IDFA 2016, Singing with Angry Bird

Completely charming and heartwarming. ‘Angry Bird’ is a Korean tenor, obviously of operatic background, who somehow fell into the NGO world and is teaching choir to slum kids in Pune, India. How he communicates with them is a mystery, as his English is quite terrible and he mostly yells and sputters.
This was probably the most traditional ‘documentary’ I saw at IDFA this year. Go to an exotic destination, see how different/difficult the native way of life is, put together a project that challenges them, watch them struggle and seemingly fail, follow them to the ultimately successful culmination of the project, feel warm and fuzzy while being thankful for the distance between your life and theirs.
I began this review by calling this film heartwarming and charming, but that doesn’t preclude an innate colonial disdain. I’m feeling an increasing discomfort with films that treat the natives as Natives, fundamentally different from Us in their bumbling quaint ways. The films I got the most from this year were Radio Kobani and Prison Sisters. Radio Kobani began in utter desolation and desperation, but ended with a note of hope, while Prison Sisters had a longer trajectory – desperation, hope, back to hopelessness. But neither of them had an ‘other’ approach. We were watching other cultures but without a feeling of preciousness. I can’t put my finger on the difference, but it is increasingly important to be aware of it.


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