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There’s been plenty of buzz about the new documentary, “Pressure Cooker,” prior to seeing its final showing in Chicago on Aug. 25, so I was prepared to see a good movie at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

There’s been plenty of buzz about the new documentary, “Pressure Cooker,” prior to seeing its final showing in Chicago on Aug. 25, so I was prepared to see a good movie at the Gene Siskel Film Center. This was my first time visiting the Gene Siskel Film Center, so I made sure I got there extra early. Good for me because the staff is extra pleasant and they serve beer, wine or latte with your popcorn. Any movie house that serves your choice of these three beverages is a definite winner. Seriously, this is not your average movie house.

I walked into the theatre thinking that this would be a cooking documentary similar to some of the series I’ve seen on TV, and we all know that reality shows are not really reality, right? Well, “Pressure Cooker” is far from a TV chef reality show and is about as real as it gets. The culinary class at northeast Philadelphia’s Frankford High school is run by teacher, Wilma Stephenson. The term ‘run’ is an understatement. She puts the batteries in the backs of underprivileged youth so that they can compete for scholarships to attend the best culinary schools in the country and graduate with top honors. She does this with the use of tough love and drill instructor-like tactics, and bake sales to get these kids over a half million dollars in scholarships in one year. Wilma’s unorthodox method of teaching is balanced out by the love that she shows the children. She teaches them how to carve a potato into a seven-sided football shaped tourne, how to dress for the prom and how to not be “so ghetto!”

Wilma’s authoritative voice and tone resonates, but the students are truly the stars of this documentary. Fatoumata, an immigrant of Mali, tells a story of having to walk 20 miles daily to school in her home country and how cooking at Frankford is her escape from her strict father, who doesn’t allow her to attend the senior prom. Erica, who comes from a broken home, takes on the mother role in the care of her blind little sister. Tyree is trying to juggle the culinary arts with high school football and has the job of getting his mother and little sister out of the hood.

Given all the circumstances, this movie comes off as very serious on the surface but at times is downright hilarious. The audience at the Siskel Film Center laughed hysterically, pumped their fists cheering and at some points, there was not a dry eye in the building. It is just that type of movie. Wilma’s passion for culinary and life skills does not encourage these ambitious kids to be just good. She pushes for excellence and the students take this rigorous task head on.

Directors Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker captured the essence of great teaching and ambition, and make this documentary one of the most important movies in 2009. By popular demand, “Pressure Cooker” will be back in Chicago this winter, so don’t miss its return. I dare you to walk away from this movie not hopeful, inspired and wanting to go home and practice cutting tournes.

I’d give this movie 5 out of 5 stars.

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