This movie was part of the “PLAY” mini-festival that was the musical part of IDFA this year. All of the selections dealt with music in some way and I was surprised that there were so few people at this, the opening movie of the festival, but perhaps 12.45 on a Saturday wasn’t a popular slot.
This documentary followed the extremely well-funded and exemplary music department at a private girls’ school in Sydney. Every two years, the eponymous teacher presents an enormous gala concert in the Sydney Opera House. We follow her travails as she deals with recalcitrant and sulky teenage girls and tries to motivate hormonal cellists. Two girls in particular are the focal points: the beautiful and very obnoxious Iris, who has no wish to be within 500 miles of this concert, and the awkward and formerly rebellious Emily, a very gifted violinist.
Iris was, of course, fun to watch. She was a master manipulator and it was enjoyable to watch her transformations between good/bad girl while being relieved that I’m not that age any longer, but she didn’t really seem to learn anything. If it had been a Hollywood film, she would have discovered herself through music and become a new person but that didn’t even come close to happening, thank goodness.
Emily was given an enormous task; to learn the first movement of the Bruch violin concerto. It was very interesting to follow her learning process and see her frustration when her teachers asked her to express in words what she felt musically. And of course, the final performance was a resounding success.
I was quite envious of the situation these girls were in and full of admiration for the dedication the teachers put in. I was in a good youth orchestra when I was in high school, but there’s no way we would have tackled some of the music these kids were performing. Ravel String Quartet? I don’t think so. Where on earth did the money come from for this sort of funding and coaching? Very impressive, but also not really realistic for most of the world. How can we turn it to our advantage when we don’t have a private school’s budget?
I stayed for the Q&A afterwards, always interesting. The directors said they had a surprise — and there was Emily! 4 years later, she has lost her awkwardness and has turned into an elegant young woman. She is currently studying at the Royal College of Music in London. After the session, I went up to speak with her and asked if she would just stay here for her studies or if she was planning on staying like so many of the rest of us. She said that she had called her mother last week and told her she didn’t want to come home. Good luck, Emily, and welcome to the club!