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A Small Act - Movie Review - 2010

A Small Act is A Huge Achievement

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A Small Act - Movie Review - 2010

A Samll Act - Kimani Studying

Considered Entertainment
In A Small Act, filmmaker Jennifer Arnold illuminates the story of Chris Mburu and the Hilde Back Education Fund.

Mburu, now an esteemed United Nations human rights advocate, grew up in an impoverished household in rural Kenya. He was a bright, studious child whose family couldn't pay for his education. Luckily, a Swedish teacher named Hilde Back decided to donate $15 per month to educate a child in Kenya. Chris Mburu was that child. Now he's determined to pay forward Back's generosity by covering the costs of other kids' education.

Finding A Way To Pay It Forward

Years later, Mburu, now a Harvard graduate, observing that families in his village still can't pay for their children's education, establishes the Hilde Back Education Fund -- named for his benefactor, whom he managed to locate through Sweden's ambassador to Kenya -- to finance secondary education for needy, deserving students.

We follow three remarkably engaging students -- Kimani, Ruth and Caroline, ranking first, second and third in their class -- who can't go to high school without sponsorship. Although the kids are in competition with each other for a scholarship they desperately want because they know it will lift them and their families out of poverty, they're also good friends who generously help each other. Picking one of them over the others seems an impossible task. But the Hilde Back Education Fund has high standards and limited resources. So there's an element of suspense -- and potential heartbreak -- about who'll benefit from this year's small act of kindness.

In a second story line, we learn how Mburu located his benefactor in Sweden, and became friends with her. Back is utterly charming, fascinating and demure. Her story, as it turns out, is as moving as Mburu's. She was born in Germany, where she, a young Jewish girl, was persecuted by the Nazis, and denied an education. She fled to Sweden, leaving behind her parents who could not get visas. They were Holocaust victims. She never saw them again. Yet, she had the heart to sponsor a Kenyan child's education. Mburu's tribute to Back brings her story full circle.

Great Storytelling and Honoring Context

Arnold, cinematographer Patti Lee, and editors Carl Pfirman and Tyler Hubby do a brilliant job of weaving the various story lines -- Mburu's, Back's, Kimani's, Ruth's and Caroline's and others -- into a meaningful, very moving and cohesive narrative. It's important, too, that they show that establishment and celebration of the Hilde Back Education Fund and the search for deserving students takes place during political upheaval in Kenya, and the eruption of tribal rivalries that threaten to ignite the kind of violence and genocide that killed Back's family in Nazi Germany and that Mburu has, in his various UN postings, tries to prevent in other nations. Actually, putting Mburu's, Back's and the students' achievements into this extremely threatening political context ups the ante on the inspiration factor in a major way. It's impossible to see A Small Act and not want to do your own small act to help wherever you see a pressing need.

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Film Details:

  • Title: A Small Act
  • Director: Jennifer Arnold
  • Release Date: July, 2010 (HBO Broadcast)
  • Running Time: 88 mins.
  • Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
  • Location: Kenya, Sweden, Switzerland
  • Language: English, Kikuyu, Swedish, Swahili
  • Production Country: USA
  • Company: Considered Entertainment/HBO Documentaries
  • Trailer
  • Official Website

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