Saturday, April 07, 2012

[SFS Talkies] A Small Act

Nothing warms the heart more than passing on an act of kindness that was extended to you, more so when it comes from a total stranger who does not know who you are, and doing it with the intention that the deed will help one's life and change it for the better. And when that opportunity is an education, which most say is one of the major keys in combating poverty and breaking out of the poverty cycle, then you can just about imagine the immense assistance this would have been, especially when one makes it in life, and return to see how those who have not been afforded the same chance, get to be unfortunately languished behind.

Produced by HBO, this documentary written and directed by Jennifer Arnold takes on two narrative tracks, one that tells the story of Kenyan Chris Mburu, who was an exceptional student but if not for the graces of Swede Hilde Back, a Jew who had fled Nazi Germany, he would not have made it to secondary school as he can't afford the fees. Now a successful United Nations human rights advocate, he returns to his home country to set up a scholarship fund of his own, and the other narrative track follows the story of three potential students whom one of them may be a recipient of the same opportunity extended to Chris himself - a paid for education.

Jennifer Arnold puts tremendous focus on each of the real life persons featured in this documentary, taking its time to paint their background and their individual stories, revisiting their past, and providing a snapshot of their present. We learn of Hilde Back in a little more detail rather than to wholly center this film in the African nation of Kenya, and see how she lives a life that's self-sufficient, and never flinching in sieving out opportunities to help others who are less well off, in other parts of the world. Substantial screen time gets devoted to Chris Mburu, his academic path taken and professional career track, since he anchors the film in both narrative arcs, being one who had benefitted from a kind act, and wanting to pay it forward.

But unlike Hilde's rather anonymous effort, this documentary provided a more personal feel in getting somewhat involved in tracing how his scholarship programme got off the ground, and engages the audience as we follow how it will finally boil down to one winner amongst three children featured, all with bright potential, but the resources, always finite, will determine funding for one. It's a little bit heart wrenching to see the kids pit themselves against one another at this level given they are friends, and have comical anecdotes to share, but there's a little ray of light that shone during the end credits that I would be surprised given the level of involvement if it wasn't resolved in that fashion.

Perhaps this documentary will touch and move you in similar fashion to want to do more for the underprivileged, and to contribute within one's means, something meaningful to better the lives of others. It reminds us that giving doesn't necessarily mean to do so with fan fare, extravagance or with ulterior motives, so long as it comes from a willing heart, and a genuine concern in helping others become better people, or to assist in the fulfillment of potential, that hopefully one remembers to pay it forward and snowball such efforts from there, like a ripple effect. This film also helped to open one's eyes to the natural landscapes and issues faced in Kenya, but help doesn't always need to extend to a great distance. Just start in one's own backyard.

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