Daniel Barnz

Article excerpt

Byline: Lloyd Grove

Fending off a teachers' union assault on his new film.

The writer-director of Won't Back Down--a Hollywood drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, about heroic parents and teachers battling bureaucracy and corruption to reform a lousy public school in inner-city Pittsburgh--believed that teachers' unions might actually like his movie.

"I had an optimistic hope that people would embrace the idea of coming together and use the film to explore ways in which people could partner and create change," Daniel Barnz says, noting that the recent Chicago teachers' strike has given the film fresh relevance. "That's how audiences perceive the film--not as a referendum on teachers' unions."

Last month, Barnz arranged a screening for Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, and sent her a heartfelt email describing his background in a family of educators. He's the son of college professors, the son-in-law of a Manhattan charter-school principal, and the grandson of a Brooklyn teacher who was protected by her union in the 1930s. "I wanted her to know I love teachers like my family--because they are my family."

The 42-year-old Barnz--whose last name is an amalgam of Bernstein, his original surname, and that of his partner of 17 years, producer Ben Schwartz--is the father of two school-age children and calls himself "a Jewish liberal Democrat."

None of that impressed Weingarten, who issued a declaration of war. …