Not everyone thinks The Lottery hit the jackpot

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How do you find reviews and essays about video documentaries? Describe your search strategy and cite the 5 most thoughtful reviews or background essays on a designated video documentary. Your search results may include scholarly and/or popular press, but do your best not to include those featured on the film’s companion site. (Hint: the goal of this question is to help your classmates identify thoughtful sources that do not necessarily agree with the policy stance taken by the film.) Add a brief explanation for why you recommended each of the five sources you selected

I have been anxiously awaiting being assigned my Source Detective[1] question. The format of this assignment has had me imagining myself as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Harriet the Spy scouring various resources, following the clues and sharpening my “information literacy skills”.

I was assigned question #10 with my designated video documentary being, The Lottery (2010) by Madeleine Sackler. With that said I put on my best deerstalker hat[2] and began my search. I started at the International Movie Data Base website (IMDB)[3]. I started here because this is not the movie which I will be watching for class and I wanted to have an idea of the storyline, cast, previous work by the director, etc… IMDB is probably one of the main apps I rely on in life. I’m not quite sure what I did before it.

**At this juncture I would like to insert a little helpful tip borne out of personal experience. When undertaking any kind of search it is imperative to make sure your results are for the correct item! In my initial IMDB search I came across two other movies named The Lottery. One stars Keri Russell and debuted in 1996 and the other is a short horror film made in 1969.


This is a good general rule to follow, and while it seems like common sense it’s worth repeating. In all subsequent searches I made sure to include the director, Madeleine Sackler’s name when possible. Moment of truth, in the world we live in it’s easy to assume to the first result you get is the best result. Last semester when ordering books on-line at Amazon I only entered the titles of books- needless to say, there were two books called “Freedom Summer”; one of which I needed for my class, and the other was a children’s book. I ordered the children’s book.  Paying attention to the result is important! **

Now back to the task at hand. So at this stage of my search I know I need to be very specific when searching for reviews and thoughtful background on my film as there are other films with the same name. I also know an overview of what my film is about which can help me discern which reviews are touting this documentary and which are taking an oppositional stance. I also have the link to the website for the film, as this was posted on the assignment page.

I proceeded to check out the official website for the documentary,[4]. I did this so I could compile a quick list of the 23 sources cited on the film’s companion site as part of the assignment urged us to find something not featured there.

Armed with all this information I made my way over to LexisNexis and searched for The Lottery by Madeleine Sackler in all Major World Publications. This search retrieved 25 results. With two windows open, my results page on the left and the list from the companion site on the right I began to go through the results avoiding those on the companion site.

What I started to notice as I went through the articles on LexisNexis is that many of them were articles jointly reviewing my assigned documentary, The Cartel (2009) and Waiting for Superman (2010). These three films came out in a relatively short span of time, share a similar subject matter and therefore seem to be spoken of together often.  

Result 14 was the first article that was neither on the companion site and was exclusively dedicated to The Lottery. From the Washington Post on June 25, 2010 Jen Chaney’s Article, Competing for a chance to succeed, provides a succinct summary of what differentiates this film from the rest in its genre. Chaney criticizes Sackler’s limited inclusion of opposing viewpoints in her film stating this” would have made for a stronger movie”. Here is the link to this review which gives the film 2/4 stars:,1164454/critic-review.html [5]

Result 16 which is from the Daily Variety is a scathing review of the film accusing it of being “advocacy to the point of propaganda”. I found this review by John Anderson to be incredibly thoughtful: [6]

Result 24 is a New York Times review published on June 11, 2010 by Jeannette Catsoulis that concisely questions if the heart-wrenching tactic of this film is “ the best foundation on which to build successful education reform.” [7]

I then made my way over to Google Scholar and came up with these two reviews: [8]I chose this one because it gives a lot of background information on Madeleine Stackler. Apparently, she was a resident of Greenwich, CT!! This article is less about the movie itself, but rather Madeleine’s educational experiences and her process of coming to making this documentary. I found this an interesting way to understand Stackler’s motives, biases and as a former Greenwich resident myself, I felt this piece was relevant.

My final and in my humble opinion, best review is [9]. This piece, published by the National Education Policy Center, was written by William Tate from the Washington University in St. Louis. Tate is the Chair of the Department of Education. This article is a scholarly review and thus is able to provide the most thoughtful and thorough review of all the sources I found.

So there it is, and I saved the best for last. At points during this assignment I had more windows open than screen space available, but I appreciated the opportunity to be exhaustive and take you all through my process.

*Citation list added on Wednesday February 27,2013*

[1]   Dougherty, Jack. “Source Detective Questions | Educ 300: Education Reform, Past and Present.” Educ 300: Education Reform, Past and Present. Accessed February 27, 2013.

[2] “Deerstalker Hat – Google Search.” Accessed February 27, 2013.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&cad=b.

[3] “IMDb – Movies, TV and Celebrities.” Accessed February 27, 2013.

[4] “The Lottery.” The Lottery Film, 2013.

[5]Chaney, Jen. “Critic Review for The Lottery on” The Washington Post, June 10, 2010.,1164454/critic-review.html.

[6] Anderson, John. “The Lottery | Variety.” Variety, June 8, 2010.

[7] Catsoulis, Jeannett. “Movie Review – ‘The Lottery’ – Documentary About the Harlem Success Academy –” The New York Times, June 11, 2010.

[8] Sawicki, Stephen. “School of Thought – Greenwich Magazine – March 2011 – Greenwich, Connecticut.” Greenwich by Moffly Media. Accessed February 27, 2013.

[9] William Tate, “Review of The Lottery”, National Education Policy Center (January 2011). Accessed February 27, 2013.



One thought on “Not everyone thinks The Lottery hit the jackpot”

  1. This source detective post describes a very good search strategy (especially by pairing the director’s name with the film title) and also provides a wonderful illustration of how to place search results side-by-side for comparison. The reasoning behind the recommended readings is sound, and all come from established publications. But the assignment asked for one more detail that was overlooked: to “cite” the sources, by which I mean using any academic citation system (not just including a web link, which can break.)

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