Baradar

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Baradar opens with two brothers engaging in typical brotherly antics as they carry a raft through the streets of Istanbul. The bright colors and playful music cultivate a warm image, one that immediately evaporates as we realize this flimsy raft is meant to carry the elder Mohammed (Danosh Sharifi) across the sea and into Greece. He won’t risk bringing his younger brother, Alí (Nawid Sharifi, Danosh’s younger brother), along, and instead will attempt this crossing alone, even though he cannot swim, hoping to find that mystical better life and come back to provide for his brother. 

Director Beppe Tufarulo based this harrowing tale off Alí Ehsani’s autobiography Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight), and in Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, found two non-actors whose story mirrored Alí’s, as Danosh and Nawid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy to reunite with their older brother after the death of their parents. Despite their lack of acting experience, Danosh and Nawid turn in fine performances, selling their brotherly bond with ease (helped in no small part, I’m sure, by their actual relation). The scenes where Mohammed tries to teach Alí such simple things as making scrambled eggs before he departs are heart-wrenching as we realize how tall of an order it is for ten-year-old Alí just to survive on his own.

The short does get a little heavy-handed towards the end with a rather melodramatic voiceover, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t crying like a little baby at it anyway. Immigrants are so often treated callously as one monolithic group by politicians and citizens alike, viewed only as a population problem and almost never as individuals, except when we want to show how great a country is because this one single immigrant managed to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or some other socially acceptable/admirable thing. Baradar forces us to reckon with the individual consequences as we watch the individual courage and bravery of these two boys, and heavy-handed or not, it lingers long after the screen fades.

Baradar Trailer

You can read Anna’s interview with director Beppe Tufarulo or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

90/100

SYNOPSIS: Over a career spanning more than 70 years, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and award-winning actor. Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was five years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled: Polynesian, Native American, Egyptian and so on. Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.

Beyond the racism she experienced as a Latina actor, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” will explore the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and sexual abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, and an attempted suicide a year before she won her Oscar. The documentary will demonstrate Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers and paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fighting for Latinx representation in a variety of genres.

REVIEW: Rita Moreno is a legend! What other way can you describe a woman who won an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), National Medal of Arts (2009), and Kennedy Center Honors (2015), and Peabody Award (2019)? All these accolades do no justice to the magnitude of the woman. While production-wise the documentary wasn’t remarkable, her story was. Told through a series of vignettes from the likes of Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justice Sotomayor, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, and countless playwrights and producers.

Rita is a trailblazer. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, she came with her mother to the US during the Great Depression. From an early age, Rita loved performing and by age 16 she was the sole breadwinner of her family. After making a connection with the head of MGM Studio, Louis B. Mayer, she got a contract and 6 months moved to LA. This transition was not without struggle. People were not nice to her at MGM, she was sexualized, and set up on fake dates to raise her profile. She was also typecast, her skin darkened, and always played the “island girl”. Reflecting on this part of her career she stated that she went along with it at first but, soon after, it started to hurt and took an incredible toll on her self-image and self-worth. At another point, she mentioned how she wanted to turn down these parts, but that’s all she was offered, and she needed the money to survive.

The documentary also details more personal aspects of her life like her relationship with Marlon Brando and her agent who raped her. She reflected that she had so little self-worth at the time that she continued letting him be her agent. This particular moment of the documentary is intercut with images of the trial Christine Blasey Ford and introduces us to Rita Moreno the activist. Rita Moreno is a pro-choice activist. She almost participated in atomic disarmament marches and sat 15 feet away from Dr. King during his famous “I Have Dream Speech” at the March on Washington.

All this is not enough to describe her remarkable career Rita was in Singing in the Rain and got a chance to see Gene Kelly perform live. Rita Moreno is, truly, Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. Icon, legend, trailblazer do not do justice to explain what, as a Latina, Rita Moreno means to me. Year and year again trade publications and research papers discuss the under-representation of Latinos in Hollywood. The 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report states “Latinos’ share of lead acting roles was 6.6% on scripted broadcast shows, 5.5% in cable and 4.0% in digital in 2018–19. Among all TV acting roles in the past two years, Latinos’ best representation was in broadcast shows during the 2017–18 season, but even then, they made up just 6.4% of casts.” This is infuriating because the lack of Latino representation in Hollywood is a mirror to the under-representation of Latinos on the US job market in general, even though they make up roughly 17% of this country’s population.

