The Vision Behind the Camera

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The movie Backpack Full of Cash, directed by Sarah Mondale, discusses the issues surrounding school funding with a focus on Philadelphia public schools. A big question to be answered in the movie is what is a public school. For me, the movie complicated what I thought of a public school by showing how public school money from tax-payers goes to paying for charter schools. Therefore, charter schools as well as traditional public schools are both funded with public schools money and are both considered public schools. The money also goes towards vouchers to aid lower-income families in paying for the public schools which is kind of ironic because the school is funded by public school money.


(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:29)


In my opinion, an important, or at least revealing, scene was when statistics of the different percentages of school groups were shown. This portion of the video showed groups of people such as English Language Learners, children with Autism, students involved with the juvenile court system, etc. There was a much greater percentage of students in every one of these groups attending traditional public schools, not charter schools. This reveals that charter schools are not fulfilling their initial goal towards being inclusive to all students, especially students who need a lot of help. Instead, they manipulate the entrance system to cherry-pick students who will get the highest test scores.


(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:20)

(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:20)

(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:21)

I think it is intentional that Mondale modeled the video in this way. She has scenes where she focuses on student art on a chain-link fence. She has interviews with parents and children upset about the schools closing because of funding. She inserts news footage and information about charter schools being viewed as a good thing right after or before a tragic event happened to a public school to appeal to the viewer’s pathos. Mondale is extremely strategic with the slow zoom-ins when the moment is sentimental, and this strengthens her interpretation that charter schools are essentially redirecting traditional public schools money into an institution that has a partial negative impact on the community that the money was originally intended for. Overall, many of the key scenes help to reveals the way that Mondale views the public-school budgeting issues and policies/political leaders that she is against. (Mondale, Backpack Full on Cash, 0:27)


Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,