By Nelie Diverlus
PROMESA: a US-enacted bill created to maintain fiscal control over Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring. Upon its launch, the people of this nation have been finding themselves enraged by the government’s inaction in assisting communities, as well as combatting the detrimental effects of climate change affecting the country. Through Drills of Liberation, we begin to unpack what it means to use our voice to claim autonomy, and how community adequately supports in doing so
© Simulacros de Liberación Youtube
This story takes us through the streets of Rio. The revolutionary spirit of the story is felt almost immediately, guided by voice-over, astounding visuals, and a moving soundtrack. The culture of the story is also immensely felt; not only through language, but also supported by the stunning shots of landscape and setting. The energy of the film is magnetic – the viewer can find themselves drawn to the sounds and visuals of revolution, as the people have taken to the streets to demand change and action.
As stated, director Juan C. Dávila exquisitely guides us through narration and movement. Community is a great theme within this story, as the people of Puerto Rico are finding resistance through collective voices and strength. Dávila’s distinct choice to show his face during interviews also adds another layer of connection that is intensified; in this sense, there are little to no barriers between the subjects and the interviewer, and this supports the “unification in resistance” narrative that is projected constantly throughout this film.
The various landscape shots brilliantly provide adequate insight into their living situations. The abandoned maintenance of the city’s homes and streets reinforce the message of the film, regarding the government’s negligence of the nation’s inhabitants. Seeing homes flooded with individuals and families with nowhere to turn to has potential to fill the viewers with rage – knowing that the administration would rather see its people grasp for survival than to refute a controlling bill. One notable element is the lighting; there were a few moments during the interviews where there were shadows cast on the subjects, causing us to lose their face within the surroundings. This could have been prevented by ensuring a fill light is used to eliminate the excessive shadows.
Additionally, the music composition adequately assists in displaying the culture of Puerto Rico. While the music serves the moving tone of the story as a whole, the soundtrack also gives us a good reminder of the setting – the soft guitar launches us into the Caribbean atmosphere of the story. The music also effectively remains subtle, which is rather crucial to assist in projecting the story’s profound message. Because it does not overpower the visuals and statements being said, the film’s bed track purely acts as support – which is, strangely, a concept that has been lost within different films.
“While the music serves the moving tone of the story as a whole, the soundtrack also gives us a good reminder of the setting – the soft guitar launches us into the Caribbean atmosphere of the story.”
Ultimately, this film terrifically calls our attention to a pressing matter that has been debilitating the people of Puerto Rico. Statements from the film’s subjects also teach us the value of community; there truly is strength found in numbers, and this film rings this message loud and clear.
Editor’s note: Drills of Liberation screened at CTFF ’21, as part of the Political Environment programme.
Silent Night: a harrowing feature film that dives into apocalyptic themes, through some unconventional methods. Set during Christmas, various friends face the inevitability of the end of the world as we know it, and find themselves caught in the urgency of the apocalyptic circumstance. This film sheds light in the power that children hold for the future, while also allowing the viewer to have some light reflection on what the end of the world would mean for us.
“This film sheds light in the power that children hold for the future, while also allowing the viewer to have some light reflection on what the end of the world would mean for us.”
This film has a chilling start; the chilling juxtaposition of Christmas music layered over a brief visual of blood (amongst other clips showing the chaotic energy of pre-Christmas) alludes to something sinister. Simply by observing, the viewers begin to ask questions: how are all of these people connected? Why is there blood right at the beginning of the film? Both of these questions launch the viewer in a quest to have them solved.
Camille Griffin serves as both writer and director of this apocalyptic comedy. The blend of these (sub)genres is marvellously infused to add a lighter finish to the haunting undertones of the story. The humorous flow of dialogue assists in easing the story and the viewer, thus also adding another element of distinctiveness to the narrative. The setting is also notable – the blend of the homely and wholesome nature of Christmas with themes of death and grappling with the unexpected add an eerie layer to the already unsettling story.
“The setting is also notable – the blend of the homely and wholesome nature of Christmas with themes of death and grappling with the unexpected add an eerie layer to the already unsettling story.”
