Big Voice 2015
Distributed by The Video Project, 145 - 9th St., Suite 102, San Francisco, CA 94103; 800-475-2638
Produced by Varda Bar-Kar
Directed by Varda Bar-Kar
DVD, color, 88 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Music Education, Arts Education
Date Entered: 09/16/2016Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO
Championing the cause of arts education in public schools, Varda Bar-Kar’s Big Voice is an entertaining and uplifting portrait of a dedicated teacher and the students he motivates to strive for excellence. Bar-Kar (A Million Spokes (2010), House of Heather web series) takes us inside the award-winning choral arts program at Santa Monica High School, where vocal music director Jeffe Huls lays out an ambitious year for his elite ensemble, the madrigal choir, including expanding it in size to eight voices per part.
Huls is a gifted teacher with high expectations for himself and others, passionate about music and about conveying that passion to his students. Though there are light-hearted moments in rehearsals, Huls brooks no nonsense in the classroom—students understand that they’re to come prepared to work hard. And the students, for the most part, do so. Bar-Kar’s interviews with them are full of unguarded moments where we learn what’s going on in their lives outside the choir room: a class schedule loaded with Advanced Placement courses, worries about getting into college, the ups and downs of a romantic relationship, struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy when the family faces an eviction notice.
Granted intimate access over the course of a school year, Bar-Kar follows Huls and his ensemble from auditions and a team-building retreat in the mountains, through weeks of rehearsals, fundraisers and concerts to state-level competition where all their efforts to reach the highest level of performance are put to the test.
Top-quality in every technical aspect, Big Voice is a clear call for support and funding of arts education in the public schools. It’s an especially fine choice for school and academic libraries supporting programs in music education and performance, and deserves a place in public library collections as well. Nearly forty minutes of bonus materials expand on Huls’ musical roots, his approach to teaching and his effectiveness as a teacher, as observed by his students. Plus, in reference to the film’s title, there’s a delightful clip on what one “big voice” feels like. Scene selection and a 53-minute version included on the DVD enhance its classroom-friendliness. Closed captioned.
- Best U.S. Premiere, Documentary Feature, Heartland Film Festival
- Best Documentary Feature, NFMLA Film Festival