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Film Night: El Sistema

Nick Thomas | 19.07.2010 12:22

El Sistema is the Venezuelan project that for 35 years has been proving the power of music to redeem young lives. The 2009 documentary, to be screened at the Pierian Centre on Sunday 25th July, shows how it has rescued hundreds of thousands of young people from poverty, drugs and crime.
El Sistema is a network of orchestras and workshops which is currently teaching more than 250,000 young people to play an instrument – 90% of them from poor backgrounds. The approach seems simple – but the results are profound. In 2007 the Inter-American Development Bank studied the 2 million people who had trained with El Sistema, and concluded that the decline in school truancy and delinquency meant that every $1 invested was producing $1.68 in social dividends. As a result the Bank granted El Sistema a loan of $150 million to build seven more centres.

The vision behind El Sistema is both ambitiously utopian and endearingly practical. To its founder, José Antonio Abreu, an orchestra is a model of the ideal society. By becoming members of it, children learn lessons of sociability and self-confidence that help them become active citizens in wider society. Using delight and discipline, the system unlocks individual expressiveness and the ability to work creatively with others.

El Sistema’s fame has begun to spread beyond the borders of Venezuela. The rise to stardom of graduates like Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra has brought its ideas to a wider audience. Hugo Chavez’s regime has backed it enthusiastically, but every Venezuelan government has seen its value and supported it. A similar project has now been launched in Scotland – and we will hear on Sunday of Fidelis Mherembi’s plans for schools in Zimbabwe.

Paul Smaczny & Maria Stodtmeier’s documentary El Sistema was hailed as “riveting” by the BBC Music Magazine when it was released in 2009. The Star wrote that “This is one of the most inspirational documentaries on music or social change you are ever likely to see!” We hope to be joined on Sunday by Chloe Goodchild of The Naked Voice to share chant and song inspired by El Sistema.

Our screening is by kind permission of EuroArts. It takes place at the Pierian Centre, 27 Portland Square, St Pauls, Bristol BS2 8SA. The Bar opens at 7pm – and the screening starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £5 – with special rates for Friends of the Pierian Centre and concessions. Booking is essential on 0117 924 4512 or

Nick Thomas
- Original article on IMC Bristol: