If you want to feel like the human race is one big web of interconnected lives, or if you want to believe in the power of kindness, or if it just seems like the world's troubles are so big that there's nothing you can do to make a difference, you should watch A Small Act from director Jennifer Arnold. And if you missed it at Sundance, you'll have a chance to see it later this year when it airs on HBO.
This is the story of a woman in Sweden (Hilda Back) who sponsors a child in Kenya. The cost? About $15 a month. The woman has no idea how the money is really used and isn't sure it's doing any good. Meanwhile in Kenya, the money is paying the tuition for a poor student's secondary education. (Apparently, high school isn't free in Kenya.) The student does well and gets into college where he studies law. He then gets accepted to Harvard where he gets a master's degree. He then wants to give other poor students the same opportunity he got so he creates the Hilda Back Education Fund, even though he's never met the woman and has no idea who she is. Eventually the two meet and develop a long friendship.
The movie also follows three students hoping to qualify for a scholarship. And these are intense stories. It's amazing how much tension the filmmakers create as we, the audience wait for the students' test scores. The dramatic gasp from the audience as the results were announced says a lot about how well this movie is made.
There's a lot of serendipity in the story. This is a movie that had the potential to be a very long version of one of those bad, for-just-a-few-dollars-a-month-you-can-sponsor-this-poor-foreign-child ads. But instead it tells a gripping story that makes you want to go out and do something good. Even if it's something small.