PRESS

Tough Love

Published October 19, 2016 by Argonaut News

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The juniors and seniors in Jeffe Huls’ advanced choir class at Santa Monica High School are standing in a circle, watching him like deer in headlights. Moments earlier, Mr. Huls felt the need to inform his class that he will not tolerate any racist, sexist or homophobic remarks. It’s a tense scene. And yet Huls isn’t asking his students to sing a classical European sonata, but instead a more familiar American standard: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Huls gives one of them a cue to start singing, and before they’ve even reached the second “row,” he waves his fist and cuts them off.

“You two, switch places,” he orders.

He’s heard enough.

These are high school kids, and yet this moment in the new documentary “Big Voice” almost feels like a scene out of “Whiplash,” the Oscar-winning film about a young drummer’s tutelage under a combative jazz instructor who hurls insults and music books at his students.

Huls isn’t nearly as extreme as the ruthless teacher played by J.K. Simmons in that film, but he does demand perfection, and he pushes his students to achieve greatness.

His methods may at first feel scary, unconventional and appear to put too much pressure on such young singers, but the message of “Big Voice” is that this behavior should be encouraged — that we need more teachers like him.

“I’m a tough cookie,” he says in the film.

Huls teaches students how to read sheet music, avoids popular music in performances and, before auditions for the top choir, he lays down a strict rule of “no crying.”

The need for this documentary, he said, stems from a misunderstanding of what goes on in choir class.

“When we think about music education, we think about the orchestras and marching bands. And there’s a number of people who still think what I do in my class is singing around the campfire,” said Huls, a Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District of 18 years, 12 of them at the high school. “Partly, I need other people to see that we’re taking ourselves seriously. That allows the students to take it seriously themselves.”

GOOD TEACHERS EMPOWER

When “Big Voice” director Varda Bar-Kar, a Santa Monica resident, first approached Huls with the idea to make a movie, he was skeptical.

“It’s not the first time a parent has come to me with a hair-brained idea out of nowhere,” Huls said, not knowing at the time whether the effort would materialize into anything — let alone a shooting process that lasted more than a year.

What’s more, Huls wasn’t sure how his tough, uncompromising teaching methods would come across on film.

“You get to the point that you forget that the cameras are rolling after you’ve been doing it for a while. And then I would say something or do something and see the cameras and say, ‘I wish I could take that back,’” Huls said. “But I had a trust in Varda that I knew she wanted to bring forth a piece of art that was uplifting and engaging. So I had to take a leap of faith and trust that she needed to put in some of those stronger passages to make this story compelling.”

At the center of “Big Voice,” which is now available for streaming on Netflix, is a story about what it takes to be a great teacher, but also the work that goes into creating great art that moves people. “Big Voice” follows Huls and the kids of Samohi through over a year of classes on their road to a choir competition and their annual concerts for the community.

Bar-Kar first became inspired to approach Huls after seeing the choir’s winter program, in which students move around the venue and into the audience in order to create a more intimate and engaging experience.

“Through that performance, I literally felt transported. I was brought to tears,” Bar-Kar said. “And what moved me, it was primarily the commitment and conviction of these students singing these ancient songs in all these different languages that seemed so incongruous of our image of contemporary youth and teens. It was just so beautiful.”

Despite knowing nothing about choir or about music in particular, Bar-Kar was curious to learn the process behind achieving any sort of artistry with people so young. She felt at the time there was a great deal of criticism toward teachers, and after meeting Mr. Huls, she knew her next film had to be a tribute to those who had inspired her.

“I was nurtured by my teachers. My artistry and my tendency to be creative was always encouraged and nurtured,” Bar-Kar said. “They empowered me, and I still carry that power they gave me.”

“Big Voice” documents not just in-class rehearsals, but also an overnight retreat in which Huls earns the trust of his students, as well as the many behind-the-scenes moments of students struggling to succeed both on and off stage.

That trust manifests itself in one scene in which Huls pulls out a random piece of music that his students have never seen, tells a live audience they’ll have
10 minutes to learn it, and then watches them nail it.

“What I came to realize is that he was holding a high bar for them that they didn’t even realize they could achieve; that’s what good teachers do,” Bar-Kar said. “It was uncomfortable because I didn’t know and understand that the students could achieve what he was wanting of them, and they didn’t know, but he knew they could because he’s seen these breakthroughs.”

GREATNESS OR BUST

Both Huls and Bar-Kar hope “Big Voice” serves as an argument for keeping arts programs funded in public schools.

At Samohi, only Huls’ salary is paid by taxpayers; everything else the students need comes from fundraising.

But arts education, he said, is a fundamental part of kids’ development.

“We have to acknowledge that students learn in different ways. Having students play on a basketball team is part of an education. Being involved in an arts program is part of educating our whole being,” Huls said. “We’re really fortunate in Santa Monica to have a community that has come out time and time again and said, ‘You will not cut our arts programs.’”

The truth is that Santa Monica High School may not have an exceptional choir (Spoiler Alert: In the film, the choir places fifth in a competition), but they do have an exceptional teacher.

Shortly after filming wrapped in 2012, Huls won a BRAVO award from The Music Center, one of the highest possible honors for arts teachers in Los Angeles.

He shouldn’t be alone, argues Bar-Kar. “Big Voice,” she said, is about the need for more teachers who expect the most of their students.

“In our society we spend too much time trying to get comfortable,” Bar-Kar said. “Sometimes when you’re aspiring to greatness, you’re going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to go through struggle. That’s when some of the biggest breakthroughs occur. So if you don’t push your students or yourself to work through these discomforts, you won’t get through to the other side. You will not innovate, and greatness and excellence will not be achieved. It takes being willing to be uncomfortable.”

“Life is fuller when you experience it on the fullest level,” Huls said. “Music is more uplifting when it is the absolute best you can make it. Settling for just good enough doesn’t allow us to experience things on that level.”

“Big Voice” is currently streaming on Netflix. The choir’s winter program returns on Dec. 16 and is still seeking sponsors. Visit samohichoir.org for more information.

 


Big Voice

Published September 10, 2016 by Santa Monica Daily Press

BIG VOICE launched on VOD on September 2nd – available on iTunes, Amazon, Time Warner, Comcast, Dish, DirecTV and other platforms/ will launch on Netflix in November.

Professional educators and librarians can view on videoproject.com.

In 2014, I was invited to attend a performance of a group called “Huls Angels”. This was a group of young women who had graduated from Samohi (Santa Monica High School) the previous year, and had been so inspired by their choral director that they got together from near and far the summer following graduation, to produce their own choral program in his honor. That choral director was Jeffe Huls. I thought to myself that Mr. Huls must have been an extraordinary director and teacher. Many, many years ago, I was myself a member of the Chorus and Madrigal Singers at Samohi, so I’m familiar first-hand with the rigors of being in such an elite group of singers.

Documentarian Varda Bar-Kar wrote and directed the documentary Big Voice, about Huls, the same celebrated choral director at Samohi. Recently I was privileged to watch this film. Bar-Kar had first heard stories about Mr. Huls when her two daughters were in middle school. She was planning her daughters’ future high school classes and did research on the teaching staff at Samohi. Huls’ reputation stood out. At the same time she had been asked as a local filmmaker, to become involved in bringing great arts education into Santa Monica schools.

She remembers the first time she saw Huls. She was walking up a pathway at Samohi and passed a young man dressed so elegantly that he seemed completely out of place at the campus with its relaxed, beach-style atmosphere. Later she attended a performance of one of his musical groups and was transfixed. She was amazed that he was able to extract an almost professional level of musical art from kids whose personalities and focus were not yet completely formed. “What obstacles must this man face daily in his quest for excellence?” she wondered. She then decided that she wanted to make a documentary about his process.

Bar-Kar’s style is not just a straightforward “follow-with-a-camera” concept. She juxtaposes visual ideas and thoughts over the narrative to illustrate her points. Big Voice is a documentary about Mr. Huls, yet not only about him – it’s about his students, the love they develop for their art form, and the friendships they form in the process. The film specifically follows the elite group of students who form the school’s Madrigals Choral Ensemble.

Big Voice is a testament to the value of an arts education as it relates to a student’s development in math, science and English curriculums. Several of the seniors in the group went on to great colleges and universities to major in science and other academic pursuits. The film is also a wonderful study in teaching insight. Huls is in his eleventh year as Director of Vocal Music and Performing Arts Chair at Santa Monica High School. Each year he is faced with the difficulties inherent in motivating a new group of talented high school students, all at various stages of maturity, to focus on making music together at the same time – one Big Voice. This dilemma is the pulse of the story, both for him and for his students. If you are or have ever been a parent, a teen or a teacher, in any curriculum, watching this movie will be a valuable experience.

