By Nelie Diverlus
Colin Kaepernick – a name that still resounds in our minds today. While him kneeling during the national anthem caused turmoil amongst patriots, and ultimately in his dismissal from the league, Kaepernick still teaches every day what it means to affirm your values, and to stand (in this case, kneel) in your truth. Colin in Black and White is a narrative that observes young Colin in his adolescence, learning about the world around him. Through the use of narration and strong visuals, the viewer begins to unravel the mystery that’s been alive for years – how did Colin become so bold?
Set in Turlock, California, the story centers the story of Colin Kaepernick – an activist and former NFL player. This film dives into some of the challenges Colin faced in his adolescent years, mostly surrounding his complex identity, in addition to toxic norms of masculinity. With his adoptive parents being white, Kaepernick increasingly finds it a struggle to navigate his Blackness, constantly grappling with his mixed-race identity and the confusion it ensues (both internally and externally). Through a strong narrative piece, in addition to thought-provoking visuals, Colin in Black and White cultivates a story of relatability for Black folks struggling to find their place in this world.
Colin serves as a version of a host in this narrative, guiding the viewer with narration to take a closer look at his early years and how they shaped the person he is today. Director Ava Duvernay competently builds upon her expertise in films rooted in activism – this film’s compositions and pace resemble those used in When They See Us; a Netflix short series directed by Duvernay. Her work is continuously shown to feature the use of blue and yellow hues successfully – when used in collaboration with one another, the depth of the characters is further projected.
“Her work is continuously shown to feature the use of blue and yellow hues successfully – when used in collaboration with one another, the depth of the characters is further projected.”
The visuals within this film are by far the most impressive aspect of the film as a whole. The changing backgrounds at the beginning of the film adds a level of depth to the story that is unfathomable – the viewer learns that this is a story of transformation and uncomfortable change. The comparisons used between old age and new age practices beautifully illustrate how history is cyclical; colonialism has left an everlasting mark on our world views, lifestyles, and most notably, identity. The blue, brown and yellow hues are nothing short of magnificent – we see each character vividly, as these hues support in illuminating their complexions.
The film’s use of non-diegetic sound compellingly supports in the movement and pace of the story. The music in the film not only assist in helping us understand the appropriate time period of this story, but it also serves as a bed track for identity; the selection of hip-hop music guides us towards understanding the culture of Turlock, California.
While the concept of narration helped propel the story forward, Colin Kaepernick’s tone did not feel quite right with the story. It is clear that narration is quite new to Colin, and this is shown with rigid pacing and awkward placements of emphasis. Perhaps he needed more direction with his words, as it felt as if he was unsure of himself.
“It is clear that narration is quite new to Colin, and this is shown with rigid pacing and awkward placements of emphasis.”
In short, Colin in Black and White provides adequate representation on confusion with identity, as well as provides us with a neat glimpse into the coming-of-age life of Colin Kaepernick. The process of blooming and transformation are two key themes within this film – young Colin is struggling to adapt to the constantly changing world surrounding him, and that is a trait shared amongst many of us, even throughout adulthood. We see the silent conversations present day Colin has with the younger version of ourselves, further teaching us what it means to heal your inner child.
Editor’s Note: Colin in Black and White screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the Primetime/TIFF Next Wave programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
In the new age of truth and reconciliation, Night Raiders serves as a solid reminder of the constant struggle for rights and land ownership that the Indigenous communities faces each day. When protagonist, Niska, has her young daughter taken away from her to serve an imperialist state, she sets out to gather means to retrieve her daughter, Waseese - while also fighting back against a cruel system. Set as a dystopian film, this story aids in proving that history is cyclical; the turmoil that was endured by Indigenous children not too long ago still has its traumatic roots alive today.
“Set as a dystopian film, this story aids in proving that history is cyclical; the turmoil that was endured by Indigenous children not too long ago still has its traumatic roots alive today.”
Night Raiders enticingly encapsulates the long-standing need for community and allies. Trauma and fear lead Niska to have her guard up throughout the entire story, in order to protect her daughter. All she cares about is saving Waseese, and she refuses to let anything get in the way of that aspiration. Along the way, she learns who she can trust, and slowly leans into community, as that as the best shot at sustainability and survival.
Cree-Métis director Danis Goulet makes her mark with Night Raiders as her feature film debut. As stated in her interview for an interview with CTV, she wishes to “counter the narratives about Indigenous people that have been fed to us, because they’re not true.” This film shows her putting her words into action, as this story sheds light on the damaging narratives that oppressors have imposed on this community – their need to control the children and mould them into servants of the state eerily reflects of the events that occurred at residential schools; a memory that the Indigenous community is still reeling from today. Goulet effectively pays homage to victims of the oppressive state, having the viewer reflect on traumatic experiences that may be foreign to themselves.
