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Interview: Filmmaker Mary Mazzio helps kids beat the odds

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For filmmaker Mary Mazzio, it's always been about beating the odds. And as she has shown numerous times in her life, it has less to do with talent than with desire and hustle.

"I was an entrepreneur in training and I didn't know it," Mazzio says, sipping tea in a lobby restaurant in New York's Palace Hotel. "It's the hustle. That's what you need and what these kids have. If you can't sell an audience of investors, if people are not excited about your product, nothing's going to happen."

That's been true of her documentary-film career - and it's true of the subjects of her latest outing, Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon, which opened in limited release Nov. 13 and will continue to platform through the end of the year.

Mazzio's film follows a dozen semi-finalists as they head for the finals of the national competition put on by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). The students involved were all at risk of dropping out of school - until they found relevance in a program that forced them to apply themselves to such scholastic basics as reading, writing and mathematics to create a viable business plan for a new product or service. The "9" in the title refers to the fact that a student drops out of high school in America every 9 seconds.

"The kids who drop out think the education they're getting is not relevant to them," says Mazzio, 48. "So you take this and other programs like this, where a kid sees, Hey, I need basic algebra to be a businessperson. They become energized about it. It's a way to teach an application for the basic building blocks of education. It's effective and transformative and it's keeping kids in school.

"They have programs built around music and athletics and debate. What about kids without those talents or skills? There are lots of innovative programs but they have to be relevant. This is about getting kids excited about learning."

Mazzio understands excitement - and battling odds. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Georgetown Law School, she was a nonathlete who wound up rowing varsity crew in college, just through sheer force of will. Continued...

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