83 Minutes

Not Rated/ Documentary

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com/


Award Winning Director Varda Bar-Kar’s Musical Documentary ‘BIG VOICE’ Picked Up For North American Distribution By Gravitas Ventures

Published August 3, 2014 by SHOOT Magazine

An Uplifting Film, ‘BIG VOICE’ Chronicles A Challenging Year in the Life of A High School Choir Director Pushing His Students to Achieve Artistry and One Voice Despite the Obstacles They Face

Award winning independent film director Varda Bar-Kar is committed to making meaningful films and she does just that with her music documentary BIG VOICE picked up for North American distribution by Gravitas Ventures. BIG VOICE is in great hands with Gravitas whose key VOD partners include Hulu, Google, Vudu, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox Cable, Amazon, AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV, Dish, iTunes Netflix and Microsoft Xbox.

BIG VOICE chronicles a challenging year in the life of the determined Santa Monica High School Choir Director Jeffe Huls who pushes his students to achieve artistry and become “one big voice” despite the many obstacles they face.

Following four years of production, Bar-Kar brought BIG VOICE to the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. where she, Co-Producer Marina Viscun and Executive Producer Deb Love advocated for arts education alongside leading national advocates including Americans For The Arts, Chorus America, Opera U.S.A.. The U.S. Embassy in Brazil hosted Bar-Kar at a cultural exchange screening in Sao Paolo, Brazil; and during a robust festival run, BIG VOICE garnered several awards including the Heartland Film Festival’s “Best U.S. Premiere Documentary”, South Dakota Film Festival’s “Best Family Feature Documentary” and “New Filmmakers Los Angeles “Best Feature Documentary”.

A passion for the choral arts and music fuels Santa Monica High School’s Choir Director Jeffe Huls’ desire to exceed all standards and expectations. During the filming of BIG VOICE, Garry Marshall awarded Mr. Huls Disney’s prestigious “Bravo Award” honoring his outstanding music instruction.

Following a series of competitive auditions, Mr. Huls convenes his dream choir ensemble. But he soon discovers that these 32 teenagers are the most unwieldy group he has ever taught. Some face serious personal or academic issues, while others are simply not prepared for the hard work necessary to achieve the excellence Mr. Huls seeks.

Huls must convince his students to set aside their problems, conflicts, and teenage angst to achieve the level of excellence he knows they are capable of.  BIG VOICE is as much a story about the transformative power of arts programs in helping students faces the many struggles of high school life as it is about choir and music.  

When Bar-Kar first attended one of Mr. Huls’ Winter Concerts she was moved to tears by the beauty of his choir. “I wanted to find out how Mr. Huls inspired such a high level of artistry in his students,” she explains. Bar-Kar has a deep appreciation for the art teachers who transformed her life and realized that creating a documentary that chronicles Mr. Huls’ extraordinary commitment to his art and to teaching would serve to recognize and honor dedicated teachers everywhere and to shed light on the profound value of arts education.

In addition to the producers mentioned above, the BIG VOICE producing team includes Carol Coote, John Beug, Dennis Leight, Karen Lavender and Robert McFalls.  

You can now pre order BIG VOICE on Apple iTunes @ apple.co/2ahdmT3.  

Educators, libraries and organizations can purchase BIG VOICE DVDs @ http://www.videoproject.com/big-voice.html.


Big Voice, 2015 HFF Best Premiere Award Winner, Acquires Educational Distribution Deal

Published April 14, 2016 by HeartlandFilm

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We’re pleased to announce that Big Voice is now available for educational distribution with The Video Project.

“We’ve been traveling the country with Big Voice advocating for arts education including a recent screening at the United States Capitol,” said Director Varda Bar-Kar. “Following every screening, our audience members express their desire that every teacher and student see Big Voice. We couldn’t be happier about the new opportunity to shed a light on the importance of the arts.”

Big Voice is a musical documentary that chronicles a roller coaster year in the life of high school choir director Jeffe Huls and his most advanced ensemble. Mr. Huls’ passion for the choral arts and music literacy fuels his desire to exceed all standards and expectations. The results are hard won, yet exquisite. Following a series of competitive auditions, Mr. Huls compiles his dream ensemble – the most ideal combination of voices he’s ever had. He soon discovers that these 32 talented teenagers are also the most unwieldy group he has ever taught. Mr. Huls must convince his students to set aside their egos, conflicting styles and teenage angst to achieve the artistry he knows they are capable of. It is as much a story about the struggles of high school life as it is about choir. Big Voice interweaves slices of life, interviews and masterwork performances to engage and entertain.

The feature-length documentary had its World Premiere at the 2015 Heartland Film Festival that included a special event screening and after-party in the all-new Premiere Pavilion. Additionally, Big Voice took home the $5,000 cash prize for Best Premiere, Documentary Feature at the 2015 Awards Ceremony. See photos from the Big Voice premiere at the 2015 Heartland Film Festival below.

Interested in purchasing “Big Voice” for your school, library or university?

Big Voice is available to purchase as an educational DVD through The Video Project that includes the full-length film, a 53 minute version and loads of DVD extras.

If you’d like to purchase Big Voice at 25% off, click the button below and use the promo code BIGVOICE25.


KPTZ 91.9 FM Radio Port Townsend Interview

Hosted by Marcia Perlstein, KPTZ brings you two shows with interviews representing four films that our intrepid Film Festival Executive Director Janette Force is bringing to town on April 9 and 10, along with a tantalizing array of other films.

#1: Diana Elizabeth Torres, East Side Sushi; Sharon Liese, The Gnomeist

#2: Varda Bar-kar, Big Voice; Cindy Meehl, Trapped


Chorale Perfection

Published March 18, 2016 by R. Gallyot, KWMR

Radio interview with Jeffe Huls about “Big Voice” and Sonoma International Film Festival.


 

UPLIFTING DOCUMENTARY “BIG VOICE” HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES

Published Tuesday, October 13, 2015 on Jack Lyons News

Films about high school music concerts, choral groups and choirs have been around for years. “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, starring Richard Dreyfuss, as a music teacher aspiring to compose just one great piece of music, and the TV shows “Glee” and “Fame” come quickly to mind. But documentaries about music departments, teachers, and high school students on the subject vary, depending on the vision of the documentarian and the willingness of real students and adults to participate.

The film “Big Voice”, made by award-winning filmmaker Varda Bar-Kar, receives its World Premiere screening at the Heartland Film Festival of Indianapolis, Indiana on October 18th. It makes its local festival debut at the LA Femme International Film Festival on October 17th in Beverly Hills.

As with many things in life, big events often have small beginnings. Filmmaker Bar-Kar was attending a Santa Monica, California, High School music concert one year and was moved to tears by the beauty of the choir’s ‘voice’. 

“I wanted to find out how Santa Monica High School music teacher and Choir Master Jeffe Huls did it. I realized that a documentary film that told the story of a dedicated teacher who makes a profound difference in his students lives and reveal how valuable arts education can be [in our society]”, became a reality in a year-long filming effort chronicling events that became the film “Big Voice” now playing on America’s film festival circuit.

Huls is not only a charismatic and articulate teacher, he is also a creative, caring, and understanding person. High school teenagers, some feeling their oats from time to time or coming to grips with their real or perceived inadequacies, can be challenging to convince that they all possess talent. Huls is a gifted leader who understands his role as one similar to that of a military drill instructor during basic training. He teaches his raw recruits. He shapes them turning them into a polished unified choral group that gives each student a sense of self-worth and a purpose and a place in the world.

There are several of scenes of Huls either in repose, thinking, or planning that poignantly will resonate with teachers.Teaching is truly a noble profession, but at times one also can sense the feeling of what it must be like to feel the loneliness of the long distance runner/teacher. They can never really be your sons or daughters. They belong to society. But like parents everywhere, we worry and are concerned about their futures.

