Have you ever gotten an email that made you smile? Made you realize that all your work might actually be worth it? I really hope you have. It's like a little spark that can reignite your world-changing fire.
Late last year I was at the very end of a two-year film shoot. My crew and I were in Uganda where we had just filmed the return of our main subjects -- the Grammy-nominated African Children's Choir -- returning home after an 18-month world tour. We were sick and tired and driven to finish well. We were fortunate this specific night to have power so I opened my laptop to check email. And there it was. The email that gave me hope.
A father of elementary school students in Portland, Maine was helping organize the third annual Portland Children's Film Festival and wanted to screen Imba Means Sing. I couldn't believe it. We had not even finished shooting, barely had 1,000 Facebook fans and still had an enormous amount of money to raise and time to commit to editing this documentary feature. I, an idealistic and over-eager producer, immediately wrote back that we were in. Our film would not yet be ready and I didn't have a budget to come, but we had to be involved somehow. Oh, and P.S., how did you find us?
Mark, the father, wrote back saying that he found us on Google (thank you Google!) and that he'd get a sponsor to bring me there to share our story with the students and the artsy, academic town. So here I am, four months later at the Portland, Maine airport one my way home from a whirlwind weekend that I just had to share with you, dear Good News readers.
Two months ago Mark realized that the African Children's Choir (Choir 40, Imba Means Sing features Choir 39) was actually coming through their town. So we reached out to them to see if they could stop at their school. The Glee Club All Starz of the East End Community School planned a whole day of exchange with the Choir and the Ugandan children prepared their lessons to share with the Americans.
What happened blew everyone away. The two groups of children, with seemingly such different backgrounds, became the best of friends in their short hours together. They even cried when they had to say goodbye.
And then this weekend finally came. I got to fly up to meet this super cool community in Maine. I thought the best part would be selling our merchandise for the unfinished film or possibly meeting a new benefactor to help us cross the budget finish line. But what happened was actually a much greater gift for the film and me.
Merriam and Webster define "burnout" as the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time. After over two years of working day and night on this incredible film, despite my passion for the story, I was collapsing. Where I once could work for 18 hours a day at a quick and excited pace on Imba Means Sing, recently I couldn't wait until the end of eight hours for yoga and my latest guilty pleasure show on Hulu.
And then this past Friday night I walked into an event at the East End Community School and all my energy came back. It was like the feeling of Mark's email inviting Imba to the festival times a thousand more positive vibes. Twenty of the school's most gifted singers - many native to New England but even more refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan - sang songs they learned from the African Children's Choir. This diverse group of third through fifth graders belted and grooved and smiled just like the twenty children from Choir 39 that my heart so missed. I couldn't help but envision hundreds of more singing clubs around the country learning about the Choir through Imba Means Sing and sharing the joy of these All Starz.
After the brief concert, they screened clips of our work-in-progress film. I was so relieved as the audience laughed and sighed and cried right on cue. We really were making a film that would make people feel deeply, hopefully deeply enough to do something about the global education crisis or to support music and arts in their own communities. I felt the sudden call to dive back into my work full speed ahead and keep our eyes on the prize.
The screening ended and I was asked to join the Glee members on stage for a Q&A. Each student had typed out their own question to ask me in front of the audience. These eight to ten-year-olds (the same age as my friends and characters in Choir 39) asked me as important and difficult of questions as the prestigious grant applications and my CNN mentors do. How had spending two years with the Choir changed my perspective on life? Did I truly believe our film would help Uganda and how? What are my hopes for the film when it releases early next year? They also told me how touched they were by the story of these children - their same age - and felt so many similarities and learned so much from them through the video we shared. I always hoped our film would be a huge hit through educational distribution but in that moment, I realized the impact we can have to inspire and build confidence in our future leaders in America just like the Choir does for Uganda.
My hope is that choirs, glee clubs and children's film festivals around the country -- even the world -- will see this little blog post and be compelled to join our growing community around Imba Means Sing. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in coming along this journey.
Photos courtesy Imba Means Sing and the East End Community School.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Creative Visions Foundation. Personal opinion of the author only.