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A Small Act (A Movie Review)

A SMALL ACT (2010)

Featuring Chris Mburu, Jane Wanjuiru Muigai and Hilde Back.

Written by Jennifer Arnold.

Directed by Jennifer Arnold.

Distributed by HBO Documentary Films. 88 minutes. Not Rated.

Charity begins at home, perhaps, but the reach can be much farther than you can even imagine. A Small Act is a fascinating look at how a small act of kindness changed a life that the giver never knew about.

Chris Mburu was one of many poor villagers in a tiny Kenyan village whose opportunities were limited, to say the least. However, because a woman he never met in a country he had never visited decided to donate the equivalent of $15.00 a month, he was able to go to Harvard, become a lawyer and get a job with the United Nations.

For many years he wondered about the woman who had subsidized his education. All he knew was her name – Hilde Beck – and the fact that she was Swedish. When Mburu decided to form a scholarship fund himself for children in his childhood position, he recalled Beck and decided to name the fund after her. He also reached out to the woman.

It turns out that Beck was a single schoolteacher and Holocaust survivor who had no idea how her regular small donations could change another's life.

This part of A Small Act is truly fascinating, and it is gratifying to see the woman and her benefactor meeting and becoming close friends years later.

However, A Small Act also looks at a darker and more disturbing part of the story. The producers find three children who are desperate to win the scholarship because they know without education, they have no chance of escaping the poverty and violence of their country.

These sections are eye-opening and troubling because of the true desperation of the entire families and the outbreak of genocidal war which gives even more importance to the escape.

It's fascinating stuff, and yet theatrically it is a little slow-moving. Occasionally the filmmaking is a tiny bit sloppy. Several points are made in interviews and later repeated by the same or other interviewees as if they are new. Long periods have no action – for example watching the kids waiting for a phone call that doesn't come for days. It is heartbreaking at the same time that it's a bit dull.

Also, the producer’s decision to pay for school for the students who did not achieve the scholarship – while a wonderful gesture in real life – tends to give the film a bit of a reality show feel.

However, despite some small slow sections, the story of A Small Act and the information that it is conveying is so vital that it deserves to be seen.

(Note: Despite the fact that this is listed in the "Available at Your Video Store" section, at the time of this posting the movie is only available as a documentary running on HBO. It is almost inevitable that it will be released on DVD, but there is no official release date set.)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: July 12, 2010.

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