The world premiere of Rise and Dream earned an enthusiastic reception Saturday afternoon at the Thin Line Film Fest. After the film crew answered questions from the audience following the screening, viewers treated them to a rare standing ovation.
Saturday marked the second day of the festival, the only documentary film festival in the state. Rise and Dream, a documentary about 13 Filipino teenagers who committed to learn traditional instruments for a historic concert, was among the first films eligible for festival prizes. The documentary drew a small number of Filipino North Texans.
The film showed the painstaking process undertaken by musician Barclay Martin and producers filming the work of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging in impoverished areas of Zamboanga City, a region of the southern Philippines dotted with occasional outbursts of terrorism. The young musicians, their teachers and the foundation film crew went up against the weather, incredible economic demands and even the occasional cranky snake to stage a free concert showcasing the talent - and sheer, single-minded dedication - of the teenagers, who are sponsored by the foundation.
"These families are on very
narrow margins," said executive producer Paul Pearce, who is also the director of global strategy with the foundation. "Our work in Zamboanga is really about helping families to keep their children in school. These are images of poverty that you really don't see in the media, in the press. Yes, these families are very poor. But there is such a deep love in children for their parents and on the part of parents for their children. So many of these children - as you see in the film - say that they want to go to school and do well because they want to relieve their parents of this suffering. I don't think that's something you see a lot."
The foundation is a lay Catholic organization working independent of any diocese or the Vatican to serve the poor in 22 countries. The foundation uses a sponsorship model in which donors adopt a child, teen or an elderly person for as little as $30 a month. The funding covers medical care for children and teens, and helps them to stay in school. Elderly men and women who are sponsored get medical care, nutrition and training so that they can support themselves.
"We've never been on TV," Pearce said, differentiating the foundation from other, better-known children's charities that run television advertisements asking for child sponsorships. "We've been doing this for 30 years, and we've grown by word of mouth."
The foundation chose to document its efforts in Zamboanga City both because so many people live in poverty and because Christian, Muslim and Buddhist families live in integrated neighborhoods. While religious tensions feed the random violence in the city, the foundation's young sponsors socialize and go to school with children of other faiths.
"Part of the beauty of the film for us was how these children show you that people of different religions can live together peaceably," Pearce said. "The people of the Philippines have taught us that it's very possible to have peace, and not pay as much attention to differences."
Martin - a Kansas City, Mo., singer-songwriter who sounds just like James Taylor - brought the 13 children together to put on a concert.
"At first, these kids showed up with guitars and drumsticks, like they were going to start an American-style rock band," said Martin, who surprised the audience with two songs from the film before the screening. "You heard them. When they talked about Filipino music, every single kid said they thought it was boring. It was really special to see them decide they wanted to learn how to play this music and then, at the end [of the concert] to also do modern, more Western music. It was really kind of full circle."
Martin found expert teachers of the kulintang, a set of tuned bowls struck by sticks; the dabakan, a goblet drum; the agung, a toned gong, and other instruments. They taught the students for two months. On the day of the concert, about 10,000 people from Zamboanga City attended.
Keller residents Tim and Teresa Johnson attended the screening. They sponsor a Filipino girl named Nicole through the foundation. The Catholic couple said they sponsored the girl as a means of practicing their faith.
"It's a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that led us to this," Tim Johnson said. "It's been a long journey from the materialism we used to live back to our faith. We used to be really caught up in it."
Teresa Johnson said they learned about the foundation through their parish, and that they deliberately brought their three young nieces to see the film.
"We wanted them to see what we're doing through our sponsorship, what it's all about," she said. "And then, we'll sponsor another child together."
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIN LINE FILM FEST
Single tickets: $8
Students, seniors and military personnel with ID (must be purchased in person): $6
Groups of 25 or more: $4 per person
Opening and closing screenings (no discounts available): $10
Opening and closing receptions (no discounts): $15
Panel discussions: $8
Students, seniors and military receive 20 percent off with valid ID; available in-person only.
All-Access pass: $150 (price drops after Friday)
Weekend pass (Friday to Sunday): $50
Opening and closing pass (no discounts): $20
To buy tickets, visit http://thinlinefilmfest.com, visit the box office at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St., or call 1-888-893-4560 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.
noon - Moving On*
2:30 p.m. - Grace and Mercy*
5 p.m. - Short films, Block 4*
7 p.m. - Bill W.*
9 p.m. - Thin Line after-party at Banter, 209 W. Oak St.
*Campus Theatre screenings, 214 W. Hickory St.