“Goulet effectively pays homage to victims of the oppressive state, having the viewer reflect on traumatic experiences that may be foreign to themselves.”
While the dystopian theme feels familiar, it is rather invigorating to have Indigenous faces at the centre of this thriller. The gray, grim lighting reminds us of the countless other post-apocalyptic films – this time, we get to see the perspective of those most likely to be actually endangered, rather than those with more means and access to privilege. The message within this story is heard loud and clear; the land should be returned to its rightful owners, in addition to freeing those made pawns of the system’s imperialist agenda.
The film is mostly comprised of handheld camera shots, further fulfilling the urgency and rush that is perpetuated within this story. We see quite a few close ups, allowing the viewer to fully take in the rawness of the story – puffy eyes, red nose, both from the cold and from grieving. The mise-en-scène masterfully conveys the forces that are against Niska in her quest for her daughter; the brisk cold air, fatigue from running through such large landscapes, and the snow all are factors in keeping her from her goal.
“The mise-en-scène masterfully conveys the forces that are against Niska in her quest for her daughter.”
The sound in this film is also incredibly notable. The ringing heard throughout contributes to the surveillance elements of the story, allowing the viewer to realize that there are forces greater than them, with the intention of suppressing their aspirations for a better life. The drone sounds are practically infused into the soundtrack, transporting the viewer into their monitored livelihoods. On the contrary, however, it is also worth mentioning that the Foley sounds used at selective, distinct moments seem mismatched; seeing that has the potential to prohibit the viewer from suspending their disbelief and transporting them out of the film experience.
“The ringing heard throughout contributes to the surveillance elements of the story, allowing the viewer to realize that there are forces greater than them, with the intention of suppressing their aspirations for a better life.”
Collectively, this film blares a profound message for all. Indigenous sovereignty extends beyond land acknowledgements, but rather by putting actions to words, similarly to how director Danis Goulet beautifully executed her vision for cinema. There is quite a bit of work to be done when unlearning colonial practices – Night Raiders provides some solutions.
By Nelie Diverlus
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds teaches us that the world is a lot more interconnected than we believe. Experiences and oppressions that many of us face here are also echoed in many different parts of the world – especially in terms of the questionable conflict of bodily autonomy. This story opens our hearts and pours out empathy towards all those facing fears of their agency torn from them.
© Films Boutique/ YouTube
This film set in Chad, centering around two female main characters: Amina, a single mother, and Maria, her fifteen-year-old child – who is now pregnant. While abortion is their desired method of evading this predicament, they must grapple with the stigma surrounding it; both by the nation in which they reside, and their religion (they are both Muslim, and Islamic laws discourage abortion, with certain exceptions.) Through fear, strength, and community, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds blares out the ever so needed call to reclaim autonomy over one's own body.
Director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun masterfully conveys a grim theme in a rather visually captivating manner. As mentioned before the beginning of the film, his inspiration drew from various stories of child abandonment post-birth, in addition to seeing the constant imposition of women’s body in today’s society, inspiring him to create a film that protects and amplifies the rights of bodily autonomy. There is an imminent need for this story today – lawmakers implementing laws to protect the rights of unborn children, rather than the parents themselves, in order to uphold the patriarchal norm of maintaining the rights of cis-gendered men. Haroun effectively centres the rights of the young pregnant girl in this story, and it truly is captivating to see his activism shown through his work.
“Haroun effectively centres the rights of the young pregnant girl in this story, and it truly is captivating to see his activism shown through his work.”
The film is presented with astonishing visuals – the dusty colouring of the film sets us in the rural region of Chad, as well as boosting the melanin of the subjects. The nighttime also brought blue hues that reflected on each character’s skin magnificently. There was clearly great attention to detail whilst colouring this film, as every aspect of the story is illuminated vibrantly. The film is comprised almost entirely of wide and long shots; these shots effectively support in providing a full scope of the surroundings; we no longer feel like an outsider looking in, but rather additional pieces to the story itself.
Moreover, the soundscape is outstanding. In juxtaposition of the immaculate visuals, we are further launched into the agricultural setting, simply by hearing sounds of goats and cattle to set the scene. The nighttime settings are christened with background sounds of crickets, amongst other various insects that come alive at dusk.
In sum, Lingui and the Sacred Bonds elegantly crafts the right to choose in a way that we can all hear. Director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun brilliantly validates the rights of everyone hoping to keep control of their bodies. This film serves as a tool of resistance, and for that, we are thankful.
Editor’s Note: Lingui, the Sacred Bonds screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the Special Presentations programme
By Nelie Diverlus
“America was built on violence” – a profound, resonating statement that is made during this film. Hold Your Fire reflects on the evolution of the hostage negotiation strategy, in addition to pondering on if it is possible to evolve from actions. This story centres around the longest hostage siege of New York City, all occurring both inside and outside of a sporting goods store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
“Hold Your Fire reflects on the evolution of the hostage negotiation strategy, in addition to pondering on if it is possible to evolve from actions.”
