Download the press release here.
Documentary to Broadcast on POV June 25, 2018
Shot in the slums of Pune, India, Singing with Angry Bird is the story of a passionate Korean opera singer, the children he teaches to sing and their reluctantly supportive parents. The teacher, Jae-Chang Kim, is nicknamed “Angry Bird” by the children because of his temperamental personality.
Singing with Angry Bird has its national broadcast and streaming debut on the PBS documentary series POV and pov.org on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series now in its 31st season.
Directed by Hyewon Jee and produced by Sunah Kim, the film chronicles Jae-Chang Kim’s work with the Banana Children’s Choir in Pune, India, and his quest to show the children’s parents how music fosters self-confidence and opens their minds beyond their surroundings. In order to convince the children’s mothers and fathers, the dedicated teacher recruits and trains them to sing in the choir alongside their kids in a joint concert.
The film focuses on three families and follows a 15-month journey from the parents’ first rehearsal to the final concert. There are many challenges presented by the lack of time, resources and near-tragic events. Nevertheless, music brings parents and children closer, providing a vibrant contrast to the parents’ work and daily grind.
Cherub-faced Sinduja is Angry Bird’s star pupil. Her parents, Ramalu Rathod and Alvela, are hard-working fishmongers. Initially, they don’t see the benefit of Sinduja singing on the choir and don’t want to participate in the joint concert. Their daughter, however, is persuasive. In a jubilant scene, Sinduja calls and urges her father to come to the parents’ choir rehearsal.
Rahul is a new member of the children’s choir with a promising voice. His father, Hanumant Walikar, is a handsome man with a broad smile. He is enthusiastic about the parents’ choir and looks forward to the joint concert. Unfortunately a series of bad circumstances, including his needing to care for his sick infant granddaughter, keep him away from the choir.
“I’ll be really happy if I can have a concert with my dad. I really want to sing with my dad,” says Rahul.
Manali has been with the choir for three years. She lives with her mother, Mary Pawar, and younger sister. Her mom, who is separated from an abusive husband and raising her daughters alone, works three jobs to support the family. In order to help her mother, Manali decides to quit the choir. But when Mary Pawar gets to sing a solo piece, she changes her mind.
“I skipped the choir for two months without telling anything to Sir Kim. My mother told me to join the choir again,” Manali says. “She said, all the other parents are going to sing with their children. If you don’t come, I have to sing alone.”
Director Hyewon Jee beautifully illustrates how the choir transforms the families. Mary Pawar, in particular, is emboldened by her solo in “Amazing Grace.” The conductor suggests that she consider the song a form of testimony, and as she breaks into tears during rehearsal, he tells her, “You can cry on stage, but you must continue singing.”
“When I learned about [Jae-Chang Kim’s] new initiative with the parents, I naturally wanted to document the journey,” Jee says in her director’s statement. “During the production, I was touched by many events and had a chance to reflect on my own relationship with my mother. I also witnessed the changes in the parents and their relationships with their children. Singing and dancing brought lots of joy and laughter and planted a seed of hope in these hardworking people. I am now very happy to share this story with a world audience.”
“Singing with Angry Bird beautifully shows how music can unite cultures and bridge the gap between generations,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. “But the crowd-pleasing story of the Banana Children’s Choir will not only warm hearts but also expand minds—giving us a glimpse into other people’s livelihoods, hopes and dreams.”
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About the Filmmakers:
Hyewon Jee, Director
Hyewon Jee is an International Emmy-nominated director who has been working in the Korean TV industry for more than 20 years. She started her career at a prominent documentary production company in 1995 and later briefly worked as a commissioning editor for TV Chosun. In 2008, she left the network and established an independent production company to focus on making stories that are dear to her heart. Singing with Angry Bird is her first feature-length documentary.
Sunah Kim, Producer
Sunah Kim is a Korean-American producer currently working in South Korea. She started her producing career in New York as a narrative film producer. Since 2006, she has worked on more than 50 documentaries as a U.S. local producer for various TV channels in South Korea. She also created a talk show series about Korean Americans for cable channels in five states. In 2013, she moved back to Korea to make a documentary about a Korean monk/philosopher and she is currently involved in various documentary projects.
About the Filmmakers:
Director: Hyewon Jee; Producer: Sunah Kim; Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White