The Bottom Line
- Very inspiring documentary
- Contains bonus feature (Audition for the National Children's Orchestra of Venezuela)
- English subtitle
- Length: 90 min
- Format: DVD and Blu-ray disc
- Awards received: Best Documentary Orlando Hispanic Film Festival 2009, Grand Prix Golden Prague 2009
- Other Awards received: Rodos Ecofilms Special Jury Prize 2009, Rodos Ecofilms Team Awards Feature Film Competition Award 2009
- Film by: Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier
- Distributed by: Medici Arts International
Guide Review - El Sistema - A Review of the Documentary
El Sistema is a revolutionary music education program founded over 30 years ago in Venezuela by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu. The film opens with images of young children in a classroom innocently holding musical instruments. However, the moment they start playing, these children are transformed; we see the fire in their eyes and hear the passion in their playing. I had to remind myself that I'm actually watching children - kids playing like adults.
As the movie continues, we get to know the men and women behind El Sistema; from the vision of its founders, to the teachers who tirelessly work in centers scattered across Venezuela. Most important, we get to know the heart of El Sistema - the children. The film follows three kids for a year; children like Roderyk Alvarado who lives in a barrio in Caracas amidst poverty, gangs, guns and drugs. We learn that what El Sistema does is reach out and bring hope to underprivileged children and their families through the power of music. Students are encouraged to attend centers in their areas in order to learn the basics. Parents and guardians show support by attending performances and by making sure that their kids come to class regularly.
Currently, they have more than 180 centers in Venezuela; students don't pay tuition as the program gets funding from the government, private sector and other sources. One of the centers or nucleo in Caracas gives us a glimpse of El Sistema's methodology. Young children spend around 3 to 5 months with the "paper orchestra" before moving on to play real instruments. Teachers emphasize the importance of playing from the heart rather than technique, as they believe this will improve later on. Students are given ample opportunities to perform through various concerts and activities, thus promoting self-confidence. Then, they move on to audition for orchestras such as the Teresa Carreño Children's Orchestra. Aside from playing instruments, students also learn how to sing and conduct. In some centers, children who are physically challenged or learning impaired also participate in the program. One of the most touching scenes in the film is the performance of The White Hand Choir; a group of deaf or hard-of-hearing kids. At the end of the film we see Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar orchestra amidst a very appreciative audience.
From the editing down to the music score, I loved everything about this documentary. It poignantly captures the struggles of the children and how they found hope through music. It also gives us a rare look at what El Sistema is all about. Moreover, the interviews, especially the wisdom shared by Dr. Abreu (whom the kids fondly call "grandpa"), is very inspiring. This film brings home a very important message; that music education shouldn't be exclusive, it should be inclusive. Truly a must-see.