By Kathy Dismukes
Recently, I wrote about how DC’s Global Impact Film Festival was employing smart strategies to build audiences and momentum. One of their keys to success, of course, is selecting the right films. In this post I explore the whys and hows of The Ripple Effect, one of the festival’s biggest critical and audience hits of 2018. This short documentary is about a very special arts program being delivered at eight elementary schools in the poorest neighborhoods of East and Central Los Angeles and the effect it’s having on kids, their families, school culture, and the entire community.
The program, called Secrets of the Heart, was founded by Bunny Hull, a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and longtime leader in L.A.’s arts world. It is the signature program of the nonprofit Dream A World Education, Inc., which Hull established in 2008 to bring arts education to children across the L.A. area. In 2016, she decided to make The Ripple Effect to give people insight into the true ROI of arts education and build support for Secrets of the Heart and Dream A World Education. She wrote, directed, produced, executive produced, narrated, and, along with her brother, Jeff Hull, handled music supervision, music editing, and sound mixing, too!
I’ve been struggling with how to articulate in words what I experienced in just 20 minutes on the screen. Then I found a Doc Society (formerly BRITDOC) newsletter article that captures it beautifully: “Just what is it that makes these verité nuggets such creative dynamite? Delivering big ideas and visual poetry in perfectly formed moments: shorts often have the artistic and logistical flexibility to deliver the hard hitting and emotionally resonant in the time it takes to run a bath.” The Ripple Effect is a perfect example of this phenomenon in action.
The skillfully shot and produced film opens with a brief but effective montage of the grim figures and images associated with poverty in urban environments, like dropping out of school, crime, and incarceration. It quickly takes us out of statistics and into classrooms at Esperanza Elementary in L.A. and Eucalyptus Elementary in nearby Hawthorne, CA. We see little bitty kindergarteners making their own headdresses for a later group sing-along. We hear from teachers participating in a workshop that helps integrate the Secrets program into their lesson plans. And principals share about the positive effect the program’s having on their schools.
Throughout, we meet Dream A World’s team members, the most dazzling group of women artist-educators you’ll ever encounter. These singers, dancers, writers, and others, all of whom are working professionals in L.A., create Secrets of the Heart’s content and perform its skits, songs, and dances. Their enthusiasm and sheer joy jumps out of the screen and catches you up. You wish you could dance with the kids, bang a drum with a parent, or just be in the room with everyone.
Many of the parents are new immigrants with limited English and little formal education. The Secrets program involves them at each step of the way, even hosting special workshops where they, too, can learn how to do some cool dance moves. Moms and dads share heartfelt stories about the trials they’ve been through trying to establish a new life in the US and how important the program is to them and their children.
In one scene you see an immigrant father’s tense face and posture change completely as he plays an instrument alongside his young son. You realize he may not ever have had an experience like this in his own life. What’s more, because music is the universal language, he didn’t even need to speak at all to be a part of the magic. By involving parents in such a respectful, heartfelt way, the program alleviates any discomfort that mightprevent them from participating continuously in their child’s education.
The Ripple Effect brings home exactly why the arts are so critical to education and community. It does more in 20 minutes than any PowerPoint, report, or expert testimony can. The film won best sound design at DC’s Global Impact Film Festival this summer, and it recently aired on L.A.’s PBS stations. Hull is continuing her festival tour and plans to submit it for the next Emmy Awards. To watch The Ripple Effect, contact Dream A World Education. They would appreciate a donation to offset costs and advance their work. Here’s hoping this post helps spread The Ripple Effect’s effect.
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Bunny Hull is Founder and Executive Director of Dream A World Education, owner of BrassHeart Music, and a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and singer. She’s known for hits like “Ready For a Miracle,” which earned a Dove Award, and the pop smash “New Attitude,” which earned a Grammy® and rocketed Patti LaBelle to the top of the charts. Hull has earned more than 20 gold and platinum albums for her work with icons such as Michael Jackson, B.B. King, and Quincy Jones. As an arts advocate, in addition to founding Dream A World Education, she has traveled to Washington D.C. in support of the Child Art Foundation and the Grammy Foundation, joining National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences representatives to promote an increase in National Endowments of the Arts funding to members of Congress.
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Kathy Dismukes is the founder of Pintail Productions, a Washington, DC area media production enterprise. Pintail Productions helps companies, associations, and nonprofits make strategic, integrated use of both traditional video and new formats like 360 and AR. Kathy is also an impact producer and consultant specializing in fundraising, partnership building, and community outreach for films and nonprofits. A Women in Film & Video member since 2007, she served for two terms on the board of directors, including as VP of Development.