Distinct colours play a significant role in determining the time and place of the story itself. Reds, greens and whites collectively reinforce the Christmas nature of the film. While these prominent colours raise the film, the lighting often falls flat. The Black characters in the film seem to blend into their surroundings, having the viewer wonder if more attention was paid to set and mise-en-scne than to ensuring that we could actually see the subjects of the film.
While the lighting fell through at some moments, the children help alleviate this mishap greatly. The portrayal of children being at the core of desiring change for the state of the world bears resemblance to the current function of the planet, which is the common understanding of children having the future in their hands. The questions raised by the children throughout the film straddle the line between simple curiosity and philosophy, and this adds an even deeper layer of reflection for the viewer.
"The questions raised by the children throughout the film straddle the line between simple curiosity and philosophy, and this adds an even deeper layer of reflection for the viewer.”
As a whole, this film provides a gentler approach to apocalyptic themes than most. While this story seems slightly familiar, there are various elements throughout the film that add distinctiveness to the story: setting and (sub)genres collaborate to raise the tension of the film, while also providing some ease for the viewer’s pleasure.
Editor’s note: Silent Night screened at TIFF ’21, as part of the Gala Presentations programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
Flee sounds just like its name; the constant mode of escapism is the primary focus of this astounding film. When protagonist Amir faces pressing matters in his home country of Afghanistan, he has no choice but to escape to Denmark – forced to be a victim of human trafficking to fulfill this. Through a mixture of animation and live action, Flee teaches us the despair that follows immigration, as well as the vulnerability that comes with speaking one’s truth.
© Elevation Pictures
Set in present day between the filmmaker and his close friend, Flee launches us close to forty years prior, in the formative years of the film’s subject. The anonymous identity of the protagonist, Amin, allows him to be more vulnerable to the viewers, as he no longer fears safety and protection from exposure. Amin recalls the trauma endured from escaping Afghanistan to Denmark. Having been in hiding for a significant time of his life, Amin reveals the part of his history that have been concealed. Through learning of his tumultuous journey to Denmark, and his chilling experience with being a victim to human trafficking, this film provides raw insight into seeking refuge into a land unknown – for a chance of a better life.
Director Johan Poher Rasmussen effectively incorporates the personal nature of this story, namely by having the subject of the film be a close friend of his. The entire story feels as if it is a conversation with friends, which also allows Amir to feel more vulnerable and comfortable recounting his trauma to us. The extent of Amir’s story is rather disheartening – it is pleasing to know that he is allowed a comfortable setting to relay this. In addition to ensuring Amir’s well-being, Rasumussen skillfully conceptualizes this story through animation; adequately retaining the subject’s anonymous identity, as well as ensuring the compelling nature of the film as a whole.
“Rasumussen skillfully conceptualizes this story through animation; adequately retaining the subject’s anonymous identity, as well as ensuring the compelling nature of the film as a whole.”
As stated, the captivating animation propels the story forward, as well as adding another dimension entirely. This element, juxtaposed with live action found footage, allows us to figuratively draw the character and his experiences, without actually having to see him. The scene edits are marvellous – the story’s flow is clear and crisp, sufficiently retaining our attention and allowing us to follow along.
The tension within the film is unfathomable. Due to the stakes remaining very clear and critical, the viewer has the ability to sense some of the fears and desperations of the characters. The abysmal circumstance of Amir having to adjust to different connections, while facing harrowing moments of life-or-death, we begin to see the grim effects of having to continually live in survival mode.
“The abysmal circumstance of Amir having to adjust to different connections, while facing harrowing moments of life-or-death, we begin to see the grim effects of having to continually live in survival mode.”
In brief, Flee stunningly brings a formerly concealed story to light. Stories of those seeking refuge unbeknownst to them are rather underrepresented, and this story effectively conveys a crushing story in a manner that is clear and moving to all of us. We see the harrowing reality of escapism through Amir’s eyes, and this story has great potential to etch itself within the minds of every viewer observing.
Editor’s Note: Flee screened at TIFF ’21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme.
“CTFF ’21: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery: a story of unlearning and centering the voiceless
By Nelie Diverlus
New Light - The Rijksmuseum and Slavery, directed by Ida Docs premiered at the 16th annual CaribbeanTales Film Festival ‘21 . Harsh truths and artifacts are uncovered about slavery within this film, and this story works to give the viewers a new viewpoint in regard to our perception of the colonial era.