The year is 1973, and the increased over-policing of predominantly Black communities is progressively damaging the civility between Black people and the police. Communities are being torn apart by police brutality, and gang violence is at a peak. Four Black, Muslim men, led by Shu’aib Raheem, take it upon themselves to protect themselves and their families. In order to fulfill is, they deem it best to hold a robbery at a sporting goods stores and steal the weaponry they require. The film provides interviews with both members of the robbery themselves, as well as the police involved with incident and witnesses (one of them being a hostage himself, the other being the daughter of a hostage). Hold Your Fire functions as an interconnected web – all of the subjects have a role to play with one another, and that makes this film all the more fascinating.
Director Stefan Forbes brilliantly executes a long-standing conflict between the Black community and the police force. By having the subjects of the film vary in roles with the robbery, the viewer can adequately take in all accounts of the story; further allowing us to draw our own conclusions that are not rooted in bias. It resembles a game of broken telephone – it seems as if the subjects are speaking to one another, using the interviewer as a mediator.
“Hold Your Fire functions as an interconnected web – all of the subjects have a role to play with one another, and that makes this film all the more fascinating.”
This story provides ample use of found footage to propel the story further. The extensive images and videos (supported by the soundtrack) allows the viewer to be transported to the 1970’s. The soundtrack at times also sounded as if it were a horror movie soundtrack – this effectively increased the tension tenfold. It is also rather satisfying getting to see the first-hand accounts of the events through records, rather than having all of the information hurled at the viewers. The tension is shown to enter the story right from the beginning, with a stunning setup. The energy does not falter; even in moments of intimacy reflection, the stakes remain at the same level, constantly leaving us wondering where our allegiance should remain. There is a constant battle between right and wrong – a battle that never seems to get resolved, perhaps intentionally.
The decision to split the film into sections of a timeline is marvellous. This allows for a beautiful flow in the story, never abandoning the viewer in confusion of events. The 47 hours in which the event occurred proved to be gruelling – if not properly edited, it would have been fairly easy to have the viewer warped in perplexity. Hold Your Fire eliminates that possibility by allowing the subjects to appropriately walk the viewer through the event, often through extensive sensory details.
While the film’s message stands strong, it would be a mistake to overlook the slight glorification of police. There is proof that there were many lies said by the police in order to perpetuate the condemnation of the robbers, and that seems to be glossed over in order to hear their side of the events. While the actions of the robbers were indeed an infraction, the motive to protect themselves against a system that never ceases to fail them rings loud and clear – a fact that is dismissed within this film.
“While the actions of the robbers were indeed an infraction, the motive to protect themselves against a system that never ceases to fail them rings loud and clear – a fact that is dismissed within this film.”
Hold Your Fire actively challenges our perceptions of right and wrong, in ways that centre everyone’s story. Themes of morality and humanity are two distinct, strong forces within this story, and director Stefan Forbes successfully engages us in thinking about how we act in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.
Editor’s Note: Hold Your Fire screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
The TIFF DOCS programme of the 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival debuted an intensely impactful film: Attica. This story centres around the 1971 prison riot at the maximum-security prison, Attica Correctional Facility. By speaking to various survivors of the revolt, along with the family members of the deceased, this film illustrates the targeted state violence that ensued during the late-20th century – the same cruelty that is perpetuated to this very day.
Attica effectively sets the scene for its viewers; those incarcerated are simply wishing to be seen for who they are beyond their sentencing. The living conditions within the prison walls were unsustainable, they were being mistreated, and were constantly silenced. The film dives deeper into the brutal and gruesome events that took place during the four days of the riots, and profound statements are heard from the (formerly incarcerated) survivors of the rebellion, along with some of the family members of the deceased.
Stanley Nelson has an extensive history of working on creative pieces of liberation, revolution and freedom, and this is presented magnificently within Attica. The energy of this film is palpable; all five senses are engaged while following along with this brutal story. Nelson flawlessly keeps the stakes at a high, leaving the viewer hoping for a resolution to the narrative. One can practically taste blood, smell the foul scents, hear the cries, feel the pain ensued, and ultimately, visualize the true atrocities that took place.
“Nelson flawlessly keeps the stakes at a high, leaving the viewer hoping for a resolution to the narrative.”
This film does an incredible job at varying the pace of the film in a precise, non-distracting manner. The composition of interview statements, juxtaposed with the impressive blend of found footage, reinforces the anxiety and worries felt while observing this story. The lighting of the interviews is notable – the survivors are seen and heard clearly; a thought unimaginable considering they have been silenced for a considerable amount of time. The aerial shots of the prison are framed marvellously, especially considering the contrast in framing a site of atrocity in a visually and aesthetically appealing manner.
While the soundtrack and soundscape are tremendous, it is also worth noting how the beginning started off slightly rocky with sound – the roaring sirens suppressed the voices of the subject, but thankfully this was minimal. The captivating soundscape makes up for this blunder, as this appealed to the senses and had the viewer feeling as if they were a first-hand witness of the monstrosities. The music also effectively transports us to the time era; in the viewer’s eyes, it was no longer 2021, but rather 50 years prior.
“The composition of interview statements, juxtaposed with the impressive blend of found footage, reinforces the anxiety and worries felt while observing this story.”
Additionally, pattern is a distinct element within this film; various statements are shared amongst the interviewees, helping support solidarity as a large theme of this feature. The soundscape is also explicit and very descriptive in its nature, and stunningly raises the tension mentioned in this story.
“The soundscape is also explicit and very descriptive in its nature, and stunningly raises the tension mentioned in this story.”
Watching this film releases the unknown radicalism in a great deal of us. The end statements remind us of the standards of living a sustainable life on this earth – standards that are constantly dismissed and forgotten. This film stunningly uncovers the truth of what occurs within prison walls and works to lend a voice to those that have been forced into silence. The feelings of despair and hopelessness felt while viewing this film are clearly intentional, but also genius – this film properly ignites a fire in all of us to continue working for and supporting the voiceless in liberation, revolution, and freedom.
“This film properly ignites a fire in all of us to continue working for and supporting the voiceless in liberation, revolution, and freedom.”
Editor’s Note: Attica screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme. Limited press material supplied by TIFF.
By Nelie Diverlus
Haitian film Madan Sara premieres in Canada at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival and centres around the economy in Haiti, informally upheld by Haitian women and their determination to provide for their families and communities. In this story, viewers can see various levels of frustration, disaster, and mistreatment that encompasses carrying the economy. This is a tale of outreach and revolution, ultimately teaching us what “all power to the people” truly defines.
The film is mostly situated outside, taking the viewer on a trek through the streets of Haiti – guided by the sounds of its natural environment. Sounds of motor vehicles, people walking, and various conversations help bring the culture and nature of the film to life. The restless lifestyle is effectively portrayed through this immersive soundscape.
While the soundtrack and soundscapes are captivating, it is rather important to mention the suboptimal sound mixing and recording. Various sounds of microphone shuffling can be heard, and the background music occasionally overpowers the voices of the subjects. At numerous points, cuts between music and voices within the interview is dissonant – the faulty blending of sounds takes away from the harmony of the story. Additionally, the music practically did not feel infused into the film – it is almost as if it was used as a placeholder, considering there were extended periods of time where there was no soundtrack accompanying the story, leaving it appearing slightly empty.
As mentioned, the majority of the film is situated outdoors, allowing for the mise-en-scene to be filled with an abundance of greenery, flowy traditional dresses, and a large deal of natural lighting. As a result, at a few select points, we lose some subjects of the film to their surroundings. It was rather unfortunate to see at the rise of tension in the film, the subjects’ faces (those that are speaking, of course) are lost within the commotion of the streets.
In addition to this, at times, the interviews conducted indoors have slight misplacement. While necessary to hear from these subjects, the tonal shift between the high energy of the streets of Haiti, to an office, feels slightly jarring. Allowing for smoother transitions between both settings would definitely maintain flow and consistency, as pattern is a distinct editing style within this story.
“While necessary to hear from these subjects, the tonal shift between the high energy of the streets of Haiti, to an office, feels slightly jarring.”
Madan Sara also plays on all four elements of matter – water, earth, air, and fire. The extinguishing of the fire ensued on the markets, in juxtaposition of the rubble left for the people to gather, illustrates the crushing of both dreams and realities. It is almost, quite literally, adding to the crushed spirits of those left behind to deal with the disastrous aftermath. The fire also symbolizes the blazing spirit of the Madan Sara; the demand for liberation and justice is a flame that does not die within this story.
“The extinguishing of the fire ensued on the markets, in juxtaposition of the rubble left for the people to gather, illustrates the crushing of both dreams and realities.”
An aspect that stood out greatly was an error in subtitling – most specifically when the subjects were speaking on the amount of money they lost. This simple error removes the honesty and raw truth that this story encapsulates. Perhaps this is a simple oversight to some, but an inaccuracy such as this has great potential to distort the narrative.
With a story as disheartening as this, director Etant Dupain effectively constructs the building of prosperous futures, most specifically with the constant reiteration of these women working tirelessly to provide for their families, and for their children to create a fulfilling life for themselves. Concepts of dreams and aspirations is beautifully depicted within this feature, with a burning passion that will never die – similarly to the fiery spirits of the Madan Sara.
Editor’s Note: Madan Sara screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the Bienvenue – Haitian Night programme.