An inspiring and uplifting documentary set in outback NSW, this is the story of a 130 strong children’s choir, which is renewed each year, thanks to the efforts of a local for whom this is a passion project.
Every March Michelle Leonard steps into her car and heads west. Travelling more than 4,000 kilometres across the most remote and disadvantaged region of the state, she visits 30 towns, 55 schools and auditions 2,000 children for her Moorambilla Voices Regional Choir. The locale is a place where footy is king and music education is as rare as rain. To find a child who can sing three notes in tune is sometimes a struggle. While finding kids who can sing is necessary, for Michelle it’s more important to uncover the ones that have a ”burning need to express themselves, outside the environment they’re in”.
The doco chronicles several children’s journeys – and four in particular – as well as that of Michelle and her team. Most kids’ only singing experiences are with “X-Box and Wiis” but Michelle has high expectations. She doesn’t want to teach these primary school-aged children any old music. Rather, she focuses upon contemporary, original, complex music by Australia’s best up-and-coming composers. She wants the children to sing in parts and perform with the Sydney Symphony Youth Orchestra in front of hundreds of people. It’s demanding, but it’s not the X-Factor.
It’s a tough yet supportive environment. Climbing the ladder with her the children learn they are capable of a lot more than they realise. Many spend time away from home for the first time (at a music camp).
The quartet in sharp focus includes a small but versatile and resilient aboriginal boy named Kyhnan from Lightning Ridge, who always gives 100 percent, whether he’s playing footy or singing. Also from Lightning Ridge is Mack, who unlike many local boys loves singing and dancing. He is a Billy Elliot type and the choir presents him with a rare chance to find other children with whom he can connect. Taylah is from Brewarrina. From a big Aboriginal family and not lacking in self-confidence, she has a strong voice and is somewhat of a local star, who hopes to learn how to read and write music. Opal lives in Grawin, a remote dusty settlement with three pubs and a general store. She has a pure voice and a hidden talent for composition. What a wonderful story this is. Michelle Leonard comes across as an effusive force of nature, who has only the very best of motives and achieves something very special with the children that come under her tutelage.
Boychoir, released in 2014, was a feature film starring Dustin Hoffman that appeared far more manipulated than this delightful account. The original quotes and commentary from the children is priceless. Each of them is a character in his/her own right and we want them to succeed. We are witness to the confidence boost they get when they receive encouragement. I assure you it is not all beer and skittles, so to speak, as these children are made to work hard.
Writer, director and co-producer Lisa Nicol has done an excellent job in bringing to life this little slice of paradise. Carolyn Constantine’s cinematography is a feature. We get a really good feel of the towns. At times I felt like I was a fly on the wall looking in on proceedings, which is a terrific way to engage an audience.
Wide Open Sky is a positive story that had to be told.
Rated G, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Lisa Nicol
Cast: Michelle Leonard
Release Date: 14 April 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television