Sunday, October 26, 2014

CICFF ’14: The Singing Pond

It follows in the tradition of the Bollywood smash Taare Zameen Par, but it has a much more manageable running time. There is still has an intermission for exhibitors who chose to observe it. You can also be sure plenty of lessons will be learned by children and adults alike in Indika Ferdinando’s The Singing Pond (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2014 Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.

Uma is a well-to-do radical, who has had enough of revolution. Taking a more grassroots, trickle-up approach to social change, she accepts a teaching position in a remote Sri Lankan village. The strict principal is sure she will transfer out as soon as possible, just like her predecessors. However, Uma is surprisingly persistent. Soon she moderates his disciplinary tendencies, while instituting some new school policies, like the morning assembly.

Each day starts with a distinctly personal speech from one of the students, through which Uma gains dramatic insights of their daily lives. However, blind Upuli’s speech moves the school beyond insight into action. Lamenting she will never see the ocean, yet still dreams of experiencing it, Upuli strikes a chord with her classmates. They have never seen the ocean either and have little prospects of ever leaving their village to do so. It is only a day’s drive away, but it might as well be on a different planet, until Uma starts organizing a class trip.

Of course, it will take the entire village’s support to overcome all the unforeseen obstacles. Many of those will come from the village officer, who does not like anything that could loosen his control over the community. He will become a problem, but fortunately his wife is Uma’s secret ally.

Pond is all very earnest and gentle. There are not a lot of surprises in store for viewers, but its messages regarding the value of education and teamwork should meet with parental approval. Ferdinando has a good eye for Sri Lankan locales, framing some lovely scenes. However, it is the catchy tunes composed by classical and alt-rock composer Dinesh Subasinghe that really make the film. His score is light years better than Staare’s annoying whistle theme.

Frankly, Uma is way too much of a little Miss Perfect, but Anasuya Subasinghe’s warm screen presence serves the role quite well. She can also carry a tune and looks comfortable behind a piano. Still, the film’s standout work comes from playwright-actor Lucien Bulathsinhala, who has some subtly turned moments as the not-as-gruff-as-he-first-seems principal.

Yes, it is all very nice, which is not a bad thing. Pond is the sort of film that should expand children’s horizons without overwhelming them in the enormity of global poverty, but it might be too sweet for hipper parents, guardians, and fans of movie musicals. Recommended for family viewing, The Singing Pond screens this Tuesday morning (10/28) at the Logan Center for the Arts, as part of this year’s CICFF.