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Q&A with Lisa Nicol


In a nutshell, what is Wide Open Sky About?

Wide Open Sky is about a children’s choir in a remote corner of NSW. But what it’s really about is the fragile world of possibility that is childhood and the importance of music within that world.

What inspired you to make the film?

I love music and was horrified to find out that most schools no longer teach it in any meaningful way. The kids in this film have little or no access to music education, apart from the choir once a year – I found that disturbing.

The choir director Michelle Leonard was also an inspiration ­­– she is an absolute force of nature. Michelle and I have kids at the same school. I’d heard about this choir she ran and how she did incredible things with these kids who had no musical education whatsoever. I went out to check out the camps where the children come together to rehearse for their big end of year concert. I was so moved by the children’s singing and hearing these small children tell me about their hopes and dreams.

 The kids in the choir are in primary school. I think it’s a unique time. They are so open and honest – they remind me of flowers in full bloom, every petal open to the sun, nothing closed off. They are not yet self conscious or self-editing and the choir means so much to each and every one of them. My aim was to let the kids talk for themselves; I wanted to hear from them why music mattered. We hear a lot of adults talking about why music matters but my aim was to hear what the kids had to say. 

What was it like to work with the kids?

Of course there’s the old cliché never work with kids or animals. Well I reckon adults are much trickier than kids! Adults have agendas and are conscious about how they might be perceived. Children on the other hand aren’t, so you get something very authentic which is what you’re looking for as a documentary- maker. The four children we follow through their choir experience are all very different but they are all such lovely kids.

I came away believing there’s something about country kids – they aren’t as demanding as city kids and they’re satisfied with less. They’re more self-sufficient because they have to be. Entering their world was wonderful. Some of the best moments in the film and the ones that resonate are when we fall into their worlds. I also tried to capture a part of childhood, in this case, the going away from home for to camp. I think it’s something we can all relate to. The nerves and the excitement of stepping out into the world by yourself for the first time. They absolutely steal your heart and they’re so funny!

The film won the Foxtel Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival – what did it feel like to win?

Can I swear? It felt f#%@*$g great! It was completely unexpected and such a huge thrill. We had standing ovations and tears and laughter, and this audience response has been the same in cinemas. The children are the stars of the show and audiences seem to fall in love with them the same way we did. The screenings went really well. We had standing ovations and lots of tears and laughter. And that audience response has been the same in cinemas. The children are the stars of the show and audiences seem to fall in love with them the same way we did.

There’s something about watching primary aged children sing. It’s profoundly beautiful. And the music the choir sings is all new contemporary Australian compositions and it’s absolutely beautiful. I’m a bit more of a folk/rock'n'roll lover. I wasn’t expecting to like the music the choir sang, but it is such beautiful music. It’s hard not to feel moved by their big concert at the end, and you see how far they’ve come and how proud they are of themselves. I think that’s what audiences respond to so strongly. That and the humour!

Aside from your documentary projects, you work as a copywriter, corporate video producer and a children’s author – is there anything else exciting coming up you can tell us about?

Yes actually! I have a kid’s book coming out next year. It’s called Dr. Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter. Strangely enough it’s a comedy about girl who looses her laughter and her adventures at the ‘Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures’ where she tries to find it again. It’s a bit fantastical, a bit offbeat. And of course, it’s all about the power of music – I’m stuck in a groove obviously!

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