A finalist among the doc features screening at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Joanne Hock's powerful, life-changing Purple Dreams that turns Black youth stereotypes upside down in this wonderful and spirited documentary that seems destined to be a Heartland Film Fest favorite.
In the film, 2 1/2-year journey "serves as an inspirational window into the lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education." It's most beautifully manifested in the school's putting together of a remarkably challenging musical, The Color Purple, a show that is both a master challenge for thespians and a show that is deeply meaningful to the Black students who comprise the majority of the musical's cast.
Purple Dreams is the kind of documentary that grabs you quickly and before you know it you're completely immersed in its world, a world that takes students, many of whom have faced remarkable challenges from poverty to homelessness to a variety of other huge life obstacles, and offers them the tools and the opportunities to use those challenges to create better lives.
Purple Dreams has already picked up the Audience Choice Award at the RiverRun International Film Festival and an Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking prize for Joanne Hock from Stony Brook Film Festival, along with others since its selection for the 2017 Heartland Film Festival was announced. The film is now competing for Heartland's $25,000 top prize as Best Documentary Feature.
Purple Dreams is an infectious, emotionally honest film that will likely make you want to run out and enroll your child in Northwest, a North Carolina school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. This award-winning production of The Color Purple was the first ever full-length high school production of The Color Purple and watching it come to life is exactly what inspiration looks like.
As is seemingly always true in films such as this one, the film's array of characters will resonate differently for each moviegoer. Within moments of her arrival on screen, I fell in love with the delightful Britany, a young teen just beginning to discover this passion of hers and whose fierce dedication doesn't waver even after she narrowly misses a coveted role.
You just know somewhere down the line, Britany will be back better than ever.
Yet, the same is true for practically everyone who fills the screen in Purple Dreams, from Corey, the paternally inspired disciplinarian who guides the musical theatre efforts, to every child who dances across that stage and even the community of Charlotte that seemingly wraps itself around these kids as their opportunities increase and fund-raising becomes a factor.
To give too much away about Purple Dreams would be an absolute shame. The simple truth is that I found myself engrossed from beginning to end, unable to turn away from their challenges and celebrating their triumphs. I laughed. I cried. I swayed to their music and I wanted everyone attending the upcoming Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis to witness for themselves this remarkable gem of a film that celebrates these children and celebrates the vital importance of arts education.
For more information on Heartland Film Festival screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic