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Kinshasa Symphony / Film by Claus Wischmann & Martin Baer [DVD]

Notes & Reviews:

Two hundred orchestral musicians are playing Beethoven's Ninth - "Freude schöner Götterfunken". A power outage strikes just a few bars before the last movement. Problems like this are the least of the worries facing the only symphony orchestra in the Congo. In the 15 years of its existence, the musicians have survived two putsches, various crises and a war. But concentration on the music and hopes for a better future keep them going.

Kinshasa Symphony is a study of people in one of the world's most chaotic cities doing their best to maintain one of the most complex systems of joint human endeavor: a symphony orchestra. The film is about the Congo, the people in Kinshasa and the power of music.

The orchestra is planning a major open-air concert to mark the anniversary of independence for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An audience of several thousand is expected to attend. Very few of them have any experience of classical music. The program includes Beethoven's Ninth, Orff's Carmina Burana and works by Dvorak and Verdi. Armand Diangienda is fully aware that the trickier passages do not sound very convincing yet. The choir is having trouble getting the notes right and pronouncing the German text. And the day of the concert is getting closer all the time ...

SELECTED AWARDS: - Gold World Medal New York Festival 2011 New York USA

- Audience Award Vancouver International Film Festival

- Best Cinematography Rhodes Island International Film Festival

- Audience Award Les Toiles Filantes Pessac France

- Best Documentary CMJ 2010 International Film Festival New York City

- Best Documentary and Audience Award 25. Bozener Filmtage Bozen Italy

Press Quotes

- "For me, the strongest impression at the Berlinale was KINSHASA SYMPHONY, no doubt about it." -Academy Award Winner Volker Schlöndorff

- "A superb and affecting documentary about some highly unusual musicians, the staggering challenges they face in their everyday lives, the amazing city they live in and the power of Beethoven's Ninth." Die Zeit

- "KINSHASA SYMPHONY is an ode to joy!" The Economist

- "Beautifully photographed and sonically stellar." Variety

National Public Radio
An amazing new documentary film is a must-see not just for music lovers, but for anyone who needs to see the nourishing power of the arts and human connections.

This is a fascinating film about attempts to establish and maintain the only symphony orchestra in the Congo ... A 95-minute documentary with 10 minutes of bonus material, Kinshasa Symphony has at its heart an event so emblematic that it is hard to believe it actually happened: just before the final, choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth, the power goes out. This quickly becomes a metaphor for the power of music and the staying power of the musicians, who are determined to perform despite long, long odds. Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer balance the musical lives of the orchestra's players with their worse-than-humdrum everyday existence, which is often a struggle nearly unimaginable to concertgoers and to musicians elsewhere in the world. Watching these musicians (some of whom are quite good) practice outdoors amid slums, play on street corners while indifferent pedestrians pass them by, and attempt to assemble a semblance of elegance for a full-scale performance, viewers will be rooting for them all the way. And what better music to stand for joy and uplift in human existence than Beethoven's Ninth? ... the film as a whole works wonderfully well, showing how a combination of hope and musical focus is allowing these hard-pressed musicians to survive, if not exactly thrive, in a remarkably harsh and unforgiving social and political environment.


Inspiration Beyond Words

This truly remarkable documentary about the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sole symphony orchestra powerfully depicts the collective challenges facing the 16-year-old organization of amateur, mostly self-taught musicians, including: internal and external wars, widespread sexual violence, poverty, disease and famine. The filmmakers balance this overall perspective with a sharp focus on a half-dozen individual musicians whose dedicated efforts to sustain and improve their artistry while struggling to make a living are representative of all 200 members. What the film does best, however, is capture the pure, transforming joy of creating music, no matter the circumstances or setting. To their credit, the filmmakers never preach or try to manipulate the viewer’s emotions; they simply let the strength and resilience and ambition of the musicians speak for itself. Their collective story is heartbreaking, eye-opening, surreal, often funny and profoundly uplifting.

Submitted on 02/22/12 by Dean Brierly 
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