But it’s all up to these eager youngsters as Huls continually counsels them. The class and a year-end choral presentation by the students demand discipline, hard work, commitment and dedication. That’s the mantra they hear from Huls. To watch the young choir grow in skill and self-confidence is what makes “Big Voice” so compelling a film.
Obviously, the star of the documentary is Jeff Huls, but director Bar-Kar wouldn’t have so compelling a film without the cooperation of the students who feel pretty comfortable being trailed around by a camera crew. Their articulate observations and commentary is most impressive when one considers they’re just high school youngsters. But, on the other hand, it all takes place in Santa Monica, near Hollywood, where the living is easy and laid-back.

“Big Voice” is easy on the eyes and is very technically proficient documentary thanks to the director of photography Keet Daron and editor Robert McFalls, who know how photograph and edit all the footage shot over the course of an entire high school year.

This is a film that needs to be seen on PBS and screens all over America. And by the way, our education system and our society now more than ever needs the Jeffe Huls of this world.


Published October 8, 2015 by HeartlandFilm

Big Voice is a musical documentary that chronicles a roller coaster year in the life of high school choir director Jeffe Huls and his most advanced ensemble. Mr. Huls’ passion for the choral arts and music literacy fuels his desire to exceed all standards and expectations. The results are hard won, yet exquisite. Following a series of competitive auditions, Mr. Huls compiles his dream ensemble – the most ideal combination of voices he’s ever had. He soon discovers that these 32 talented teenagers are also the most unwieldy group he has ever taught. Mr. Huls must convince his students to set aside their egos, conflicting styles and teenage angst to achieve the artistry he knows they are capable of. It is as much a story about the struggles of high school life as it is about choir. Big Voice interweaves slices of life, interviews and masterwork performances to engage and entertain. Big Voice is a 2015 Heartland Film Festival Official Selection, Documentary Feature, World Premiere.


We spoke with Director/Producer Varda Bar-Kar about her film:

HF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

VB: Big Voice is about a a demanding high school choir director Mr. Jeffe Huls pushing his students to achieve true artistry. During the course of the year that we follow Mr. Huls and his choir we witness the push and pull between the choir teacher and his students. They feel they have done their very best and resist his demands, but he knows that they can be so much stronger as a choir and pushes them as far as he can “without killing them, of course.”  Some of the challenges they face include shifting the students’ mind set from “me” to “we”, personal struggles that the students are experiencing including homelessness, girl-boy dynamics and Mr. Huls own self doubts.  Ultimately, Big Voice is a story about music, community, education and love.

I was inspired to make Big Voice after experiencing one of Mr. Huls’ extraordinary High School Choir concerts.  I felt transported by the students’ performances and was moved to tears.  I wanted to know how Mr. Huls was able to achieve such artistry in the context of a public school. I also wanted to tell the story of this excellent teacher who instruction deepens and enriches his students lives and the community at large.

HF: What was your role in the production?

VB: I produced and directed Big Voice.

HF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

VB: My short film Window won the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival. I loved my experience at Heartland and vowed to myself that one day I would return to the festival with a feature film.  I’m so grateful that my dream has come true.

HF: This year’s tagline is “Movies That Stay with You” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

VB: I’ve been told by people who have seen Big Voice that it stays with them and they continue to reflect on the film long well after they’ve viewed it. I believe that Big Voice‘s lasting effect on its audiences will be a softening of their heart for their teachers and for all teachers who work so hard to educate and enrich the lives of students.  I also think they will be left with a deeper appreciation for the breadth and depth of music education and arts education in general. The lessons I learned in my art classes will forever inform my life and my work and I am indebted to my art teachers. Big Voice is my effort to “give back” to them.

HF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

VB:  I have always loved to express myself through art.  I have painted, choreographed, acted, directed theater and written poetry & fiction.  One day I realized that filmmaking combines all these artforms when I came to this realization I felt as though I had arrived home.

HF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?

VB: I did not understand how challenging filmmaking really is. When I make a film I aspire to create a distilled reality so well constructed that when audience members view it they become fully engaged, emotionally & intellectually and sometimes even spiritually.  Achieving this effect is a challenging task.

HF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

VB: Some of my favorite films “A Man Who Fell To Earth”, “Blade Runner”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Life Is Beautiful”, “Singing In The Rain”, “Stand By Me”, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Magnolia”.  Most recently, I really enjoyed “Diary of A Teenage Girl”.

HF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

VB: This will be our World Premiere screening of Big Voice.  I have had other films in festivals and always enjoy them for the opportunity to be with an audience during my films’ screening and also to meet and hangout with my tribe (other filmmakers).

HF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

VB:I think it would be really cool to hear how Big Voice effected her/him.  Hearing from audience members directly is quite fulfilling.


See Big Voice at the 2015 Heartland Film Festival

* Premiere Pavilion Special Event Screening (no passes)


 

BIG VOICE, NEW DOCUMENTARY ABOUT SAMO CHOIR, DEBUTS AT BARNUM

Published May 7, 2015 by Peggy Clifford, Santa Monica Dispatch

BIG VOICE, a musical documentary, will screen at Barnum Hall, Samohi campus, Thursday, May 7, 7 p.m. It follows a year in the life of a demanding high school choir director who pushes his students to become “one big voice” in this inspiring film (LIVE TRIBE) with Ravensong and Pingvin Productions, director Varda Bar- Kar, producers Bar-Car, Marina Viscun, Deb Love, Carol Coote, John Beug, and Karen Lavender.

The producers recently presented a sneak preview at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs. All proceeds of the Barnum Hall screening will go to completion costs.

A Q and A with Bar-Kar and Choir Director Jeffe Hules will follow the screening.

BIG VOICE is a feature documentary that chronicles a year in the life of Santa Monica High School Choral Director Huls and his most advanced ensemble.The results are hard-won but exquisite. Following a series of competitive auditions,Mr. Huls, assembles his dream ensemble – the most ideal combination of voices he’d ever had. He also discovers that these 32 talented teenagers are also the most unwieldy group he’s ever t
aught. Mr. Huls must convince his students to set aside their egos,conflicting styles and teenage angst achieve the artistry he know they are capable of. BIG VOICE is a film brimming with musical performances, as it interweaves the slices of life, interviews, and multi-camera coverage of. masterwork performances.

Varda Bar-Kar was inspired to make.Big Voice after attending Samohi’s Winter Concert. ”I realized this was an opportunity to prove that dedicated teachers can make a profound difference in their students’ lives…and how valuable arts education can be.

The producers raised the money through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Production on BIG VOICE began in 2011 with coverage of auditions and interviews. “Our film took us on a year-long journey”, said co-producer Marina Viscun and included following the choir director for over a year. Editor Robert McFalls sifted through the 250 hours of film to mold a captivating film.

Award-winning film-maker Varda Bar-Kar has screened her work in major festivals and on networks. Her accolades include Heartland’s Crystal Heart Award, Silver Telly Award, audience awards, YouTube’s Most Innovative Non-Profit Video Award, NewFilmmakersLA Grand Jury and Audience Awards, and SHOOT 2010 New Director’s Showcase.


 

Santa Monica hosting Camp Kesem fundraiser, ‘Big Voice’ documentary

Published May 6, 2015 by Charles Andrews, Santa Monica Daily Press

[Excerpt] AND A GOOD PLACE FOR YOUR SUPPORTIVE POSTERIORS tomorrow night at 7 p.m. would be in the seats at Samohi’s Barnum Hall, waiting to see “BIG VOICE,” a documentary about the transformative choir program at our great high school, led by the passionate, quixotic, demanding, gifted, moody, lovable, infuriating, charismatic, rude, funny, award-winning miracle-working choir director Jeffe Huls.

My daughter enrolled in choir her freshman year at Samohi and kept with it four years. She experienced Huls in all those ways, I would say, and in the end felt it was a privilege to study under him and a gift to her artistic life. She also got to tour England with the choir and perform at awe-inspiring historical landmarks like Canterbury Cathedral (over Becket’s tomb), Salisbury Cathedral (Magna Carta, right there), Cambridge was cool, and the Lady Chapel wing at Ely Cathedral had jaw-dropping, very long delay acoustics, a rare treat for a group of singers. Not your everyday high school learning experience. Thank you, Mr. Huls.

Tickets are $10-40 at http://bigvoicemovie.brownpapertickets.com and all proceeds go to completing the film. Can’t wait to see it.


 

Fundraising Screening of Feature Documentary BIG VOICE

Published April 2015

Cornell Alumna Varda Bar-Kar to show her new film at Santa Monica High School

Director Varda Bar-Kar will present her feature Big Voice, about a year in the life of a demanding high school choir teacher who pushes his students to become “one big voice,” in this inspiring musical documentary.

