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.
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.
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.