Documentary ‘Imba Means Sing’ to screen at MountainSummit in Aspen |

Documentary ‘Imba Means Sing’ to screen at MountainSummit in Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The African Children's Choir performs in five countries in the documentary "Imba Means Sing," playing Saturday afternoon at MountainSummit.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘Imba Means Sing’ at MountainSummit

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Saturday. Aug. 29, 3:30 p.m.

How much: $12

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

The talented young members of the African Children’s Choir sing for their future in the new documentary “Imba Means Sing.”

The family-friendly film, which screens Saturday afternoon at MountainSummit, follows the Grammy-nominated, Uganda-based choir on a world tour and then back home to Africa, where proceeds from their performances fund their education through college.

The program was founded by activist Ray Barnett in 1984, aiming to educate children affected by the Ugandan civil war. It has since expanded to seven African countries and has helped upward of 50,000 children go to school. As the film outlines, choir members have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, educators and engineers.

“Imba Means Sing” brings viewers along with the choir over two years as it tours the world. Among its charming stars are Angel, who wants to be the first female president of Uganda, and Moses, who hopes to become a pilot (and gets a flying lesson while on the road with the choir).

The film is playful at times — showing kids playing “Go Fish” on a tour bus, frolicking through Times Square, singing the national anthem at an Atlanta Braves Game — but also it’s a call for education as a basic human right.

Producer Erin Bernhardt hopes it will inspire audiences to action. She sees it more as a movement than a movie.

Bernhardt first met the choir in 2007 — her first summer out of college — when she was working as an outreach coordinator for the rock band Dispatch. She brought the choir, which had just been nominated for a Grammy, on board to perform with the band during a series of fundraising shows at Madison Square Garden. The experience changed her view of voluntarism.

“I had been doing all kinds of social justice work, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons,” she said. “I was doing it because it made me feel good or because I wanted a resume builder. After meeting the kids, it flipped a switch for me.”

Bernhardt had already committed to serve in the Peace Corps, and that fall went to Madagascar. Two years later, she came home to work as a writer and producer for CNN. By then she’d lost touch with the choir, but went with a group of young professionals to volunteer in Uganda and had a chance run-in with its members. She decided to do a story on them for CNN International, which aired in 2010, but wanted to do more.

“I said, ‘This isn’t enough, this story is so great,’” Bernhardt said.

She soon quit her job to work full-time on the documentary, which kept her on the road with the choir for two years — across the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and back to Uganda.

She made the film with young people in mind aiming to spur millenials to action. Bernhardt’s goal is for 1 million people to see it — and with a nearly non-stop festival tour running through November, a recent screening at the United Nations Youth Assembly and prospects of national distribution high, that’s not impossible. More importantly, she’s hopeful that 1 in 100 people who see it will be prompted to support the choirs, get involved with a cause closer to home or start something new to help people in need.

“That would be 10,000 people who will make the world a better place because they were inspired by the story,” she said.

All of the profits from the film are going toward building a secondary school in Uganda. Bernhardt said the land already has been acquired.

While they were on tour, moving from host family to host family in affluent communities where kids had their own bedrooms and pools to swim in and had their first encounters with running water, Berhnardt expected the return home to Uganda to be a rude awakening. She was surprised by what happened instead, and inspired by what it said about the importance of family and community.

“What will always stick with me is how when they got home, they were happier to be home in their slums than they were being on stage with famous musicians,” she said. “That was incredible.”

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