BIG VOICE official trailer can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkhdUU-a1II.

BIG VOICE chronicles a year in the life of high school choir director Jeffe Huls and his most advanced ensemble, The Madrigals. Mr. Huls’ passion for the choral arts and music literacy fuels his desire to exceed all standards and expectations. The results are hard won, yet exquisite. Following a series of competitive auditions, Mr. Huls compiles his dream ensemble – the most ideal combination of voices he’s ever had. He soon discovers that these thirty-two talented teenagers are also the most unwieldy group he has ever taught. Mr. Huls must convince his students to set aside their egos, conflicting styles, and teenage angst to achieve the artistry he knows they are capable of. BIG VOICE is a story brimming with musical performances as it interweaves slices of life, interviews, and multi-camera coverage of masterwork performances to engage and entertain.

Date: May 7, 2015

Time: 7 pm

Location: Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall

Cost: $20 per person or $40 per person for VIP ticket (free on-campus parking included with VIP ticket) or $10 for students – buy tickets here: http://bigvoicemovie.brownpapertickets.com.  By purchasing a  ticket to this screening you will be helping cover the completion costs of BIG VOICE – a film that advocates arts education in our schools.

Cornellians are invited to a special post-screening Q&A with Bar-Kar at Le Meridien Delfina.

“EVERYONE who loves music and the arts should see this film!”
Shauna McClure
Executive Director, Hollywood Arts Council 

“True and pure and powerful”
Linda Greenberg
Executive Director, Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation

“What a ride to see these kids take this journey. It’s amazing how much passion is packed into this film.” Larry Laboe
Executive Director, NewFilmmakers Los Angeles 


 

BIG VOICE Screening Coming to Samohi on May 7th

Published April 30, 2015 by Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation

The musical documentary BIG VOICE, which follows a year in the life of Samohi Choir
Director Jeff Huls and his students, will be screened at Samohi Barnum Hall on May 7, 2015 at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance with the link below, or at the door if seats are available.
BIG VOICE follows Santa Monica High School choir director Jeffe Huls and his most advanced ensemble. Huls’ passion for the choral arts and music literacy fuels his desire to exceed all standards and expectations. It’s a story brimming with musical performances as it interweaves slices of life, interviews, and multi-camera coverage of masterwork performances to engage and entertain.
The screening of this inspiring musical documentary is a fundraiser to help with completion of the project and gaining final music rights. BIG VOICE was filmed on location at Santa Monica High School.
“This is a great portrayal of Jeffe and the Samohi Choir sharing how rigoroushis program is and how high he sets the bar for his students,” SMMUSD visual and performing arts
coordinator Tom Whaley said. “The music is amazing and this film highlights the importance of arts education in our district. Students, parents and the community will enjoy this film.”
Following the film will be a Q&A with Director Varda Bar-Kar and Choir Director Jeffe Huls.
Tickets: http://bigvoicemovie.brownpapertickets.com/ Students: $10, Adult $20, VIP $40.
(Service fees may apply with online ticket purchase.)
BIG VOICE t-shirts now on sale at http://teespring.com/big-voice-movie
Follow BIG VOICE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BigVoiceMovie

 

Big Voice, Big Dreams, Big Inspiration

Published November 18, 2011 by musicfolder.com

VARDA HARDY is an award winning writer and director who is dedicated to and passionate about creating meaningful and engaging films. She has had successful festival runs with several short films and has received multiple awards, including the Crystal Heart Award for her film “Window” and the Grand Jury and Audience Award for “Ode to Los Angeles”. Varda’s work was featured in SHOOT magazine’s prestigious New Director’s Showcase following a global search for cutting edge directors and she co-chairs the Women In Film PSA Program for whom she directs and produces Public Service Announcements.

BIG VOICE is Varda’s newest film project, a feature documentary about a visionary high school choir director and his determined students. Unlike the much lauded TV show “Glee”, Varda’s inspiring documentary takes the viewer up close and personal with a dedicated teacher, an effective arts education program and real high school students from the award-winning Santa Monica High School Choir who work hard and apply themselves and, contrary to the shallow depictions of teens in the hyped extreme world of “reality” shows, truly aspire to achieve great things.

BIG CHALLENGES arise when drastic budget cuts endanger both the quality of our public schools and their arts programs. BIG VOICE also sheds light on how those cuts will impact the cultural future of teens and highlights the role of determined high school teachers who can still strive to create a thriving vocal music program that ignites students’ passion for music, a sense of belonging, and the value of working hard to achieve their dreams.

BIG INSPIRATION is one of the main focal points of the film and it’s embodied in the inspiring teachings of the choral instructor, Mr. Huls. By teaching these students to read music, to express a song with true artistry, and to learn to cooperate so that they can merge their voices to become one “big voice”, he is giving them a gift that will enrich their lives forever.

WATCH THE TRAILER: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream

At MUSICFOLDER.com, we love music and if you are a part of an inspirational group like the Santa Monica High School Choir or you know a teacher who is working hard to bring more awareness to vocal arts we’d love to hear about it! We’re inspired in our own way to design and produce the best music folders possible and get them to you in a timely fashion!


 

Choir members star in “Big Voice”

Published October 20, 2011 by Max Gumbel, Staff Writer, The Samohi

Conveniently located barely 30 minutes from Hollywood, the Samo campus has been featured in a number of short and feature-length films. Yet, the focus of the production crew visiting campus is not to recreate a genuine-looking high school backdrop this time. They are here to film students.

Director of new documentary “Big Voice,” Varda Hardy, and her team are here to shoot  as they produce a documentary about Samo’s choir program.

The new film centers around Samo choir teacher Jeffe Huls and his students in the two top choral ensembles, and deals with a public school music program overcoming decreasing funding for art education. “Big Voice” also examines the struggles that come with pursuing dreams in creative and competitive  fields.

Hardy’s inspiration sprouted from the recurring discussion of public school budget reductions, specifically involving arts education. Hardy, whose daughter Raven Bennett is a Madrigal singer in the choir program, thought that Samo would be a perfect environment to showcase.

“I’ve always wondered how Huls and his students achieve such inspiring artistry within the context of a public school,” Hardy said. “I then had the inspiration that is now growing into ‘Big Voice.’”
Hardy approached Huls last fall with the idea, and by the end of that year filming had begun.

“When [Hardy] talked to me about a new documentary, I immediately said yes, but I never thought production would start any time soon,” Huls said. “However, by the middle of the year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the necessary paperwork was done and that the district had approved the entire project.”

However, “Big Voice” still had a long way to go. The production team needed an additional $40,000 to carry on with production. That goal was met and exceeded by nearly $5,000 with 442 donators.
Choir students were excited to be a part of film which focused on both the choral program and individual choir students.

“I think it is just fantastic that the choir program will be highlighted because it is absolutely amazing,” junior Madrigal Ensemble singer and Hardy’s daughter Raven Bennett said. “The movie will show all the hard work that is put into becoming a successful ensemble.”

As the idea turned into a production, cameras started to fill the choir room, altering the environment of the class.

“[The cameras are] a little intimidating, and at first I was really worried about what I was doing and what I looked like,” junior Madrigal member Nora Winner said.  “But since then, I’ve really considered and thought about the purpose of the documentary and I find a way not to notice anymore.”

For some, the “Big Voice” cameras also extend into their lives outside of the classroom.

“Several students are being interviewed outside of the classroom, like at home, around school, or at private voice lessons,” junior Madrigal member Isaac Nemzer said.

With this angle on students as individuals, many members of the choir are also given very rare opportunities to work with professional artists of many kinds, and a few are even writing their own songs. Winner, for example, is currently creating a song with pop music composer Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “Man In The Mirror”.

“The experience of working with such distinguished people is really special for the students,” Huls said. “The songs will also add pop music to a documentary about a classical choir, stirring additional intrigue from audiences that listen primarily to pop songs.”

According to Hardy, the film’s focus on choir students shows the challenges and possibilities that are inevitable in the pursuit of a dream.

“I want especially to encourage and inspire young audiences,” Hardy said. “During these constricted and austere times, we need authentic stories that remind us that anything is possible when we are truly determined and put in hard work.”

“Big Voice” also displays how singing in a choir drives those involved to accomplish goals that may not have to do with music or the arts.

“Music is really a way of expressing one self, and the more you’ve experienced the more you can really appreciate music’s value and message,” Huls said. “Therefore, experiencing music like how we do in choir can be a way to achieve personal growth.”

“Big Voice” is also very much centered on how Huls inspires and motivates his numerous aspiring choir students.

“Huls lives and breathes music,” Winner said. “He pushes the choir until we are the best we can be at that moment, and then pushes us past what we thought was possible to achieve.”

According to Winner, Huls’s passion will be displayed in the movie, showing the dedication that many teachers have, regardless of the budget or overall success of the school they teach at.

“We hear so much about ‘broken’ schools, and the flaws in public education these days,” Hardy said.” Huls, and “Big Voice” as a whole, should show that teachers with rigor can overcome the adversity they face.”

Although “Big Voice” features one teacher, Huls, and his teaching style Hardy is adamant that the film is representational of teachers accros the nation.

“Although “Big Voice” focuses on one teacher, my intention is that this teacher will serve as an example of the many other excellent teachers who are truly passionate about teaching the subjects they teach, and enriching the lives of their students,” Hardy said.

Hardy hopes that the documentary will raise awareness for issues involving public education, like the film “Waiting For Superman”  did last year. However, “Big Voice” sheds a positive light on what a school like Samo and a teacher like Huls have the ability to accomplish.

“I believe that if all we do is focus on what’s wrong with the system we start to perpetuate the very problem we are criticizing,” Hardy said. “With so many negative depictions of public schools, we are left with the impression that public schools are inherently problematic, but this school district has shown me otherwise.”

Even though there is still about a year of filming left, many cannot help but anticipate the release of “Big Voice,” as well as how it may impact the way people see public education, specifically regarding the arts.

“I really hope that the film communicates the need for the arts in schools,” Nemzer said. “These programs are in desperate need of funding, and hopefully this movie will kick-start the support of taxpayers for education and the arts.”

The Samo community has already rallied to raise funds for the “Big Voice” project, with many posting links to the movie’s funding site on multiple social networks.

“Fundraising was tough, and there were many complications,” Huls said. “However, our community has stood by this movie, having worked their hardest to make this film work.”

And, in fact, the actualization of the project through funding backs up the film’s idea that a small community can flourish despite growing odds.

“My experience with the Samo community has revealed to me that there are many challenges to face, sometimes seemingly insurmountable,” Hardy said. “But, with the determined support of a caring and engaged community, obstacles can be overcome.”

mgumbel@thesamohi.com


 

‘Big Voice’ documentary hits fundraising goal

Published October 15, 2011 by Ashley Archibald, Santa Monica Daily Press

 

SAMOHI — Volunteers raising money for a documentary following the Santa Monica High School choir successfully hit their fundraising goal just hours before all of the donations slipped from their grasp.

Filmmaker Varda Hardy put the concept into motion, with the intent of showing the value of arts programming in public schools.

She formed a team of parents and interested volunteers, and began the arduous process of filming and fundraising.

The team used the website Kickstarter.com, a Web site where interested people can solicit donations for projects like the documentary. The goal was $40,000, and they had until midnight Tuesday to reach it.

Kickstarter.com comes with a catch. It costs less to use than other similar crowd-funding sites, but if the group doesn’t make their goal in the allotted time, it gets none of the money.

“Monday the 10th was insane,” wrote Deb Love, a producer of “Big Voice.” “At the end of the night Sunday, we were $6,000 away from our goal. But the donations started pouring in Monday.”

At 3:21 p.m. Monday, the team reached their goal of $40,000, and the money kept rolling in. By the end of the day, donations reached $44,670.

“It was incredibly humbling and moving to see the overwhelming show of support from friends, family, community and supporters who heard about us through the Internet,” Love wrote.

The $40,000 will be used as seed money to keep production going as they continue to raise funds.

Anyone interested in being a donor, sponsor or investor can e-mail bigvoicemovie@gmail.com

ashley@smdp.com


 

Q&A with Filmmaker Varda Hardy, Director of BIG VOICE, a Film about the SaMoHi Choir

Published October 13, 2011 by Richard Stearns

To chronicle and highlight the story of one amazing public-school teacher and his love for his students and his passion for music, filmmaker Varda Hardy decided to document his heartfelt story on film for the world to see. She is in the first stages of production for this very special project, called BIG VOICE.

To move the project into its next phase of production, a fundraising campaign was launched and, I’m happy to say, the goal of raising $40,000 was realized as of this past Monday, with more than $4,000 in spare change.

Varda was nice enough to answer a few questions that sum up what BIG VOICE is about and what she hopes will come of it

Richard Stearns:  What is the story behind BIG VOICE?
Varda Hardy
: Big Voice tells the story of a visionary choir director and his determined students. It explores what it means to be a great teacher and choir director as well as the profound benefits of music education, the power of music to transform lives, and the myriad of life lessons inherent in the journey to become a choir capable of achieving true artistry.

RS: How was the idea conceived?
VH
: I feel it’s important, during these austere and challenging times, to create an uplifting story full of possibility.  The story of Mr. Huls and the Santa Monica High School choir is such a story.

RS:  What was the purpose behind it?
VH
:  To entertain and inspire audiences.  To shed light on the value of arts education and to create an authentic portrait of an effective teacher and students who care.

RS:  Why document this story on film?
VH
:  Because I believe that in our society public schools, public school teachers and arts programs have not adequately been recognized for the extraordinarily positive influence they have on our children’s lives and our society.

RS:  What do you hope to accomplish with it?
VH
:  Shed light on the value of public school education, arts education, music education and good teachers.  Inspire people to work hard and persevere past what may seem insurmountable obstacles in order to achieve what they value most in life.

RS:  What were you raising money for and how will those funds be used?
VH
:  We are raising money to fund the production.

RS:  What’s your ultimate dream for BIG VOICE?
VH
:  That it will be an excellent film, fulfill my intentions and inspire millions of people…especially youth.

RS:  Who should people contact if they want to make a donation?
VH
:  bigvoicemovie@gmail.com

Even though the fundraising campaign was successful, the work doesn’t end there. Please consider making a donation – however big or small – so that Varda can finish this project and bring to light a very important and touching story.

For more information, check out the BIG VOICE website or video and stay connected as the project progresses.


 

BIG VOICE: An interview with filmmaker Varda Hardy

Published October 7, 2011 By Kyna Morgan of Her Film Blog

Poster proposal for Big Voice (image courtesy of the filmmaker)

VARDA HARDY is an award winning writer/director committed to creating meaningful and engaging films. Her shorts have had successful festival runs and garnered multiple awards, including “Crystal Heart Award” for her film “Window” and Grand Jury and Audience Award for “Ode to Los Angeles”. Varda wrote and directed the web series “Runaway Stars”, and co-wrote and directed the web pilot “House of Heather”. Her Branded Entertainment projects include Walmart’s “HD American Portraits”, “Summer Fun” and “Race to the Sky” for Detroit’s automotive industry, and “Rock For Equality” that was awarded “Most Innovative Video” by Youtube’s Non-Profit Video Awards. Following a global search for cutting edge directors, SHOOT magazine selected Varda’s work to be featured in their prestigious New Director’s Showcase. She co-chairs Women In Film PSA Program for whom she directs and produces Public Service Announcements. Varda is currently developing feature projects.

____________

HerFilm:  Tell us about your current film project, Big Voice.  How and when did you decide to pursue this documentary project?

Varda Hardy:  BIG VOICE is a feature documentary about a visionary high school choir director and his determined students. I decided to pursue this project last spring.  I’m making BIG VOICE because I want to tell a story about a great teacher, an effective arts education program and dedicated students who work hard and apply themselves, who aspire to achieve “great things”.

There are so many negative stories out there about schools, teachers and teens.  There is truth in those stories, but I want to share another kind of truth–the bright side.  I want to get young audiences all jazzed up about life and the possibilities that lay ahead of them.  I want them to know that though they may have to work super hard to and persevere through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even though it may be tough, they can still shape their lives according to their “dreams”.  I think this is an especially important story to tell during these economically bleak and austere times.

HF:  In making this film, what are you learning about stereotypes of teenagers and how the teens themselves deal with them?

VH: I am learning that teenagers are complex just like adults. And that they really do have one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood.  The very same teen can be profoundly wise one moment and quite silly or petty another.   I am also struck by how “normal” the teens I’m getting to know are.  They have strong values, a strong work ethic and poignant philosophical views contrary to the shallow depictions of teens in the hyped extreme world of “reality” shows.

