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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Imba Means Sing is a documentary that follows 20 young members of the African Children's Choir (Number 39) on an 18-month tour of the United States, with stops in Canada and the U.K. Everything is seen through the eyes of the kids: They sing; they dance; they find great joy in some of the Western world's most kid-friendly activities for the first time (a bowling alley, NYC, a snowfall, skating, a campfire). Audiences are treated to a few of the kids' most heartfelt observations and feelings. Other than one mention of homesickness, no obstacles stand in their way. The filmmaking team doesn't ignore the grim living conditions in Uganda that these kids temporarily leave behind, but even those situations are explored with a sense of hopefulness for the future and show the loving nature of their families. Contributions are solicited in the final credits.
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What's the story?
IMBA MEANS SING finds all the wonder to be had from a group of 20 young kids from Uganda on a well-organized adventure in the West. Director Danielle Bernstein and her team follow the African Children's Choir (Number 39) from the earliest moments of preparation all the way to their re-entrance into Uganda and the primary boarding school that will be their home for the next years. Spotlights on Moses, a precocious 10-year-old talent; Nina, a bright, thoughtful tween; and Angel, with teeth missing and the desire to become a "president" provide in-depth portraits. But each and every kid has at least a moment to shine. The tour is relatively uneventful, except for the glorious experiences audiences are treated to through the kids' eyes. They're seen in concert, in the homes of host families, in the hands of their teachers and leaders, and participating in a ton of wonderful activities that surprise and delight them. They're also seen with their own families, and we see their separation and the emotional adjustments that must be made.
Is it any good?
Always engaging, with close-ups of kids who make the heart soar, this joyful film doesn't ignore the poverty from which these young "artists" come but eases that with a promise for the future. These are brave children, willing to leave their homes and families for a long period of time, willing to leave them again to attend a boarding school, all in the hopes of lifting themselves and their families from the numbing poverty and deprivation that is the only world they know. The kids are always aware of their need to perform well so they can raise money for their educations. Director Bernstein focuses on the positive; never have such broad smiles been so constant. Younger audiences will appreciate the happy adventure and identify with the kids as they venture into the West. Older kids and grown-ups will respond to that, too, but they'll also recognize the underlying sadness of families separated and the heavy responsibilities placed on very young shoulders. Imba Means Sing is an ideal film for families to watch together.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how different daily life is in much of the U.S. and in Uganda. Seeing those contrasts, were you surprised that the kids from Africa in Imba Means Sing, perhaps a world away from your world, have the same dreams as you and your friends?
What does Moses mean when he says, "I'm starting to understand why they are sponsoring us." What was there about his return to Uganda that opened his eyes?
How different would the choir members' lives have been if they were not selected? Do you think watching this movie might motivate you to get involved with programs that transform people? What opportunities are there in your community for young people to make a difference?
- In theaters: December 4, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: May 31, 2016
- Cast: African Children's Choir #39
- Director: Danielle Bernstein
- Studio: Entertainment One
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Adventures, Arts and dance
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 75 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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