After reading this if you still have any doubts about how kick-ass Rita is go watch her Oscar acceptance speech (an all-time great I might add. Even though she doesn’t agree.) or watch her sing Fever on the Muppets (which won her an Emmy), or that time she re-wore her 1962 Academy Award dress to the 2018 Academy Awards. I could talk about her all day.

All I can do is say thank you, Rita Moreno! Thank you for paving the way for a Latina girl like me. Showing me that women can do anything.

Director Mariem Pérez Riera’s Statement:
The first time I interviewed Rita, I had prepared a series of questions about the biggest moments of her career. As soon as she started speaking, I immediately saw myself reflected in her answers. It was as though I was speaking to a therapist who understood exactly what I had been through. I related to all she was saying: her stories about discrimination, the insecurities she felt because of the way others perceived her, the complicated love relationships, and the constant need to work three times harder to prove to others that she is worthy. It was at that moment when I realized that this movie was not just a biographical documentary of Rita’s life, but a story about all the women who feel alone as they struggle to assert themselves in a patriarchal society rooted in white supremacy.

While listening to her stories I constantly questioned the American Dream. To what extent are we willing to pay the price? Fifty years ago, Rita lived through hardships and experiences that unfortunately many women continue to endure, including myself. So I decided to shift the documentary’s focus to the courage, transformations, and highs and lows of a brave immigrant woman trying to overcome discrimination, hatred, and humiliation. A woman who when speaking about herself, speaks to and for a lot of us.

My goal with this documentary is to show what an amazing inspiration Rita is to all of us. In order to do this, it was important for me to capture Rita’s vulnerable and fragile side when she’s off-stage or off-guard. This is why one of the aesthetic decisions of the documentary was to follow Rita in a verité camera style. We see Rita in her daily life, without makeup, in pajamas, preparing her breakfast, or driving, doing her own hair and makeup, or setting out decorations for her own birthday party.

To me, a biographical documentary should do more than to tell important events in chronological order, it should move you emotionally, and make you feel like you actually know the subject personally. The decision behind every location for all the interviews was highly important to me, as I wanted the space, the environment, and the ambiance to capture Rita’s soul. I selected “vintage” spaces where Rita’s friends and colleagues could be interviewed. The decorations, the colors of the furniture, the warm light for example, should resemble Rita’s taste in some way, and be reflective of a space Rita would decorate for herself.



Another aspect I wanted to explore was Rita’s inner child, Rosita. To capture the duality of Rita and Rosita, I decided to use stop motion animation with paper dolls. These dolls were very popular during Rita’s childhood, and they embody the little girl who has been molded through clothing to “pretend” to be what the outside world wants her to be. Rosita/Rita was accustomed to behaving like a doll with no expression, obliged to accept any garment that is placed on her.

Music also plays a key role in this documentary. In addition to jazz as the basis of the score, the incidental music has many meanings, and I am very grateful to have included my ‘wish list songs’. Songs by Fania All Stars, La Lupe, and Rafael Hernandez’s “Lamento Borincano”; all these songs relate directly and indirectly with Rita’s story.

During the final steps of the editing process, while looking for a song to close the documentary, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, performed by Nina Simone, came to mind. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. One could ask, how much would she have accomplished if she didn’t have all the limitations (“the chains”) thrown at her because of her race and her gender?

These lyrics take on another meaning when we hear them through the voice of Nina Simone at the end of Rita’s documentary. It helps us understand what it feels like to be Rita, to be an immigrant woman — “who decided to go for it” — despite society’s gender and racial expectations. Rita has finally liberated herself from all those chains that were holding her, she has finally expressed how it feels to be her, and now in her late 80’s Rita is finally able to be herself; flying through her greatest self. Rita’s voice becomes the voice of inspiration of every woman, especially of every immigrant, Latinx in the USA.

Recommended. 

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Sundance 2021 Review: Night of the Kings

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

SYNOPSIS: A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.

Night of the Kings has been formally submitted in the category Best Foreign Language Film by Côte d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) for the Oscars.

REVIEW: A finished story is a dead man. Or so it seems in Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature. About a prisoner who is renamed Roman on an ominous night when the moon turns red and the title of storyteller is foisted upon him. Hinging on the words of debut performer Koné Bakary(Roman), this Scheherazade-like fable mixes reality, history, and desire.

Night of the Kings is at it’s most engaging in the prison(La Maca) as we’re witnessing Bakary engage in the act of storytelling. Holding his own against the crowd of prisoners shouting, singing, and jeering as he weaves his tale. When we shift to the images of the story being told they often lack atmosphere, tension, and propulsiveness. Things that immediately leap back into the viewer as we shift–often mid-scene back to the prison.


I found these choices to be deft and thoughtful ones. Reproposing the hypothesis: does a story belong to the storyteller or the audience? It does this all while engaging in the meaning, expectation, responsibility, and duty of telling of ‘your’ story not just as a man but as a nation. Rather than proffering answers Night of the Kings lingers on the cost of these questions.

The contemporary in prison timeline is sumptuously lit, with warm lamps and a near total absence of natural lighting until daybreak. Fabric hangs everywhere, the sets are dressed with care but not overfilled. The sound design and foley work seam together trickles of water, chirping insects, and dampened bare-feet splashing small pools of water to evoke an atmosphere that, were I able to view in a theater would assuredly be all encompassing.

Night of the Kings tells it’s story, and performs a transference of emotion. Emotion at a sense of history, a sense of loss, a hope for the future, but the agony and vigor it takes to just reach one more day. One thing is sure, I want to see more out of Philippe Lacôte as a writer/director and if he can re-team with newcomer Koné Bakary all the better.

Recommended.

Night of the Kings Trailer

Interview: Tomer Shushan Talks About Writing and Directing Short Film ‘White Eye’

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

It’s actually a very interesting story. About two years ago, I was on my way to meet my writing mentor, we were working on some short script that I wrote and was supposed to finalized it so we can send it in the night to the Makor film foundation so I can get funds. So then the story of White Eye really happened to me, I was finding myself getting late to my mentor because I was trying to get my stolen bike back after seeing it in the middle of the way. The experience was very hard and when it was all over I couldn’t think about anything else but this guy that I may just ruined his life. It took me 40 minutes to write the script and Makor film foundation supported me and finance to production that happened later that year. I guess it all happened in two years. And the most important thing is that in the real story nothing bad happened to Yunas. 

One of the most striking things about this film is that it’s filmed in one long take. Was that always the plan? Did you have to find a location that worked for the take or did the idea come after you scouted the location?

That’s a great question, the Idea to make it one shot was because this story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place he gives in to an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short time without a moment to stop, reconsider, breath. I wanted the same effect for the audience to really feel the main character’s situation. But between every take in a film, the viewer has a tiny little break to catch breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending, motion like tension that doesn’t give you a break. 

And about the location, I was plan to do it in a restaurant like it was in the real story and all was planned and the location for that has been chosen

But then I went to visit my friend who works in this meat factory and I saw this fridge, I felt like it’s supposed to be there. Could be a great metaphor for how society treats and threatens immigrants and refugees. To compare them to pieces of meat was something that I felt can reflect the feeling I had and wanted to give the audience. 

So doing it in one shot and around the scene in the meat fridge was my opening plan for the film. 

On a similar note, how much rehearsal did you need to prepare for the shoot? How many takes were there once on set?

We knew that everyone on the set, not just actors, every crew member on the set should have some choreography how they move when the camera starts to record.

It took us about 4 months to understand the rhythm and the movement of every person on the set because we filmed it on 360. 

And we shot the film one night and had 7 full takes. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? 

The script hasn’t been changed except to change the location from restaurant to a meat factory as I said. I wrote the script less than an hour after it happened and I didn’t touch it until the end. It felt like a dream that it’s so clear to you that only if you write it down the moment you’re waking up you are able to experience it in a way again.  

Would you mind talking about the ending, with Omer’s realization of what he’s done and his destruction of the bike?

I guess I wanted to emphasize how people and life are much more important than objects. I felt that after the harm was done, no one would get the bikes. Omer felt that his actions may have ruined someone else’s life and he doesn’t deserve it anymore. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege. 