HF:  In a time when education budgets in the U.S. are being aggressively slashed, what is your take on the state of arts education today?  Also, how do you think these cutbacks will affect the cultural future of American children?

VH: I am seriously concerned about the effect budget cuts will have on arts education.  I believe that art elevates our society.  It spurs insights, it feeds our spirits, it expands our awareness, makes us question, reflect, see the world in a different way.  Art creates space in our lives.  Most importantly, art brings joy to the world.  When students study the arts, they learn to value this inexplicable, at times impractical, illogical pursuit that profoundly enriches our society.

Watch the trailer

HF:  Teaching, for many, is a “call,” not unlike the inner “call” to become a physician or an activist for some cause.  One of your main protagonists is the teacher, Jeffe Huls.  Can you talk a bit about him and what you are learning about the craft of teaching?

VH:  I came into this project with an intellectual appreciation for teachers and what they do.  I have two daughters and I am deeply grateful to their teachers and for the knowledge and life lessons they have provided my children.  However, now that I have been witness to the “inner sanctum” of the classroom, I have a whole other level of appreciation for teachers and what they do.  Mr. Huls truly cares about his students.  He believes that teaching them to read music, to express a song with true artistry, to learn to cooperate so that they can merge their voices to become one “big voice” is a gift that will enrich their lives forever.  I gather from conversations I have had with adults who studied choir in high school, being a part of a a high school choir is a precious gift.

HF:  What have you learned, as an individual, about teenagers and their passions and dreams?

VH:  I have learned that some have passions and ambitious dreams like being a heart surgeon, a famous actor or singer. Others dream of having a family and a nice home, and some silently dream that tomorrow will bring them a stable life and a room of their own.

HF:  One of your benefactors is the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation FOR THE ARTS endowment.  How were you able to partner with them, and how will their involvement affect the life of your film (distribution, sales, etc.)?

VH: I created a PSA for the SMMEF Save Our School Fundraising Campaign featuring local kids along with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.  The PSA was one small cog in a giant wheel of volunteer efforts that raises  $1.5 million dollars in six weeks to restore teachers and vital school programs. Through that experience I grew appreciative of the SMMEF which funds many of the Santa Monica & Malibu Schools arts programs as well as academic enrichment programs and sports. I am in awe of what they accomplish under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Gross and I want to continue to support their efforts.  Again, I want children to know that they are important and our society cares about them.

HF:  What type of role as a filmmaker do you like to take as you are filming?  Do you simply observe or do you like to be more active with the people you are documenting?

VH: Mostly I observe. Sometimes I ask them to “do that again”.  But rarely.  I am doing interviews which I am finding to be extremely thought provoking and illuminating.

HF:  What type of production team you like to work with when you are making films?

VH:  I like to work with creative, self-motivated, easy going people who have a positive “can do” attitude.  I like them to have strong opinions which I openly invite.

_____________

To find out more about BIG VOICE, take a look at these links:

Kickstarter campaign (ends Oct. 10, 2011)

•  Website of Varda Hardy and her IMDb page

•  Facebook page for BIG VOICE

Websites  for BIG VOICE:

•  http://bigvoicemovie.com/

•  Trailer for “ODE TO LOS ANGELES” (PSA) — click here.


 

Varda Hardy And The Big Voice Project: Dare To Dream

Published Tuesday, 4 Oct 2011 by Lynne Bronstein, Santa Monica Mirror, Photo by Stephanie Salvatore

Varda Hardy, a Santa Monica-based writer and award winning filmmaker, works with cinematographer Daron Keet on their upcoming documentary, “Big Voice.” The film is a musical feature documentary which endeavors to illustrate the lives of top choir students and their teacher at Santa Monica High School during a time when art budgets are threatened.

Varda Hardy, a Santa Monica-based writer and award winning filmmaker, works with cinematographer Daron Keet on their upcoming documentary, “Big Voice.” The film is a musical feature documentary which endeavors to illustrate the lives of top choir students and their teacher at Santa Monica High School during a time when art budgets are threatened.
While millions follow the adventures of fictional high school students involved in music education on the TV series “Glee,” a real-life story of a dedicated music teacher and his students is unfolding at Santa Monica High School. The story is being captured in a feature-length documentary, now in production, called “Big Voice,” directed by award-winning local filmmaker Varda Hardy.
“Big Voice” follows SaMoHi choir director Jeffe Huls and his students as they study music, practice, and perform. A trailer for the film can be seen at Kickstarter.com.
Hardy is looking to raise at least $40,000 by Oct. 10 in order to have funds to complete the film.
“When I saw the Santa Monica High School Choir perform,” Hardy told The Mirror, “I was just profoundly moved. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a high school auditorium. Being so moved, in that context I also observed the choir director Jeffe Huls. He carries himself with such dignity and such commitment.
“When I started to hear negative portrayals of teachers and public schools, the choir and Jeffe Huls came back to me. I felt that there needed to be a story told of an accomplished teacher– because there are many out there, not just him–and of a public school that’s working.
“It’s important to tell uplifting stories. It’s such discouraging times right now. It’s almost my duty and obligation to tell this kind of story.”
Hardy admitted that approaching Huls and the students in order to film them was a challenge.
“It takes a lot for someone to be willing to be in front of the camera like that. It took several months to find his trust. Part of what helped is we had the support of Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation which funds many of the arts programs in Santa Monica and Malibu. They knew me because I created a public service announcement for them: the Save Our Schools campaign. So they really had a sense of my capabilities and my commitment to arts education. They trusted me so they helped bridge the relationship between Mr. Huls and me.”
Although Hardy has shot some footage (some of which can be seen in the online trailer) she said that “Big Voice” will take about a year to complete. She wants to film live performances of Huls and his students.
“This is why we have the Kickstarter campaign. It’s going to take a lot more money to fund filming of the performances because of the equipment and crew,” she said.
Hardy’s outline for the film sees the performances interwoven with Jeffe Huls’s story: “How he became a teacher, his passion for singing,” as well as the stories of the students.
Hardy, who was born in England to South African and Rumanian parents, lives in Santa Monica and has two children in the SMMUSD school system. She has made two feature documentaries, one of which was distributed nationally on public television. Although her experience with television gives her “inroads in that arena,” she hopes to distribute “Big Voice” on the festival circuit and also theatrically. “I do see it as an entertaining documentary. That’s one reason I picked the subject of music.”
Hardy wanted to mention her colleagues on the project: Dennis Leight, the co-founder of Oliver Peoples Sunglasses, “He really believes in the project;” her producers, Marina Viscun and Deb Love; associate producers Karen Lavender, and Carol Coote; her company LiveTribe Productions; and her beneficiary: the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation (SMMEF).
Although she acknowledged that the popularity of TV music contests and “Glee” might help stir up interest in her film, Hardy emphasized that “[t]his is a very authentic story. It’s a very different reality. We have students who are very, very passionate about singing.
It’s incredible to hear them talk about how important it is in their lives.”
To contribute to “Big Voice,” go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream before Oct. 10.

Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.


 

Santa Monica High School’s Got a Really “Big Voice”

Published October 3, 2011 by Melonie Magruder, Lookout Staff

In an era when public education is facing relentless budget cutting, when arts programs are routinely dismissed from high school curricula and when, as local filmmaker Varda Hardy says in her new documentary, “Big Voice,” ‘good enough’ is epidemic in public schools, Santa Monica High School boasts a teacher who demands – and inspires – excellence.

Jeffe Huls is Samohi’s chair of the performing arts program and choir director several years running, taking an often-marginalized class and turning it into a 175-member strong performance program. Huls oversees eight choral groups in ten national and international performances yearly and, as defined by Albert Einstein, is a teacher with “the supreme art to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge,” Hardy says.

Hardy, whose documentary features and short films have won numerous awards, was so taken with Huls as an inspiration and motivation to high school choral students that she decided to make a documentary feature about him. Principal photography has already started and she will travel with the choral students this year, tracking their preparation, rehearsals, disappointments and triumphs as part of her film.

“Jeffe models the possibility of greatness,” Hardy said. “He wants them to see that when they are as good as they think they can get, they can push through, work harder and achieve things they never expected of themselves. I was well into adulthood before I learned that lesson.”

Another lesson Hardy has learned is the difficulty of funding such projects independently. Accordingly, she is seeking sponsors through an innovative, grassroots-style campaign being utilized by more and more arts groups nationwide – direct marketing in an online web program called Kickstarter.

Potential arts supporters can read about the proposed project, the principals involved and view trailers, and pledge whatever they can during the funding drive – a limited period of time in which to raise, in Hardy’s case, $40,000. The project is currently funded at more than 50 percent of its goal.

“I was just so moved by the quality of the music Jeffe’s students were creating,” said Hardy, whose daughter Raven Bennett sings in the choir. “You hear so much negative news about horrible teachers and waste in public schools. I wanted to show with “Big Voice” that it’s possible to get beyond that and find a teacher that gives something invaluable to his students. Something magical.”

Huls attended California State University, Long Beach before getting his masters degree at Western Michigan University. He acknowledges that he sets a “very high bar” for his students and then pushes them to move that bar higher.

 
 

“And the students always surprise me,” Huls said. “Whether these kids end up pursuing music as a professional career or just singing as a hobby, I think that they will always see music as part of their lives. For me, it’s not just an artistic expression, it’s opened all kinds of doors for me and allowed me to travel the world in artistic collaborations I never imagined.”

Though Huls and his students mostly work on classical pieces, Hardy is including some pop music performances, and engaging Grammy-winning composers to work with the students to create new songs for the film.

The artistic lineup includes Siedah Garrett who has worked with Michael Jackson and Jennifer Hudson, Pam Aronoff who has written songs for Emmylou Harris and Kelly Clarkson, and Cliff Goldmacher, whose work has been recorded by Jane Monheit.

Huls said he was especially enthusiastic about working with Lamont Dozier, the pop/soul writing legend, who penned mega-hits for acts like Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and the Four Tops.

“Meeting Lamont Dozier was just amazing,” Huls said. “The way he thinks about art, his songwriting, it just builds a bridge between pop music and choral music. It’s a great opportunity for me to load some more tools into my toolbox.”

The SMHS choral groups compete nationally and internationally, have won several awards, and have local upcoming performances, including one scheduled for December 15 that Huls describes as a “perpetual motion concert.”

Isaac Nemzer is a junior and has been choral singing since eighth grade. Although he started studying instrumental music, he says that Huls is a big part of why he has abandoned that to focus on choral singing.

 
 

“You can tell he is very passionate,” Nemzer said of his teacher. “He’s very serious about excellence and that motivates us to be serious in our rehearsals.”

Meanwhile, Hardy is focused on guiding her small crew through production as efficiently as possible, buoyed by her award of $100,000 worth of post-production recording and editing services from On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project.

“I am sure we will get our funding,” Hardy said. “It should be a fun ride for the audience. A really joyous, engaging experience. Just like Jeffe Huls’ approach to music.”

To find out more about Varda Hardy’s documentary, “Big Voice,” go to: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream.


 

Big Voice: a Documentary by Varda Hardy

Published September 30, 2011 by buylocalmarket

 

Award-winning filmmaker Varda Hardy brings us Big Voice, the story of Santa Monica High School’s hugely committed Choir Director and his accomplished students.  By capturing the extraordinary accomplishments of this public school program, Big Voice demonstrates the possibility of excellent public education and even more specifically the value of arts education within our public schools.

As part of a grassroots effort, the producers of the film are currently raising funds through Kickstarter, a crowd funding, all or none, vehicle to be able to continue filming through the end of the school year.

All funding will go towards the production phase of Big Voice to pay for the crew, equipment and travel needed to follow the subjects throughout the year.

Due to the incredible support of 166 backers, Big Voice has currently raised almost $17,000 but if $23,000 more is not raised in the next 10 days the project will receive no funding.


 

Let the ‘Big Voice’ be heard

Local filmmaker strives to showcase Samohi choir

Published September 29, 2011by Ashley Archibald, Santa Monica Daily Press

SAMOHI — Award-winning executive director and Santa Monica resident Varda Hardy has taken on her next major film subject: the Santa Monica High School Choir.

For the next year, Hardy and a mostly volunteer production team will follow the choir with cameras and sound equipment, documenting the year of instruction, performance and growth.

Through the film, entitled “Big Voice: Dare to Dream,” Hardy hopes to shine a spotlight on the beauty and strength of the choir program at Santa Monica High School, as well as its fragility in the face of ever-threatening budget cuts.

At first, it seemed a strange project for Hardy, a self-described fan of pop art who’d never been much interested in choral music. Attending her two daughters’ performances, however, instilled in her a passion for the haunting songs.

“I was swept away by the performances,” she said. “I became really awed by the accomplishments of the students, and the choir director. The idea of them, in this 2011 culture, singing ancient music and so clearly committed to it was incredible.”

Even as she fell under the spell of the music, danger loomed.

The 2010-11 school year saw the danger of massive cuts from the state level, much of which seemed poised to knock out “non-essential” programs like arts and music.

The community rallied around the 60-day Save Our Schools campaign, and successfully raised $1.5 million to save 20 positions, including music teachers.

Hardy participated in SOS, an experience that opened her eyes to the harsh realities facing school programs.

“That woke me up to the tenuous nature of these programs, how they’re funded through the community and the Education Foundation,” Hardy said.

The SOS campaign inspired Hardy to do more.

Like many in the Santa Monica community, Hardy felt that she could wield her personal and professional talents to help preserve the programs she and her family valued.

She decided to make a movie depicting a year in the life of the Santa Monica High School Choir and its director, Jeffe Huls, funded in a grassroots way with some of the proceeds going to benefit the Education Foundation.

The premise: To capture the passion, determination and ethic of Huls and his students as they pursued ever greater achievements in their craft, and to demonstrate the importance of classes like choir in public schools.

The idea caught Huls by surprise.

“A year ago, she approached me and asked if I’d be interested in talking about it,” Huls recalled. “I said sure, we can talk some more. Now, a year later, we’re filming.”

The native Nebraskan and self-proclaimed tyrant of the podium has long been an advocate for the exposure of choral music education, particularly in a time when so many programs across the country are feeling the sharp cut of the fiscal knife.

After the initial shock wore off, Huls welcomed Hardy and her team into the classroom to begin shooting practices and interview himself and the students.

The team, including professional producer Marina Viscun and former Samohi parent and choir enthusiast Deb Love, plans to document every performance the choir holds this year, and show the musical and personal growth of the students involved.

The task of getting an entire year in the choir on film is nothing short of monumental, and asks a lot of the largely volunteer team.

In early September, Hardy, Viscun, Love and co-producer and sponsor Dennis Leight of the glasses shop Oliver Peoples hopped in their cars and traveled to Big Bear for the choral retreat, where the filmmakers hoped to capture the forging of a disparate group of teens into a unit with the backdrop of bonfires and picturesque nature.

“Big Bear is gorgeous,” Viscun said. “We’d like to capture the beauty of nature and interlace that in the editing with the beauty of singing.”

But to do it, Hardy and her team need cash.

It costs to get the right equipment, quality sound editors and camera people, even when they’re willing to toss in a discount for the cause, she said.

The $100,000 she and Viscun won at the ON LOCATION: The Los Angeles Video Project this year will get the effort off the ground, but producing something of the quality she and her team envision will take much more. The award is for post-production services.

To gain support, the Big Voice team began a fund on Kickstarter.com, a website where people can solicit donations for projects like the documentary.

They’ve set their online goal at $40,000, a necessary amount to get past the initial hurdles and put down enough cash to let people in the professional world know that they’re serious.

“We’re making do with what we can right now, but to achieve the film, for it to have the power it can have, we need to raise these funds,” Hardy said.

Kickstarter.com comes with a catch, said Deb Love, producer and de facto fundraising head for the project.

“It’s all or none with Kickstarter,” she said. “If we don’t make our goal, we don’t get any of that money.”

Kickstarter.com will refund money donated if the group does not raise the desired amount. The group chose Kickstarter.com because it’s cheaper to use. They just have to meet their goal.As of Wednesday, Sept. 28, “Big Voice” had 157 backers who’d pledged $16,205. With 12 days left in the funding cycle, the team is hoping for a groundswell of community support to push the amount over the edge.Whether she gets the backing she needs or not, the Santa Monica Choir’s “Big Voice” will be heard, Hardy said.”No matter what, this film is going to get made, even if it’s me holding the camera doing it,” Hardy said. “Or, it could be done on an extraordinary scale.”To donate to “Big Voice: Dare to Dream,” go to: www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream ashley@smdp.com


 

Documentary About Santa Monica High School Choir Seeks Backers, Funding

Published September 22, 2011, by MIRROR STAFF

An uplifting documentary that explores the lives of the top-singing students at the Santa Monica High School Choir, and its visionary choir director, is currently seeking backers and funding.