Centered in the Netherlands, this film revolves around the Rijksmuseum and its devotion to centering the voices of those that were enslaved. By opening a slave exhibition at this site, the characters dive into unpacking and de-platforming the oppressors, but rather elevating those that were silenced. Revelations are made within their discovery to uncover the buried truth, allowing the viewer to gain insight into the horrors of the colonial era – a reality that remains unfathomable for us today.
Director Ida Does boasts her stunning vision through various elements: sound, lighting, and symbols. Sound carries the film to new dimensions – the classical music played throughout, especially when mirrored against various shots of artwork, adds an eerie and unsettling approach to the story. The discomforting composition almost resembles a horror film, leaving the viewer unnerved. The narrative told of this artwork is incredibly significant; the violence ensued by these glorified figures is indeed unsettling, and this film sheds light on this. This film also has incredible sound recording, as each subject speaking is heard clearly and distinctly.
Similarly, lighting also drives this story forward. The use of soft lighting adds warmth to the story, as well as illuminates the characters to resemble an angelic glow around the subjects of the film. Additionally, the choice of using blues and yellows as the primary hues was masterful – the appearance of this colouring on Black skin was magnificent.
Symbolism is very profound within this film. The motif of beads signifies both bondage and freedom, as well as the preservation of history. Preserving artifacts is the main bulk of the film, seen within different narratives within the story. Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.
“Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.”
It is rather important to mention the nature of the content and the lens in which it is told. At various points in the film, it appears to be seen through the white gaze, making the content all the more unsettling. White guilt guides portions of the film, at times removing away from the true essence of the message, and rather catering to white observers. This has great potential to whitewash the narrative – gratefully, the prominent Black characters reclaim the narrative to return the message back to its rightful place.
Ultimately, New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery combines impressive visuals with a compelling message. Uncovering the many layers of slavery will always prove to be more complex than imagined. Through poetic imagery, this film uncovers, both figuratively and literally, the harsh realities endured by those with wishes for a better life.
Editor’s Note: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the A Different World programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
Power: a tool often yielded to uphold exploitative systems. When power is placed in the hands of human trafficking victim Mateus in 7 Prisoners, he sells out his comrades in order to build a sustainable life for his mother. 7 Prisoners challenges us to extend beyond our ambiguous perceptions of good vs. evil and to seek out the humanity in each character’s fight for survival.
“7 Prisoners challenges us to extend beyond our ambiguous perceptions of good vs. evil and to seek out the humanity in each character’s fight for survival.”
Set in São Paulo, Brazil, this film centres around a cohort of impressionable men hoping to find work. They are conned into a façade of a workplace, of which they believe will aid them in creating a sustainable life for themselves and their families. Instead, they are met with the brutal reality of a cruel junkyard, in which they must exploit their work for pay, as well as the ensured protection of their loved ones. Protagonist Mateus uses this as an opportunity to progress past his comrades and secure money to send back to his unwell mother. Through this story of vicious manipulation, this film brilliantly teaches us about oppressive systems, and how they rely on sacrifice to preserve its power.
Mateus clearly serves as an example of the conflict between wanting to do what is right or using exploitative methods of rising to the top. When faced with the difficult decision of choosing between comradery, or his mother. While this is a choice that no one should ever have to make, one can understand how systems of power always know how to go after the most vulnerable. Luca represents the larger system at hand – a system of unwilling sacrifice, betrayal and overall cruelty.
Director Alexandre Moratto cleverly centres the horrors of human trafficking in this enticing thriller. Diving into his Brazilian heritage, Moratto once again places this nation at the centre of this story (his other Brazilian work being his first feature film, Socrates). Through his exploration of his heritage through filmmaking, Muratto marvellously introduces us to Brazilian cinema – a world of films rarely ever discussed in North America.
The film’s pace is rather quick, considering the high stakes. The main use of a handheld camera establishes a sense of urgency within an already tension-filled film. The handheld camera also gives us the illusion that the film is always in motion – due to the need to escape this prison-adjacent system and provide for their loved ones keeps all of the captured victims in constant motion. Through the thick tension, our senses remain engaged, holding on for hope that all of the victims are able to escape this oppressive, brutal system.