What’s your favorite memory from the making of this film?

Making White Eye was full of amazing and also very hard moments. 

We planned it so hard and had money to make it only in one night. 

We started at 4:30pm when it got dark and until midnight we couldn’t complete one full take from the beginning to the end. People around got frustrated. But I knew that my main job is to make them believe. So we took a break and It’s just filled me with new positive energy. I think everyone felt it and I felt how I changed the atmosphere and the morale of the team in a short moment. After the break we started again and completed a full take. Everyone celebrated and we saw it was possible. From midnight till 4am we made 7 full takes and it felt amazing to see how everything you were working on the last year was getting life. 

It is a really dreamy unique moment that you see how all this suffering is worth it for this short moment that was captured with camera and became immortality.  

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Interview: Sophia Banks Talks About Directing Short Film ‘Proxy’

Sophia Banks’s short film Proxy focuses on a woman who gets more than she bargained for in her life of work. Proxy has screened at multiple the Oscar-qualifying film festivals including HollyShorts Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Louisville International Festival of Film, and Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.  

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Last year, some good friends of mine, Dominick Joseph Luna and Emma Booth and I were chatting and realized that they were coming to LA where I was living at the time. We always had wanted to do a project together but never found the right time or place to do it. Dominick had some great concepts he pulled from research and one of them was based off of the idea of boutique services they’re offering in Japan right now: “people for hire” that could stand in for someone to fulfill a role. I loved the idea and we developed the story. Once they arrived in LA we decided to just go for it. We put together the team in a few short weeks and shot it over the last day of February and the first day of March, just before the lockdown hit. We were really fortunate to have gotten it done just before because we were able to complete the editing and the rest of post production remotely, which worked really well.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Funny enough, there weren’t too many changes that we made. We really stuck with the original vision, which was to showcase Victoria (Booth) as this woman who is struggling with her own disconnect and internal turmoil as she is being beaten down emotionally and physically through these increasingly terrifying scenarios. 

Performance is a big theme throughout your film, especially with regards to gender, sex, and the intersection of those. Would you mind talking a bit more about that and how you discuss those ideas in your film?

I think that I always like to touch on those because underlying these stories I like to tell is the underlying idea of “freedom”. In Proxy, Victoria faces the entrapment of a job that she feels obligated to do, put in situations thrown at her that she may or may not agree with — but she has to do it, it is her job after all. The journey she goes through is eye opening in that I hope others might take away from it a little semblance of what our hero experiences: the heroes own self realization and expression of that truth. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a slightly futuristic world that still needed to feel familiar? Did you ever consider making it “harder” sci-fi?

It is interesting because for my first short film Unregistered, I really heavily designed and created an entirely futuristic world. We have over 300 special effects in that short film that I put a lot of thought into it. It was unmistakable that it was in fact set in a future Dystopian society. 

For Proxy, we wanted it to be more grounded — almost impossible to know whether this was 10 years or 50 years into the future. I think it adds to that ominous factor. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I partly see Proxy as a cautionary tale: the more connected we are the further we grow apart in reality. That is what social media is to me. I also see it as a message of rebellion of what society has seen as the “new norm”. We are so afraid to go against the grain, we are comfortable with a routine. Sometimes we need to take a step back and perhaps come to terms with the fact that the “norm” may not be the best for us. 

What are your top three sci-fi films from the last decade or so?

Hard question! I would have to lean into the “or so” since I am a huge fan of the classic Sci-Fi such as Blade Runner, (2001: A) Space Odyssey and The Thing as well as Alien. I like the darker side of sci-fi for sure.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Proxy or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Interview: Anthony Nti and Chingiz Karibekov Talk About Writing, Producing, and Directing Short Film ‘Da Yie’

Co-written by the talented emerging duo Anthony Nti and Chingiz Karibekov, Da Yie has garnered four Oscar-qualifying Grand Prizes Leuven Short Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, Indy Short International Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival amongst its 25 awards and 140 high profile film festivals selections.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Chingiz Karibekov

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Working with Anthony, we always ping-pong ideas with each other. We would make each other laugh telling stories of our childhoods. Anthony once told me a story of how he dodged a slap from his aunty, who wanted to punish him for coming home late. Afterwards, he had to wait a while for her to calm down. We laughed and imagined that situation. What happened before this and what could’ve happened afterwards. It became the foundation of a story about peer pressure and loss of childhood innocence. It took us a while to find the money to get it made, and we were really ambitious. We didn’t want to compromise. At the end, it took us more or less three years from production to final product. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? How many major drafts did you have?

