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.
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
Imagine an otherworldly interpretation of post-colonialism, blended together with ultraviolet neons – that is Neptune Frost. With an ambiguous timeline, this film has no set date; it extends beyond dimensions that we are aware of, allowing us to suspend our disbelief of the reality we know. This story is set in Rwanda, with Neptune leading the narrative. While mourning the passing of his brother, they set out to evade sexual abuse, finding Matalusa along the way. It is a story of revolution and defiance, teaching us to lean ourselves into the movement that calls our heart.
“Imagine an otherworldly interpretation of post-colonialism, blended together with ultraviolet neons – that is Neptune Frost.”
Directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman alluringly convey the resiliency and strength of Rwanda, through such a profound story. Revolting against colonialism and brutal genocide, characters in this story express their frustrations and mourning through song and dance. This film plays both in musical and science fiction genres, fusing together to bring the culture of Rwanda to a new age dimension.
If there is one thing that is for certain, it is that this film brings Afrofuturism to life. The vibrant colours and patterns, neon makeup and accessories allude to a timeline beyond us. Vibrant blues, reds, greens and oranges collaborate together to help us envision the true concept of Afrofuturism. With a rather unique story, Neptune Frost effectively portrays complex themes and concepts through the most magical methods.
“With a rather unique story, Neptune Frost effectively portrays complex themes and concepts through the most magical methods.”
The colouring of this film is what allows it to stand out in value. As mentioned , the detail in eccentric colours in makeup and accessories has the viewer further enthralled by the story, further preventing the viewer from tearing their eyes from the screen. The strobe lights are used for attention – our concentration is peered to their movements. This is especially important, knowing there are moments of mourning and cries for help within this story. This film sets the bar in visual aesthetics – in addition to the compelling lights and overall colouring of the film, the fluid movements and choreography masterfully entrance the viewer in all of its splendour. Adding to this, the contrast of scenes of movement between moments of stillness adds incredible dynamic to this work of art.
“In addition to the compelling lights and overall colouring of the film, the fluid movements and choreography masterfully entrance the viewer in all of its splendour.”
As seen, this film plays into experimental concepts. The film does not really have an ending; the rest is up to the viewer’s interpretation. This intentional decision has both positive and negative traits attached to it: through a positive lens, this boost’s the film’s originality, as this is rarely ever seen before. It is bold, it is daring, and dismantles the standards of cinema as we know today (similar to the dismantling of colonial practices highlighted within the film). On the contrary, while this film’s message is both literally and figuratively moving, this concept of a lack of beginning and ending makes this film pretty hard to follow. Given the flow we have grown accustomed to with narrative (as well as non-fiction) pieces, this film sets us apart from what we know, launching us into a world of confusion. Otherwise, this film can be fully observed as a non-conventional piece that challenges the conventions of film that we often find comfortable.
“This film can be fully observed as a non-conventional piece that challenges the conventions of film that we often find comfortable .”
Collectively, Neptune Frost tackles systemic oppression using rather innovative methods. The visuals of this film are unlike any conventions we are accustomed to and that is what allows this film to be exceptional. The magnificent shot compositions, mirrored with a captivating concept, Neptune Frost excels in the unusual – adequately introducing us to an astonishing world of experimental filmmaking.
Editor’s Note: Neptune Frost screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’21, as part of the Wavelengths/TIFF Next Wave 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.