SPARC documentary wins PBS honor

A documentary about locally-based SPARC has earned the People’s Choice award in the PBS Online Film Festival.

Update #1 — April 4, 2013; 6:41 AM

The documentary LIVE ART (see below), about the School of Performing Arts in Richmond (SPARC) and its 2012 student concert, won the People’s Choice award at the second annual PBS Online Film Festival.

The documentary followed SPARC’s 20-week performing arts program called LIVE ART that concluded with 125-person performance at the Carpenter Theatre last year. Grammy-winner Jason Mraz also made a surprise appearance at that concert.

LIVE ART producers raised nearly $34,000 on Kickstarter to fund the documentary.

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Original — September 28, 2012

A feature documentary showcasing the people surrounding a unique education program and concert by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) has earned funding to support the film’s post-production. “We feel a huge sense of responsibility,” said Bill Gaff of Humanstory films, one of the filmmakers involved in the project and a Midlothian resident. “People truly want to see the film.”

The feature will document SPARC’s 20-week performing arts program, LIVE ART, that culminated with a June 3rd, 2012 performance at the Carpenter Theatre. It featured 125 students, musicians, and a surprise performance by Grammy Award-winner Jason Mraz, himself an alumnus of the SPARC program. Founded in 1981, SPARC offers classes for children of different ages that cultivate skills in the performing arts. The organization reaches over 700 students, with or without special needs, in over 25 area schools.

Gaff heard from Martin Montgomery, a Richmond-based filmmaker, about SPARC wanting to document the training and performance to inspire other communities across the country to create similar programs. The filmmakers attended classes and began speaking with both students, parents, and teachers. Gaff said he was impressed with the people involved, saying he “never had an interaction with a group of people like that before.” He and the other producers were so moved, they asked themselves: Could this become an actual feature-length documentary? They thought it could.

“Our first priority was to get footage in the can,” said Gaff. He and Montgomery began shooting what Gaff estimates is over 200 hours of footage. “We saw all these potential great characters,” he said. “It really proved to be amazing.”

Gaff said that as a filmmaker: “You always look for people in situations that change the course of their lives.” Seeing children–some of whom were deaf, autistic, or with Down syndrome–devote weeks to practice and preparation and the emotional capital invested by parents and educators showed filmmakers there was a story here. “We knew we had something.”

Started on August 27th, the project’s Kickstarter funded nearly $34,000, well over the $20,000 goal. SPARC said it’s one of the top funding Kickstarter projects based in the Richmond region since January. “SPARC and LIVE ART had such a strong community of people behind it,” said Gaff. That money will help fund the next several months of post-production work.

“We don’t know the extent of what we have,” said Gaff about the hours of footage the filmmakers have accumulated and that will need to be edited. Additionally, Gaff and others are still conducting interviews for the film. Marathon viewing sessions will take place over the coming months in which he and others will produce a four-hour rough cut. Gaff hopes that later, by February 2013, the filmmakers will have a more standard-length version of the film that they can submit to film festivals to secure a distribution deal.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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