"The main use of a handheld camera establishes a sense of urgency within an already tension-filled film.”
The brown and yellow hues excellently highlight race and how it is a disproportionate factor of the victims’ treatment. Luca is notably white or white-passing, as well as the people we see him surrounded by, and the choice to capture young Black and Brown men heavily reinstates the racial undertones around human trafficking.
“The choice to capture young Black and Brown men heavily reinstates the racial undertones surrounding human trafficking.”
Although the story is rather heavy to observe, 7 Prisoners remains worth highlighting. This film innovatively tells the often-neglected stories of human trafficking amongst Black and Brown men, informing us of systems in place to threaten their livelihood. Through themes of betrayal and power, this film also serves us a harsh truth; oppressive systems thrive on the existence of exploitation.
Editor’s Note: 7 Prisoners screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
Burning: a story of resistance. Based in Australia, this film challenges the prioritization of fossil fuel consumption over actual effective measures to protect the land. As we learn of lawmakers and the inactivity of those in power around climate change, Burning also teaches us the meaning of speaking out against injustice, in the name of the affected communities surrounding us.
This film follows the growing fires of Australia, examining the ways the nation’s inhabitants feel abandoned. During 2019-2020, the worst bushfires hit the continent – engulfing the nation into a state of anguish and rage, and consequently coining this time period as “The Black Summer”. This film calls attention to the lack of proactiveness in the fight against climate change; the nation’s administration is shown to diminish and invalidate this notion, thus enraging the people of Australia. This film also brilliantly places children at the centre of the movement against climate change – Oscar-winning director Eva Orner understands the true power the next generation knows in demanding change and justice.
The framing of this story is simply marvellous. The found footage used mainly consists of news broadcasts, either supporting the cause or actively against. This calls attention to the purpose of the film itself – this story serves as one large call out against the media and the nation’s administration for continually neglecting the needs of the people. The witnesses of the wildfires also serve as superb subjects for this film, painting the explicit picture of “The Black Summer” in a rather vivid manner. This story devastatingly also serves as a cry for help – the voices of the Australians were overlooked during one of the most catastrophic years of the nation’s history.
Eva Orner effectively diverts our attention to the calls of her people. It is also rather important to note that Orner does not centralize this story to simply Australia – the call to action extends towards all administrations actively denying climate change, and those that refuse to centre the voices of their people. She adequately uses her extensive documentary filmmaking background to execute this story coherently. This is her second documentary centering her home country – pulling from activism for refugees in her film, Chasing Asylum, Orner once again places a platform for the people of Australia to challenge the administration’s oversight of the nation’s inhabitants.
In terms of visuals, Burning masterfully conveys the appearance of a distant wildfire by incorporating yellow and orange hues to the colouring of the film. The landscape shots were exquisite – the b-roll footage consisting of vividly detailed forests, juxtaposed with the concept of wildfires, visualizes a future for Australia that is not set ablaze. In addition, the lighting of the subjects brings out every distinct detail of the interviewees. This film impressively separates the subjects from their background, and we, thankfully, do not see them blend into their surroundings.
“The b-roll footage consisting of vividly detailed forests, juxtaposed with the concept of wildfires, visualizes a future for Australia that is not set ablaze.”
In addition to the powerful message resounding throughout this story, Burning also notably highlights the Indigenous perspective, considering these communities are disproportionately affected by this disaster; however, this is rather brief. In relation to Eva Orner’s desire to refrain from having this film solely centred around Australia, the viewer is able to relate to the concept of Indigenous communities constantly being neglected in movements surrounding climate change justice. The sounds of chanting at the beginning of the film feel almost like a loose land acknowledgement, and this film is seen to have more focus on the rights of the animals on the land, rather than the Indigenous communities themselves.
All in all, Burning is a powerful tool of resistance and demand for change. This film teaches us how power can be found in the generations to follow and implores us to continually voice our frustrations to the same administration that is supposed to care for us. Climate change injustice affects us all, some in more ways than others.
Editor’s Note: Burning screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme.