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El Sistema USA is a documentary about kids in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood where a music program dramatically changes their lives. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on September 23, 2012.

El Sistema USA is a documentary about kids in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood where a music program dramatically changes their lives.

About this project

A Note from the Producers: Since the launch and completion of this successful Kickstarter campaign, our film has evolved considerably. The film -- now titled "Crescendo! The Power of Music --" follows three kids as they participate in a pair of El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra programs: one in West Philadelphia and one in New York City's Harlem. This trailer, completed several years ago, shows material from Philadelphia only.

No need to tell you that there are a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for films nowadays, but, once in while there's one for a project that is too special and worthwhile to ignore. And one such project is for the the currently-in--production documentary El Sistema USA!

----Sergio Mimms, IndieWire


WOW. We are AMAZED and humbled at this outpouring of support. Thanks to our wonderful backers, we have achieved our last-minute $60,000 challenge!! We want to thank everyone for helping us to reach our goal, and an extra heartfelt thank-you to Bill & Pat Ramonas for their challenge contribution of $10,000.

Here is a quick Q & A for the remaining 19 hours of our campaign.

Q: What if we exceed this goal?

A: The more money we raise, the better we can make our film: higher production values, more incisive editing... so let's keep going until the clock runs out. Every additional dollar helps us create a work-in-progress piece we can show at festivals & screenings to generate excitement about the film.

Thanks so so much from the Entire Team of El Sistema USA Documentary!


Final Game Plan for the last 5 Days of our campaign:

For its final week, Team El Sistema USA doc has an announcement and an update.  Bill & Pat Ramonas have been gracious enough to grace our final week with a challenge contribution of $10,000 upon our reaching $60,000!  We are indescribably grateful for this generous offer. Reaching this donation amount will allow us to edit a 20 minute work-in-progress piece which we can show at film festivals and private screenings to raise awareness and generate excitement about the upcoming completed film!

Don't forget to spread the word to help us with our final push: $5295 in the final 5 days!! We can do this.  It is entirely possible to raise this amount and achieve our bonus donation from Bill & Pat Ramonas! Come one; come all to support our campaign at this link:

We're In the News Again!.... works in conjunction with CEO-READ to support and spread great ideas.  They asked that Jamie write about El Sistema USA Documentary.  Enjoy reading Jamie's article on Changethis about El Sistema USA Documentary. The piece begins:

 El Sistema’s founder, the visionary musician and economist Jose Antonio Abreu, has said, "If you put a violin in a child's hands, that child will never hold a gun." It is a profound idea: to use an orchestra as a means of personal growth for children in impoverished environments—which in turn brings transformation to the community as a whole... I know it sounds impossible, but El Sistema is for real.


Best as always and thanks to each and every one of you!


YAAAAAYYY!     THANKS A MILLION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   We’ve reached 100% You are amazing, generous, visionary supporters! But it’s not over by a long shot. Let’s finish with a bang! 

The strong numbers are making additional news, along with numerous press articles in support of our documentary. Now the question is: how far can we reach? The numbers keep going up; how much impact can we hope to make with our film? These questions can be answered only by you, our supporters. 

The Kickstarter campaign is already generating a lot of press attention, and, we're seeing how our little project could make an impact well beyond itself. The more money we raise, the better we can make our film: higher production values, more incisive editing – and if we get really lucky with our supporters, you can help us get all the way to the finish line. 

Thanks for the support, the wonderful emails, the press, the tweets, and for sending it out to your friends. Our entire team at El Sistema USA film documentary says: Profound thanks for everything so far -- and thanks in advance for what's to come! Take care…. 


As seen Indiewire (Shadow & Act), Arts Journal,,, and more! 

“If you put a violin in a child’s hands, that child will never hold a gun.” 
Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema    

Stanford Thompson, a visionary 23 year old African American trumpet player from Georgia, started the Play On, Philly! program two years ago. Our cameras were there on day one, closely following 13 year old Zebadiah, shy behind his dread locks; 11 year old Raven, always in motion; and all the other kids as they go from the first squeak on their instrument to navigating the mighty waters of Beethoven and Brahms.


