanian education system and on an outsider who offers a very personal solution to an outdated approach to teaching.

The film is not an X-ray of the Romanian education system per se; rather, it is a commentary by negative space. It is the story of Dorin Ioniţă, a Mathematics teacher who, a decade ago, realised he would never accomplish anything from within the system, so he gave up teaching in a school and opened an extremely casual tutoring centre in his own house in a small Romanian provincial town. We see him surrounded by students of various ages, studiously writing in their notebooks. Rotund and jovial, self-deprecating and immensely frank, the teacher somehow manages to turn them into a team playing in a great match, the grand trophy of which is knowledge.

Few documentaries are able to give us more hope than Teach. The film delves into the very essence of teaching, exploring how the influence of a role model, a little nudge this way or that, can change a youngster's life. On the fringes of an education system that is like a photocopier churning out minds printed with the same information, Ioniţă is a talented, attentive painter. He knows that every canvas is different, and he behaves accordingly.

But Teach is not about maths, and nor is it exactly about teaching. Teach is a film about understanding and about the sometimes-difficult tango between two very different persons searching for the same rhythm. It is truly emotional to watch how, under Ioniţă's guidance, every student can find their footing, a place to start building up knowledge. By watching Teach, one truly understands that every problem has a solution.

Without turning into an ambassador of mathematics, Ioniţă preaches about structure and order, about planning and deconstructing an issue and finding solutions. He may speak at times about equations, functions and logarithms, but this is just because his students have to study them: his message rises above these specifics, opening an umbrella that covers all areas of studying.

In an ideal world, Teach would be screened in front of all of our teachers because it humorously, even touchingly, shows that teaching is not about providing information, but mainly about understanding. Buried beneath prolix, outdated curricula, the sheer amount of work and various frustrations, regular teachers seemingly forget about this essence of teaching. It is a good thing that Ioniţă is there to remind them about their vocation, and also about the great rewards of opening the minds (and souls) of the younger ones.

Teach was produced by Romania’s Luna Film. The doc will be released domestically in 2020.

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