There was only one major draft of the screenplay. We spent most of the writing process discussing the story. Because we were in charge of the production ourselves, we had the liberty to change the dialogue and structure the way we saw fit. In fact, we finished the final screenplay two weeks before shooting and kept it mostly to ourselves. Only the DOP, Goua, me and Anthony had access. We simply summarized or told the screenplay to everybody else. The actors were told what to say with the outline of the scene in mind. 

As both co-writer and producer, how much input do you have on set during filming?

The set was a very collaborative place. I was also the assistant-director and production designer. That being said, I trusted Anthony and the DOP to really fill in the magic during the shoot. We had a very clear idea of what the film should be. Besides, Anthony is the best director in the world, in my opinion. He could direct a chicken into an Academy Award winning performance. Case in point, Da Yie. 

Were there any things that you wished to do as a writer, but couldn’t feasibly do from a producing standpoint?

As a writer-producer, you are challenging yourself in both directions. You want to realize what you wrote, but at the same time, write something that is feasible in terms of production. But in all honesty, I never worried about what wasn’t possible. Instead, I wanted to focus on how to tell the story. We had an idea of how to keep the audience engaged, we understood the structure of our story and tried to keep the compromises to a minimum.

Are there differences between writing children and adults? Is one more challenging than the other?

Stories about children are inescapably linked to the reality of the adult world. If there are children, there are adults as well. One affects the other. We wanted to tell a story where the world of the children spills out into the world of the adults. A seemingly dangerous place. There was no difficulty in writing either, the difficulty was in finding a way to connect both in a way that kept you engaged.  

What is it like to write in a non-native language?

Anthony and I have written a short film before where the main characters only spoke Bulgarian and neither of us speaks that language. So, in fact, Da Yie was easier to write, since this time at least one of us understood Twi. But in terms of writing, we always seek for something universal in every scene. Emotion is always translatable. We tried to stay true to the characters. Understand them. As long as you can empathize with being a kid, you can write any kid in the world. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

The story is about understanding what peer pressure could lead to. Both for Matilda and Prince, as well as the Bogah. In almost every scene, there’s a character who is being pressured into something, whether it’s to play football, to wrestle at the beach or maybe something even more sinister. This could seem fun, childlike and magical, but it could also be dangerous. 

What’s the best way to overcome writer’s block?

Having conversations helps. Doing research. Menial tasks. Revisiting an old favorite film or book. There’s so many things that can inspire you. Everyday things. 

Anthony Nti

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Chingiz and I had the idea to tell this story as far back as 2015. At the time, it felt a bit too ambitious, we wanted to do it in Ghana and we wanted to do it right. We also had no idea whether we’d find the money to shoot it the way we wanted to. At some point, around 2017, we just decided to buy the plane tickets, knowing there was no way of getting around it. We took it upon ourselves to find the necessary resources by the time we were supposed to leave. We did a lot of commercial work, set money aside, bit by bit, so when the time came, miraculously, we were able to gather enough money to shoot. In Ghana, we only had a month to do everything and luckily we were able to finish on time and on budget. However, when we came back home, we were completely broke. Which meant that for a long time, we had to really hustle for the edit, while doing other projects at the same time. We tried to find time in between, and perfect the tone and the structure of the story. In 2020, we had our international premiere in Clermont Ferrand. After that, everything kind of fell into place. Although, the pandemic derailed a lot of our plans as well. Making this film was an exercise in patience. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

The most significant rewrite was changing the gender of one of the main characters. You see, Matilda’s role was initially written for a boy. However, when we actually met Matilda during the casting process, we immediately fell in love with her. We knew she was the perfect fit. Otherwise, the script stayed the same, because she fit the role so well. She could act, she was a real presence and was great at football. We had the idea that her character would sometimes rap during the film and Matilda being so talented, actually wrote her own lyrics. It’s her own words in the story. She continued to impress us during the shoot. But otherwise we were lucky to be able to shoot what we wrote. 

