Films about high school music concerts, choral groups and choirs have been around for years. “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, starring Richard Dreyfuss, as a music teacher aspiring to compose just one great piece of music, and the TV shows “Glee” and “Fame” come quickly to mind. But documentaries about music departments, teachers, and high school students on the subject vary; depending on the vision of the documentarian and the willingness of real students and adults to participate.
The film “Big Voice”, made by award-winning filmmaker Varda Bar-Kar, receives its World Premiere screening at the Heartland Film Festival of Indianapolis, Indiana on October 18th. It makes its local festival debut at the LA Femme International Film Festival on October 17th in Beverly Hills, CA.
As with many things in life, big events often have small beginnings. Filmmaker Bar-Kar was attending a Santa Monica, California, High School music concert one year and was moved to tears by the beauty of the choir’s ‘voice’. “I wanted to find out how Santa Monica High School music teacher and Choir Master Jeffe Huls did it. I realized that a documentary film that told the story of a dedicated teacher (Huls) who makes a profound difference in his student’s lives and to reveal how valuable arts education can be [in our society]”, became a reality in a year-long filming effort chronicling events that became the film “Big Voice”; now playing on America’s film festival circuit.
Huls is not only a charismatic and articulate teacher, he is also a creative, caring, and understanding person. High school teenagers, some feeling their oats from time to time or coming to grips with their real or perceived inadequacies, can be challenging to convince that they all possess talent. Huls is a gifted leader who understands his role as one similar to that of a military drill instructor during basic training. He teaches his raw recruits. He shapes them turning them into a polished unified choral group that gives each student a sense of self-worth and a purpose and a place in the world.
There are several of scenes of Huls either in repose, thinking, or planning that poignantly will resonate with teachers. Teaching is truly a noble profession, but at times one also can sense the feeling of what it must be like to feel the loneliness of the long distance runner/teacher. They can never really be your sons or daughters. They belong to society. But like parents everywhere, we worry and are concerned about their futures.
But it’s all up to these eager youngsters as Huls continually counsels them. The class and a year-end choral presentation by the students demand discipline, hard work, commitment and dedication. That’s the matra they hear from Huls. To watch the young choir grow in skill and self-confidence is what makes “Big Voice” so compelling a film.
Obviously, the star of the documentary is Jeff Huls, but director Bar-Kar wouldn’t have so compelling a film without the cooperation of the students who feel pretty comfortable being trailed around by a camera crew. Their articulate observations and commentary is most impressive when one considers they’re just high school youngsters. But, on the other hand, it all takes place in Santa Monica, near Hollywood, where the living is easy and laid-back.
“Big Voice” is easy on the eyes and is very technically proficient documentary thanks to the director of photography Keet Daron and editor Robert McFalls, who know how photograph and edit all the footage being shot over the course of an entire high school year
This is a film that needs to be seen on PBS and screens all over America. And by the way, our education system and our society now more than ever needs the Jeffe Huls of this world.