“BIG VOICE” is a musical feature documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Varda Hardy.

At a time when drastic budget cuts endanger both the quality of our public schools and their arts programs, this determined high school music teacher strives to create a thriving vocal music program that ignites in his students a passion for music, a sense of belonging, and the value of working hard to achieve their dreams.

The documentary reveals how much Jeffe Huls is a “larger than life” choir teacher with a passion for teaching and an edgy sense of humor.

His talented students practice diligently to pass the highly competitive auditions, meet daily to learn and sing challenging music, and perform both for their local community and in venues around the world.

“BIG VOICE” will follow Mr. Huls and his teenage students interweaving interviews and concerts with ‘slices of life’ footage.

It will explore what it means to be a teenager facing an unknown future, and an accomplished artist creating great art in the context of a public school.

In addition, this visually stunning documentary will include original songs created for and by the students with the assistance of Grammy-winning artists.

To learn more about the documentary and how to support the project, visit http://www.kickstarter.com /projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream


 

SAMOHI Choir, Director Star in New Film

Published September 14, 2011 by Peggy Clifford, Santa Monica Dispatch

Varda Hardy’s documentary, BIG VOICE, now in production, has launched its kickstarter campaign. Fundraising will continue until October 10 at 9 p.m. at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream.

BIG VOICE explores the lives of the leading singers in the Santa Monica High School Choir and its visionary choir director, Jeffe Huls.

“At a time when drastic budget cuts endanger both the quality of our public schools and their arts programs,” said writer/director Hardy, “This determined high school music teacher strives to create a thriving vocal music program to ignite in his students a passion for music, a sense of belonging, and the value of working hard to achieve their dreams.”

“This film is very grass-roots,” added producer Deb Love, “and we will continue updating everyone about project developments on our website, blog, and BIG VOICE facebook fan page, as well as on Kickstarter.”

Production on BIG VOICE started in May with the coverage of student auditions and interviews used in the Kickstarter video.

“Our film’s production schedule will take the crew on a year-long journey,” said producer Marina Viscun, “and will include choir performances, interviews, travels and classroom teaching.” In addition, the documentary will include original songs created for and by the students with the assistance of award-winning artists like Siedah Garrett (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”), Lamont Dozier (The Supremes’ “Baby Love”), Pam Aronoff (Kelly Clarkson’s “Thankful”), Cliff Goldmacher (Jane Monheit’s “It’s Only Smoke”), and David Babich (Varda Hardy’s “Ode to Los Angeles”).

Hardy has already secured partial post-production support with the win of the Grand Jury Prize of recording and editing services valued at $100,000 at ON LOCATION: The Los Angeles Video Project presented by NewFilmmakers LA. LiveTribe Productions is accepting investor partnerships to further expand the funding for this unusual project.

Santa Monica resident Hardy is an award-winning writer/director “committed to creating artful, meaningful and engaging content.” Her shorts, web series, and branded projects have garnered multiple honors from around the globe. She was named top new Director of 2010 by SHOOT Magazine. Varda co-chairs Women In Film/LA PSA Program where she directs and executive produces Public Service Announcements.

BIG VOICE is a LiveTribe Production: producers Marina Viscun, Deb Love and Karen Lavender.


 

Episode Eighty-Three: Directing with Varda Hardy

Published September 7, 2011 by Cindy, Film Method

As we near the end of the production season we circle back to the topic of directing. Varda Hardy started in this industry as a script supervisor and worked steadily until she made the switch to directing five years ago. Varda recently won $100,000 for her 1 minute film about Los Angeles for the On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project. Varda’s Kickstarter campaign for her new documentary Big Voice is the focus of this month’s Support from Start to Finish feature this month.

Episode Eighty-Three: Directing with Varda Hardy [60:06m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download

Varda Hardy- Writer/Director/Producer

I was born in London, England.  A year after I was born, my parents moved to Israel where my father served in the army.  My mother is South African and my father is Romanian.  He had moved to Israel to escape the communist take-over of his native land. My mother was on holiday in Israel when she fell instantly in love with the young soldier–my father.  I fell in love with “the movies” one summer night in Israel when I caught sight of A Man and A Woman screening at a drive-in theater nearby my window.

Following six years in Israel, my mother brought my older sister and I back to England where we remained for several years until we moved to San Francisco.  It was in San Francisco that I started to make my own 8mm movies with a camera my 8th grade English teacher Mr. Mohan lent to me. He believed that there is different kind of learners and some people learn best by making things…like movies.  He was right about me.  I love to make things, especially movies.  I lose myself in the creative process, the germs of ideas bubbling up like and catching on fire like lava rising from the mysterious inner earth.

Following San Francisco came a short stay in Los Angeles and then we were off to the “big apple”.  I went to High School at Dalton New York City, where I fell in love with dance and theater.  Then I went to Cornell University where I re-discovered my passion for filmmaking under the tutelage of Cultural Anthropology Professor Robert Asher.  Like Mr. Mohan, Prof. Asher believed in alternative forms of learning and expression.  He encouraged me to pick up an old super-8 camera to create a report instead of writing it.  I went to NYU for a semester where a screening of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now got under my skin.  That’s when I knew I would pursue directing.

I studied directing at Cornell University, received my MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, worked as an assistant director and then script supervisor of numerous film projects both for television and theatrical until about five years ago when I shifted into directing.  My husband Patrick S. Bennett and I are enjoying raising two lovely daughters Paloma and Raven, the rest is icing on the cake.

On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project
Varda’s Website
Varda Hardy on Facebook
Live Tribe Productions


 

Director Varda Hardy Wins $100,000 Grand Jury Prize

Director Varda Hardy of LiveTribe Productions Wins Grand Jury Prize

Published June 03, 2011 by Santa Monica, CA (PRWEB)

Varda Hardy’s Ode to Los Angeles (LiveTribe Productions; producers Marina Viscun, Dawn Higginbotham) won the Grand Prize – recording and editing services valued at $100,000 from Equilibrium Entertainment – and the Audience Award at ON LOCATION: The Los Angeles Video Project. The event was presented by NewFilmmakers LA at Sunset Gower Studios on May 21, 2011. The film will premiere on the LA INC. website discoverlosangeles.com/onlocation on June 13, 2011.

Ode to Los Angeles is part of the On Location program, spearheaded by Larry Laboe, that challenges filmmakers to create a video featuring Los Angeles as the premier global destination. “Creating Ode To Los Angeles,” said writer/director Varda Hardy, “gave me the opportunity to honor and celebrate the city’s rich cultural and artistic community. I loved making this film because it embodies the very creative and collaborative spirit that makes Los Angeles so special to me.”

The film was shot in one day with a minimal crew of five people, ten set locations around Los Angeles, and twenty-six cast members whose call time varied from sunrise to sunset. “From pre-production to completion,” said producer Marina Viscun, “people wanted to be a part of Varda’s vision – to give back to the city they love, to be part of a team that saw Los Angeles differently, and to share Varda’s inspiration with others.”

The poem read by David Babich, who also composed the original score for the film, further emphasized the breadth of the city captured by cinematographer Daron Keet. Editor Chanel Eakin brought out the poetry in these images. “Varda has always committed herself to meaningful and important causes,” said executive producer Karen Lavender of LiveTribe Productions, “something that our company strongly supports.”

Hardy accepted the win on behalf of all participating filmmakers. “This prize,” she added, “will go toward Big Voice my next project advancing the arts in Los Angeles and continuing the scope of this contest.”

Big Voice is a feature documentary – a cross between a real-life Glee and Mr. Holland’s Opus. It follows a “larger than life” public school music teacher whose love of classical vocal music, inspirational teaching methods, and his determination to maintain the highest of standards enrich and transform the lives of his students. LiveTribe Productions is accepting investor partnerships to finalize the funding for this remarkable project.

LiveTribe’s Varda Hardy is an award winning writer/director committed to creating artful, meaningful and engaging content. Her shorts, web series, and branded projects have garnered multiple honors from around the globe. She was named one of the top new Directors of 2010 by SHOOT Magazine. Varda co-chairs Women In Film/LA PSA Program for where she directs and executive produces Public Service Announcements.

Contact:
Marina Viscun
pingvinproductions(at)gmail(dot)com
310.869.4258

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