“TOPOWA! – Never Give Up” is destined to be one of the most uplifting documentaries you’ll see this year. Directed by Philip Sansom and Inigo Gilmore, the film follows the journey of 12 young teacher musicians from the slums of Uganda as they prepare for an opportunity that could change their lives forever–traveling to England to perform at Cheltenham Music Festival alongside legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
The musicians are part of the organization Brass for Africa, a charity founded by airline pilot Jim Trott, which aims to transform the lives of young people in Uganda, Liberia and Rwanda through the transferable life-skills learned by playing music.
During the first half of the film viewers are introduced to the young musicians from Katwe, one of the biggest slums in Uganda’s capital Kampala. The film spends a great deal of time showing viewers the extreme hardship they live in. Nightmarish poverty that will make you question how anyone could thrive there. Yet, the musicians’ spirits are bigger than their dire circumstances. Throughout the film they beam about never giving up. Topowa! they exclaim. This message is repeated again and again and with tears in your eyes you’ll believe them because with such commitment to persevere in the face of adversity that vast they are bound to flourish if given a chance.
Brass for Africa helps facilitate those chances.
As we learn in the film, Uganda doesn’t make it easy for its citizens to get passports to travel. We say this because there are dramatic moments in the film regarding whether the young people’s passports will be issued in time for them all to make their flight to England. The lengthy process strikes a chord as even if someone has an opportunity to possibly make their life better in another country, governmental red tape could potentially stop them. With the majority of Uganda’s population being under the age of 25, being able to prove certain details such as lineage can pose a cruel and major setback. It’s just not easy to leave. We won’t spoil whether all the youths in the film are successful at getting their passports or not, but anyone who has ever traveled will sympathize with the stress the situation creates.
Beyond having the chance to play Cheltenham Music Festival, another interesting aspect of the film is when a few of the young men are invited to try out for the Corps of Army Music and potentially have careers in the British Army. It’s such a cool and fascinating opportunity that I wish the filmmakers had devoted just a bit more time to explaining it to viewers who may not be knowledgeable about military service and the Commonwealth.
We’ve all heard the message about how music and the arts can transform lives. Seeing just how true that is in “TOPOWA! – Never Give Up” is a moving and extraordinary experience. By the end of the film you’ll be tapping your toes, cheering and believing in the dreams of the young people from the slums of Katwe and beyond because with resilience, hard work, and the will to never give up—anything is possible.
See “TOPOWA! – Never Give Up” screening online as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival from July 1st – 31st. For more information on how to stream the film, visit: mdff.org.au.