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
“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 Benjamin Akpan
Jenna Cato Bass’ Flatland opens with hazy, claustrophobic shots of a small wedding. Shot through the eyes of Natalie (Nicole Fortuin), this light-skinned bride is a timid young woman whose love for her horse Oumie defeats all else. Before her is Bakkies (De Klerk Oelofse), her husband-to-be, to whom she doesn’t want to be married. But of course, she’s reminded by the pastor that she was led to her husband by God, and “when you lead a horse, it obeys without question.” Natalie is a victim of a system that has repressed the freedom of women for so long, that the relegation of a burgeoning young lady to a life of male servitude is deemed an ‘act of God.’ So, when her wedding night eventually ends in rape, Natalie grabs her horse, shoots the priest standing in her way, and seizes the opportunity to reach for the release that drives the film for the rest of its duration.
By Benjamin Akpan
Since the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 2001, America’s history has been irreversibly split in two: pre-9/11 and post-9/11. Despite constant coverage worldwide, much of 9/11 is clouded by perplexing misinformation and distortion of truth. Yet, this event and its aftermath has been the basis for many intense, expository Hollywood narratives that trail the excruciating journey to solving the crime, and lay bare the iniquities of the U.S. government in the entire ordeal.
By Benjamin Akpan
The Fever is a tense exploration of identity in the face of industrialization and a changing society. Brazilian documentarian Maya Da-Rin – in her feature debut – contrasts the simplicity and fertility of the natural world against the efficacy of the industrial world, highlighting the between stepping over into modernity and withdrawing into the jungle and its primitivism.