This is a verite-style documentary; we go deep and close inside this inner city community. We see the struggles of the kids in their daily lives in school; the craziness of adolescence; and how, in just 2 short years, they have somehow become a full orchestra, even playing Brahms under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. We see the teachers, wrestling with attention and behavior issues in the kids, pushing them to reach ever higher. We also see the stress of the parents, many of them African immigrants, many of them single parents, facing unemployment, illness, and a myriad other pressures. And we see Stanford, struggling daily to keep his vision alive.

Not only will our film bring more support to the Play On Philly! program; we also hope it will bring attention to the scores of other Sistema-inspired programs popping up all over the US.

We need your help to get our story out into the world: to follow the ups and downs as Stanford, Raven, Zebadiah and all the rest of the gang at Play On Philly! struggle to reach their goals. We don't know how it will turn out, but whatever happens, we know it will be a fascinating ride! 

          A Message from Jamie Bernstein, Producer 

About five years ago, someone posted a YouTube video on Facebook showing a youth orchestra playing the “Mambo” from my father Leonard Bernstein’s musical, West Side Story. My jaw hit the floor: these kids were on FIRE.

I’d never seen anything like it before. No, wait – of course I’d seen it before: this was the very same energy and pure joy that poured out of my own father when he made music. Why, oh why wasn’t he still around to see this?!

I had to find out who these young musicians were. The answer was astonishing: they came from a Venezuelan program for impoverished children, El Sistema, that creates orchestral programs for hundreds of thousands of kids, nationwide, bringing deep transformation to their lives. This is music training used as social rescue: a very big idea.

My father believed in the power of music to transform young lives. If only he’d lived long enough to see El Sistema! And now it’s going global.

Two years ago, El Sistema arrived in West Philly. This is our in-depth story of the kids, the teachers and the community as the Play On Philly! program touches all of their lives.

I hope you’ll join us on our amazing journey!


The funds you donate to our Kickstarter campaign will go toward filming YEAR THREE. This is a crucial moment for the kids -- and we don't want to miss it!  Your donation will fund everything from paying our crew, to filming our characters at least 2 times a month, to capturing the concerts, to paying for our editor and editing equipment.

Your contribution makes it happen!

No need to tell you that there are a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for films nowadays, but, once in whilem there's one for a project that is too special and worthwhile to ignore--- Shadow & Act


Our Kickstarter goal is $50,000.

Now here’s the thing about Kickstarter: it’s all or nothing. If we don’t reach our goal of $50,000, we don’t get any of the money, and your credit card will not be charged. And it all happens through, so if you've ever ordered anything from there, you don't even have to pull a card out of your wallet.

So please help us get there! No amount is too small – but also, there’s no such thing as too much! 

And even if we've raised our goal, please donate – because the Kickstarter goal doesn’t get us all the way to the finish line.

And don’t forget to pass this campaign along! Please post the link on Facebook, Twitter, emails, blogs – anywhere your cursor travels where people love music and care about helping kids rise above their difficult circumstances.

If you have any questions, please contact our Producer (Outreach & Social Media), Dollena Campbell, via the "contact me" link on the right hand side.


If you’d like to meet our team, learn more about the project or contact us directly, go to our website, You’ll find more images of the kids, as well as other videos and all sorts of useful information.


Play On, Philly! , The Ensemble, The Yours Project, Leonard Bernstein Foundation, KidZNotes, Pricehillwill Foundation, League of American Orchestras, Miami Music Project, People's Music School, A.C.M.E, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, CMUSE Organization, Bravo Waterbury! , Conductors Guild, Tracy Silverman/ Calder Quartet Recording Project, Allentown Symphony's El Sistema Lehigh Valley, Classical Revolution Baltimore, ORCHkids, FAYM, New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, Musicopia...with more to come.


So spread the word, follow the kids on our website -- and thank you, thank you, thank you for participating in our Kickstarter campaign!

Jamie Bernstein,  Elizabeth Kling, Producers

Anthony Drazan, Director

(Gustavo Dudamel trailer footage courtesy of TED Prize)


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    Thanks so much you get a digital download of the film when it’s released.

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Funding period

- (54 days)