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Small Wonders
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by Charles Tatum

"You'll never think of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" the same way again"
4 stars

An inspiring documentary that spawned an Academy Award nominated feature film, "Small Wonders" deftly avoids many expected cliches.

Roberta Guaspari is a music teacher who serves three different elementary schools in New York City. Because of budget cuts, her violin program is on the chopping block, but a benefit concert is being held at Carnegie Hall, and the film makers follow Roberta around as she readies her sometimes unruly kids for the big night.

Director Miller's camera is very unintrusive, and the talking heads are kept to a minimum. I did think Guaspari would be a pie-eyed teacher spending the film talking about the magical innocence of children, but she is tough with her students. They seem to respond, using the discipline of learning the violin to improve other areas of their lives. The film makers follow one student, Jose, and his family, but she calls him out on his errors just as often as she does the other children. One scene has her kicking a student out for forgetting her violin on practice day, and not missing a beat keeping the other kids in line.

The highlight of the film is the Fiddlefest concert, and a jaw dropping segment featuring over a dozen famous violinists paired with some of Roberta's students. The sequence is pretty amazing, whether you are familiar with classical music or not. Technically, the film is average. Shot on video, it looks older than it is. I would be interested in seeing an update about some of the kids we meet, and Roberta herself. This film was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, and spawned "Music of the Heart" starring Meryl Streep as Roberta. That film also garnered Oscar nods.

"Small Wonders" is a small film with a big voice. Some of the hippie-dippie staff and teachers at the alternative schools are funny, but Roberta plugs along, teaching her way. This film is a must for inspiring educators everywhere, and happens to entertain the rest of us as well.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25770&reviewer=325
originally posted: 10/12/13 19:09:12
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USA
  01-Jan-1995 (G)
  DVD: 09-Jul-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Allan Miller

Written by
  (documentary)

Cast
  Roberta Guaspari
  Itzhak Perlman
  Isaac Stern



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