Prior to the film screening, the executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), Roger Durling, and the two directors of “Madu,” Matthew Ogens and Joel Kachi Benson, gave speeches. Durling discussed his love for movies and film festivals, explaining that[“the commonality of film broke all barriers.” He went on to describe the beauty of being able to share a movie with someone, ending his speech with a poignant statement: “We don’t come to the movies for the meaning of life, we come to the movies for the feeling of being alive.”

Ogens and Benson were the next to speak, sharing their gratitude for everyone who was a part of the project and what the film meant to them. “Madu is a film about daring to dream against seemingly impossible odds. It’s about acceptance, it’s about belonging,” OThey shared their pride in their work and Benson ended the speech by thanking none other than Anthony Madu himself because he “trusted us enough with his story. Without him, there would be no story.” 

After the speeches, the lights dimmed, the theater went silent and the audience was off on their journey of discovering Madu’s story. The film followed Madu as he began dancing in Nigeria, gaining attention on social media and receiving an offer to join the Elmhurst Ballet School. And, of course, it touched on his trials and tribulations facing a new country, new people and even finding out he was partially blind in one eye. 

The documentary was beautifully made, with intimate looks into his life with his family, sweet moments between him and his new friends and a very real look into the homesickness and ways he struggled to adjust to his new life. While getting the chance to join a school such as Elmhurst was an opportunity he was very grateful for, the journey was just the beginning as he then had to contend with many more obstacles. 

From the start of the film, one thing was clear: Madu loves ballet and nothing was going to stop him from pursuing his dreams. The documentary was a truly inspiring tale that definitely had everyone rooting for him throughout the film. People got to see him go from a young kid, who was bullied for doing what he loved, to a confident, assured young man who was finally accepted and celebrated for his talent. While it might be thought that the movie is about ballet, it was really about Madu’s journey and the personal growth he faced during a very personal and transformative time in his life. 

Earlier in the night, Durling had said, “art, like movies, is not fully realized until you share it with someone.” The meaning of this became abundantly clear in the theater that night as the entire audience laughed together when Madu’s friends teased him, awwed when he gave the girl he liked flowers and cried when they understood his struggles. At the end of the day, this movie is about wanting to belong in a community and pursuing your dreams in the face of adversity which are sentiments that everyone can relate to.

“Madu” was an emotional, heartwarming and lovely film that perfectly encapsulated the multitude of emotions that come with chasing your dreams against all odds. Even in the theater, there was a sense of camaraderie and unity among people that only comes with being moved by the same piece of art. 

This movie was the perfect way to begin the film festival, with themes so moving and touching to start an event celebrating art and films. “Madu” was definitely a fantastic film that’ll have audience members and critics alike saying, “Don’t mind if I Madu!”