Wednesday, 18 August 2010

"The Choir" ~ a documentary featuring the choir of Leeukwop Prison

I rank this film as a 'Must See'.  As it's more likely to be screened on television than in cinemas it's definitely worth making time to watch it whenever and wherever it is screened.  It was filmed over a number of years and follows the progress of a choir, a group of prisoners, at the overcrowded Leeukwop Prison.

They are lead by a middle-aged inmate doing time for bank robbery.  Deeply regretting the path that led to his imprisonment he is determined not only to live a better life himself, but also to help other inmates do so as well.  He brow-beats and coaxes the young men in his choir into glorious singing and better attitudes to their difficulties.  One particular young man with a fine voice comes to his attention and we follow the two of them throughout the documentary, seeing something of hardship of prison life but also the jubilation and freedom of expression that singing brings to those in the choir.  

Here is the trailer:  

This review in The Sydney Morning Herald gives more detail of the content, and the SBS page a little more.

Despite it's upbeat tone, the documentary makes it clear that there are no easy answers to crime, especially in South Africa which is described as the most violent country in the world which is not at war.  That it is also riddled with poverty and HIV/AIDS means that a life of crime can be part of the struggle simply to survive.

However, both the choirmaster and his pupil are released early for good behaviour, and continue in their determination to turn their lives around.  Many difficulties lie ahead of them, but by the end of the film both have managed to establish themselves in a new way of life.  We see the young man with his wife tenderly holding a new baby and the way looks set for a new purpose and direction for him.  The choirmaster eventually returns to the prison, this time as a paid employee, to continue his work leading the choir.

Sadly, the young man has since died, of complications from AIDS, so his story does have a tragic ending.  Nonetheless his short life stands as an inspiration to all of us: in his tenacity of purpose and his determination to overcome what seem like insurmountable odds, for making a place in his life for love of a family, a regular job and the dignity of what he knew to be right.

Thanks to Michael Davie, who filmed and directed this documentary, for sharing the story of these two remarkable men, and of others who were also filmed showing courage and dignity in the face of their own difficulties.  For those of us in more comfortable circumstances the movie serves as a reminder not to self-righteously judge those less fortunate than ourselves. 

The Choir is available for purchase - click here

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