Walking on Water

Director: Ramón Menéndez
Screenwriters: Ramón Menéndez, Tom Musca

Institute History

  • 1988 Sundance Film Festival


Against the advice of family and friends, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) turned his back on a lucrative career in engineering to return to teaching. Assigned to teach math at an East Los Angeles inner-city school, Escalante was taunted by unruly Latino students. Garfield High School had a reputation for drugs and drop-outs and was in danger of being the first L.A. high school to lose its accreditation.

Escalante’s quirky sense of humor mesmerized his student. These underprivileged kids advanced faster than anyone imagined. Their goal became the AP Calculus Test, an exam so demanding that less than 2% of seniors attempt it. Pressure mounted. Escalante worked his students and himself so obsessively that he suffered a heart attack two weeks before the test.

Eighteen students took the AP test. Eighteen students passed. Two weeks later the Educational Testing Service invalidated the scores because of similarity of wrong answers. The students were guilty of cheating until proven innocent. Desire, ambition, and pride vanished in a single computerized sentence.

— Marjorie Skouras

Screening Details

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