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A study hall at Harvard, as seen in the documentary "Ivory Tower." Courtesy Sundance Institute
Sundance review: ‘Ivory Tower’

"Ivory Tower"

U.S. Documentary

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*** (three stars)

Director Andrew Rossi gives a thorough airing to the money problems of America’s higher-education system in the wide-ranging documentary "Ivory Tower." Rossi ("Page One: A Year With the New York Times") traces the history of higher education, from the founding of Harvard and the establishment of land-grant colleges to the G.I. Bill and the creation of Pell Grants. The movie also talks about the growing financial challenges to colleges and universities, as states have reduced funding and students must foot the bill and run up thousands in loans they have difficulty repaying. There are voices of reform in the film, though most of them have something to sell -- from the UnCollege movement (dropping out to begin internet startups) to "massive online open courses" offering basic classes over the internet. Rossi tries to cram a lot into 97 minutes, so the narrative thread gets a little tangled with off-topic issues, like the "party school" debate, that have salacious video.

-- Sean P. Means

"Ivory Tower" screens again at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: Saturday at noon at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.

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