Every autumn, Australian conductor Michelle Leonard drives 4,000 kms across the outback of New South Wales in order to audition over 2,000 children for her Moorambilla Voices choir. Wide Open Sky is a documentary by director Lisa Nicol that chronicles the journey of this choir from auditions to their end-of-year concert, which is the headline act at the annual Moorambilla Festival in Coonamble, a country town with a population of a few thousands.
At the beginning of Wide Open Sky, viewers get told that this area is the one of the most remote and disadvantaged regions in the state. For the children living there, the choir represents a rare opportunity for them not only to learn music, but also to express themselves outside the usual environment they are in.
It is clear that Leonard is passionate about what she does. She is portrayed as a strong and energetic leader, and the driving force behind the success of her choir. The official website for the choir, Moorambilla Voices, states that it is "so much more than a program for country kids to learn about artistic expression. It's a program that helps them find their voice, their passion and their path for the future". Besides Leonard, another important person the children got to meet in their preparation for the concert was Alice Chance, a beautiful composer described by the children as having the 'voice of an angel'. She is seen as kind and caring, as evident by her inclusion of the children's ideas in her compositions for the concert.
While viewers are told that these children are from some of most disadvantaged parts of our lucky country, and that the vast majority of them need financial help to be able to go to the training camp and the concert, the film does not explore their socioeconomic difficulties in depth. Personally, I would like to have learned more about the children's living environment and the problems they and their families face because of their financial situation and geographic isolation.
Overall, this documentary is inspiring and joyful. It is about finding one's own voice and that remarkable feeling one gets when meeting other people who share the same interest and passion. When you hear the children's laughter and see the sparkles in their eyes, it is impossible not to fall in love with them and wish them every success both at the concert and in their future.
Wide Open Sky is showing at this year's Sydney Film Festival as part of the Festival's new expanded program of family cinema. With a short and sweet running time of just under 80 minutes, this heart-warming film is great for younger audiences and will give them the chance to take part in the city's biggest film festival.
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