The big takeaway from Mary Mazzio’s powerful new documentary, Ten9Eight, is clear: entrepreneurship skills training for at-risk teens will increase the odds they stay in school. Its title, Ten9Eight, refers to the statistic that U.S. high school students drop out at the rate of about one every nine seconds. The film tells the stories of 14 inner city teens competing in an annual business plan competition run by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. (Be sure to catch my colleague Stacy Perman’s profile of the nonprofit from a few years ago.)
Award-winning filmmaker Mazzio, who has written and directed several other documentaries focused on entrepreneurship, including Lemonade Stories and We Are BlackRock, got the idea for Ten9Eight after a conversation with NFTE’s founder, Steve Mariotti, at a 2004 screening. After landing funding to make the documentary last year, the former Olympic rower and commercial real estate lawyer set to work chronicling the aspiring entrepreneurs with the goal of convincing their peers to stay in school.
Mazzio says she was most surprised by the velocity at which her subjects’ communication skills improved as they made their way through the NFTE contest—and the sheer number of promising kids she met.
“For all the Rodneys and the Annés and the Jamals and the Jessicas that are actually in the film, there are hundreds of thousands of kids that are just like them in low-income communities. Most of America doesn’t really realize that,” she says.
While acknowledging business curriculum is not allowed in traditional high school settings, she hopes policymakers and educators will consider offering it after watching her documentary. “What this film is, is one tool in the anti-dropout toolkit. It’s not a cure-all. It can’t solve the crisis.”
The film opens this Friday, Nov. 13 in AMC movie theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and Kansas City. Free screenings are available for teachers and their students this Thursday, Nov. 12. You can watch the trailer now and catch Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s introduction to it below.