Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Amasong Chorus: Singing Out, The (2003)

Written, directed, edited by Jay Rosenstein. Photography, Jeremiah Reeves and Jay Rosenstein. Music, The Amasong Chorus and Karen Hellyer. Co-produced by Mr. Rosenstein & WILL-TV in association with the Independent Television Service. Funded by PBS. 53 minutes.

I am not rating -- with stars, that is -- this documentary because it was made by a colleague. However, I and many others find it to be an excellent film in all respects.

It has won, among others, the Documentary Award of Excellence of the Broadcast Education Association. It was also one of the two-dozen or so works (out of 600 entries) selected for the prestigious PBS series "Independent Lens" which will show it nationally in 2004.

This latest prize-winner by Jay Rosenstein, UIUC Assistant Professor of Journalism, has already been a hit in several festivals, lesbian-gay and others. "Amasong" is a heart-warming, musically beautiful, socially moving must-see. The chorus labels itself as Lesbian/Feminist as it is (and can be) both or either, as well as open to anyone else - including (oddly, but it paid off) women who could not sing!

It was created in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois when, in 1991, Kristina Boerger, a politically active music student at the University of Illinois, decided to challenge preconceptions within a predominantly conservative/traditionalist area of the State. And it became the first of its kind in Illinois.

The film shows in "simpatico," quiet (save for the music, of course) and touching ways, that Amasong was a labor of love, a warm and wonderful musical and human accomplishment. Mr. Rosenstein shows smoothly but without slickness or trickery the group's formation, development and growth, using many types of sources, from newspaper articles or headlines to stickers on cars.

This is not Hollywood. We see things as they happen, not as they are set up. From its background to its genesis to its flowering it is all fascinating. There is, of course what in movies is called "the name above the title," and the name is Kristina Boerger.

She comes through as a first-rate, versatile, gifted musician, a task master who is gently, nicely authoritative but not authoritarian, a lucid trainer of amateurs. She inspires them. She teaches and organizes them not with fireworks but economical, quiet enthusiasm. The results reminded me strongly of the special charm of British Boys' choruses.

Jay Rosenstein says that one of his motivations for making the film, after his excellent "In Whose Honor?" documentary (about Charlene Teters and the Chief Illiniwek controversy) was: "I wanted to do a project where people would be happy when I showed up with my camera!"

Other motivations included the local success of a chorus that called itself lesbian/feminist and was mentioned as just that in the press. The film culminates with Amasong's first CD winning the top prize at the 1998 GLAMA award. Don't miss this fine, most special and "civilized" work!

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel