For Once In My Live is a musical documentary about the Spirit of the Goodwill Band, the only performance band in the country whose 29 members have diverse mental and physical abilities.
Each of them faces a unique set of challenges from cruel taunts to parental abandonment. But the only sad part of this documentary is that this band is the only one of its kind.
Javier Pena has been the musical director since 1996. He is patient with his musicians and singers, but is also a strict taskmaster.
When they tell him they can’t do something, he tells them gently but firmly that they will. Inexorably, he moves them closer to their goal of performing a new song for the U.S. Mayors Convention, for a crowd of more than 1,000 people in a huge venue.
The film intercuts rehearsals and concerts with short forays into the lives of the band members.
There is Christian, the sweet-tempered pianist. Blind and autistic, Christian’s goals are to have a family and to be a famous musician so people can witness what disabled people can do.
Nancy, who is somewhat mentally slow, is a singer and a reluctant dancer (she describes herself as “not the best dancer in the world”). Then there are Jary and Juan, two mentally disabled brothers whose antics continually frustrate Javier.
The band gives them a creative outlet for their anxieties and their intense rehearsals give them a sense of self-worth. But rehearsal is not the real world and when they are faced with the stage, even their rock, Javier, is nervous.
“Money and time are running the show,” he says glumly.
The movie has many great moments — along with some huge laughs — but the filmmaker’s ending was particularly powerful. It ends with a simple scene, just Javier teaching a new student to sing as he begins his journey again.