A Small Act

A Small Act


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Giving money to charities may feel like pouring guilt down a deep well. Does anyone follow the progress of these selfless acts of generosity? Hilde Back didn’t. A teacher in Sweden, she had signed up to provide a few dollars a month to pay for the high school education of a boy from a poor village in Kenya.

That boy was Chris, who ended up at Harvard and now works as a human rights lawyer with the UN. His sister achieved similar distinctions, at present investigating crimes against humanity on a global scale. Together they set up a charity under Hilde Back’s name to finance 10 of the brightest children from their home district to continue schooling after primary, as further education in Kenya is not free.

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So far, so dry. In fact, at the start of Jennifer Arnold’s documentary you wonder whether this is a cleverly disguised marketing ploy for Aid International (Africa). Such doubts are quickly dashed by Chris’s passion for his subject, Hilde’s modesty and the children’s plight. Added to these are the many layers of a story that becomes more and more absorbing as it unfolds.

Hilde is Jewish and left Germany as a girl. Her parents could not follow, due to Sweden's strict immigration policy, and later died in the Holocaust. Chris spent years trying to find her to thank her for changing his life. Eventually, they meet. Meanwhile, back at the school where Chris and his sister began their educational journey, the children prepare for the exams that will ascertain whether they are eligible for the Hilde Back bursaries.

What gives the film an edge is its immediacy and emotional impact. Chris talks of how ignorance is the seed bed for violence and intolerance. Hilde’s quiet life is turned around by the devotion and gratitude of her new African friends. The riots and killings that followed Kenya’s disputed elections happen during the making of the film and then, of course, there are the results of the exams and the decision about who will and who won’t be chosen.

Nothing quite matches anticipation like the fulfilment of a dream. Whether Arnold knew what she had when she started is unlikely. A Small Act is the culmination of hope over diversity, perfectly attuned, signifying the very best in human nature.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2010
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Giving poor children in Kenya a chance of further education and offering them hope for a better life.

Director: Jennifer Arnold

Writer: Jennifer Arnold

Year: 2010

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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