The Marlborough Express RevIEw

BACK TO NZ REVIEWS ►

by Matt Lawrey

Documentary Succeeds to Inspire.

One of the things I love most about movies is their ability to surprise, and of all the different genres out there, the one with the most potential to surprise is the documentary.
And while films like Catfish and Capturing the Friedmans vividly remind us that fact really can be stranger than fiction, the genre also surprises by taking outwardly uninteresting subjects and revealing them to be fascinating. A brilliant example of this is Mrs Carey's Concert (PG).
One of the best fly-on-the-wall documentaries I've ever seen, Mrs Carey's Concert shows what goes on behind the scenes when private girls' school MLC stages its biennial full school concert in the Sydney Opera House.
Led by music teacher Karen Carey, the concert is a source of huge pride for the school but also a massive artistic, logistical and emotional challenge.
The film examines how Carey and her team go about planning the event and, most interestingly of all, the relationships and personal politics involved in getting hundreds of teenage girls to work together in the name of art.
The main focus of Mrs Carey's attentions is 16-year-old Emily Sun, a talented violinist with a melancholic air and an appetite for risky extra curricular behaviour.
The other student that takes up a sizeable amount of Carey's time is the rebellious Iris Shi, another Chinese Australian who considers herself far too cool for classical music.
Just how much this sort of documentary succeeds or fails depends largely on how invisible the filmmakers are to their subjects. Brilliantly the teachers and students in Mrs Carey's Concert seem almost completely unaffected by the presence of the camera. It's possible that Iris' attention seeking behaviour was partly fuelled by the fact she was being filmed but, apart from that, it's all remarkably unself-conscious stuff.
The other thing films like this need is a central personality who is both sympathetic and interesting. In Carey, filmmakers Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond, have struck gold.
Carey is the kind of person humanity needs more of. She has vision, passion, talent, a huge work ethic, humility, humour and intellect. She also exudes a practical, no nonsense, unsentimental yet deeply felt love for her students and school.
Another reason Mrs Carey's Concert is such a winning film is that, for a documentary, it has plenty of laughs. Carey and her colleagues know how to share a joke with their kids and – unlike some teachers – don't suffer the problem of taking themselves too seriously.
The film also gives its audience an interesting look into what life is like for better off Australians and the way Asian immigration has changed the look and sound of Sydney. The music, including Brahms, Ravel, Bruch and Verdi, is awesome too.


Bottom line: documentary of the year.