CM . . . . Volume XV Number 17. . . .April 17, 2009.
These Forgotten Voices: A Choir That Defies Prejudice.
Blaise Barrette (Director). Patricia Bergeron (Producer). Yves Bisaillon (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
43 min., sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9908 186.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Early into this film, I was ready to discount it as it is all in French with subtitles. Few high school classes would sit through a film that is all subtitled. However, I let it play longer, and I am very glad I did.
This is a beautiful film.
These Forgotten Voices is the recording of a plan to form a choir of mentally ill people and have them perform a concert. After auditions, 15 people were selected for a position on this unique choir and then prepared between October 2006 and May 2007 for a public performance. None of the choir members had any experience in public singing, and they were not necessarily chosen for their musical ability. As the film progresses, we see that each member develops more confidence,and what initially seemed daunting actually became enjoyable and helpful.
The choir dynamic provided a common cause for the participants. Most had never felt part of anything before. Being in the choir gave them a sense of belonging. Since the choir was small, each person's contribution was important. Many of the members state that they had never experienced this feeling of being needed.
The film focuses on each member and shows that some are quite surprised by their own ability to carry this out. At times, some question if they can actually succeed. However, the choir unit gives them the motivation to succeed.
On performance night, clearly all the work has been worth it. Even though one singer is so nervous that his microphone is shaking like a fan, he gets through his songs and is thrilled to have performed. All of the choir members state that the performance was a highlight in their lives.
The backdrop to this film is actually quite sad. All these people want are things that many take for granted - the feeling of being needed, a feeling of purpose and a feeling of belonging. As the film progresses, we get to know the choir members. They are without pretense and, as they improve, we are proud of their achievements. They are too. Before now, the idea of being successful has been elusive to them.
These Forgotten Voices is a subtly seductive film. Initially the choir members are strangers, both to the viewer and to each other. However, as we get to know them, we want this choir to succeed, and we want each of the choir members to be happy with the performance and with themselves. Many have had lives of sadness which they share on film.
This film could certainly be used in a Music class to show the power of choirs and music or in Psychology, Sociology, and Parenting courses. Despite the subtitles, this film could be used in a senior classroom. In a Francophones class, These Forgotten Voices would be wonderful.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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