Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly must be two of the world's luckiest fly on the wall documentary film makers. They set up their cameras of the music department of the University of Sydney and over 9 months captured an engrossing if somewhat depressing drama of good people battling against the odds to do their job the only way they know how in the face of economic rationalism and indifference to the arts. The centre of the action, Professor Ann Boyd, is a dedicated teacher and distinguished composer who has to do all of that including a triple teaching load while running her small department in the face of continual budget cuts. In the course of the year she goes from opposing strike action to manning the barricades as things get worse and she finds out that the great and the good in the university hierarchy pay lip service only to the values she thought the place was supposed to be run on.
Choosing the music department to do this story, which has been repeated in universities all over Australia in the last 10 years, was particularly inspired because of - well, the music. The place is stuffed with student talent and some of them already perform to concert standard. So there's lots of good music performed with great vigour and freshness, giving an ironic gaiety to the sad story. The story is indeed seamless a remarkable feat in documentary making and the music is also woven in perfectly.
The rationalists would no doubt say that a music department is a luxury our modern university cannot afford and musical skills are better taught in somewhere like the Sydney Conservatorium. After all, isn't music really just a trade? Do musicians really need to study Goethe? Ann Boyd convincingly demonstrates the shallowness of this view. Music proceeds out of culture, and our culture is not taught in trade schools. The wells of creativity are deep and complex and come from many sources. She may be a bit of a blue-stocking and wedded to old-fashioned standards but her music is innovative and her teaching (which she loves) inspiring.
Anyway, an exceptionally good documentary. Caution for University teachers; this film will not cheer you up. It might get more of you to the barricades though.
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