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“A Small Act” brings big gift at Sundance

January 27, 2010

SundanceIt is not unheard of, but certainly is uncommon. After film documentary “A Small Act,” which tells of the plight of kids struggling just to get an education in Kenya, debuted here at the Sundance Film Festival this week it became a cause celebre — not for starpower, rather for charitable giving to send kids to school.

To here director Jennifer Arnold tell it, after the second screening a woman stood up in the audience and offered a $5,000 donation to help the kids. She challenged the audience to give, too, and her $5,000 was quickly matched by another check for $5,000. Midway through the festival, the amount raised and pledged had grown to $80,000. That’s a lot of schooling. According to the documentary, in Kenya secondary school can cost less than $10 a week.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Arnold told Reuters. She said she knows that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Arnold said she had heard from one other documentary director who, in the past, had a similar experience but with all that’s happening in Haiti, she reckoned any donations might be slow in coming, if at all. Little did she expect people would be giving her cash out of their pockets. “We never set out with (raising money) as a mission,” she said.  “It’s really overwhelming…to know some of these kids will go through school is the best thing that could happen.” (That’s Arnold at left in a picture by Kristen Schaffer/HBO.)Arnold

The documentary, which Arnold said is expected to air in the United States on cable TV channel HBO this summer, tells how Chris Mburu, a top student in rural Kenya, had little hope of an education until a  Swedish pre-school teacher, Hilde Back, decided to sponsor him. He went on to Harvard Law School and then became a United Nations human rights advocate who has dedicated his life to battling genocide. Little did he know that Back’s parents were Holocaust victims. In the documentary, the two get together in Kenya where Mburu has started a scholarship fund in Back’s name to help other kids get through school. Back learns that her “small act” has blossomed into educations for many kids. Arnold captures it on her cameras, and you can learn more at www.asmallact.com .

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