The child actors in this film were so natural and open; what was it like working with them? How did it differ from working with adults?

My previous short film, Kwaku, which had its premiere at Clermont Ferrand in 2014, was also filmed in Ghana, where I used local kids for the main roles. I have learned a lot from the experience and wanted to continue this process. To add a little mixture, I wanted a professional actor to join the cast, Goua Grovogui (The Resurrection of a Bastard). This proved a good mix of authenticity and professionalism. 

Just before the shoot, we spent some time getting to know Prince and Matilda. This further influenced and informed us in the writing process. Together with Goua, we did some workshops and acting sessions and we even did a preliminary shoot. Just to get the kids accustomed to playing to the camera. However, the kids were so smart, they didn’t require any hand-holding. We only had to do minimal rehearsals during the shoot. They understood the story, they understood blocking and the nature of cinema acting. 

Prince often carries a video camera around with him. How old were you when you started to become interested in film?

My first time being interested in filmmaking was in Ghana. Every Sunday after church we would go watch TV at my uncle’s house in Madina, the city where most of Da Yie takes place. One day we saw the movie Fresh from Yakin Boaz. A powerful movie that tackles themes such as the loss of childhood innocence, which served as an inspiration for Da Yie. In the film one of the bad guys got shot and died. The next Sunday we saw a new movie in which this same actor appeared. This caused a huge amount of confusion in my head. I later asked my uncle how this was possible. He explained how movies were not real, but staged. After that I had always been interested in how films were made, but I only started making films when I started film school as a teenager.  

How does co-writing the script affect your directing? Does it give you more freedom?

I’ve always co-written with Chingiz, so I am very used to going through the writing process before directing. When it came to Da Yie, it had its positive effects as the story was semi-autobiographical. I was with the characters from the beginning, I understood them and the story very well. I never looked at the script, while shooting because I knew the story by heart. Also, writing the story gave us a much greater understanding of what is needed in all aspects of the production, which is handy as we were the producers too. 

Could you explain why you showed the group of schoolchildren singing over the credits?

We wanted to end the film with the feeling that it could have happened to anybody. To achieve that we wanted to bring the audience to a place where kids are safe. School being the most interesting place for us. I remember in primary school, before school started we had to assemble and do the national pledge. It felt like the right way to end it. Seeing Prince and Matilda among them. 

It was also a way to tonally get back to a more childlike environment, after the tense climax to the story. But it helped to emphasize the message of the film. What happened to Prince and Matilda could’ve happened to any kid. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I want the audience to be aware of how the innocence of children can come in danger when confronted with the adult world. But it was also important for me as a filmmaker to create a cinematic experience despite the heavy thematics. It’s not a film to point fingers or to scare. It’s also important to not see things as black and white, but to be open to different perspectives too. 

What’s a film you wish more people would see?

Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop, It’s an amazing piece of cinema by an inspired filmmaker. It’s a classic story of love and moved me deeply. I feel like more people need to witness the talent and power of African cinema. I didn’t grow up with it myself, discovering it only later in life and it’s a shame, because there is so much beauty in it.

Da Yie Trailer

You can buy Da Yie on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Da Yie or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: Alina

Below you’ll find the first of an upcoming series by Drink in the Movies own Anna Harrison in which she provides a capsule review of Oscar Qualifying Short Films. Alina won the Oscar-qualifying Award at Bengaluru International Short Film Festival. Remember to keep an eye out in the coming weeks for her correlating interviews and capsule reviews!

Audiences can view Alina at the follow film festivals: Hollywood Women’s Film Festival, Queen Palm International Film Festival, Asti International Film Festival, Borrego Springs Film Festival, Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival, and Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival.

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Alina wastes little time with its opening as viewers are thrust into the middle of a Nazi raid in the Warsaw Ghetto, surrounded by shouting and gunshots. At only 25 minutes long, the film has no time to waste: director Rami Kodeih immediately signals the stakes through rapid-fire editing (Kodeih served as editor and producer as well) and expert deployment of Zoë Keating’s cello-filled score, its staccato notes matching the frenetic cuts as Alina (Alia Shawkat) rushes to smuggle another woman’s child out of the ghetto. Kodeih knows when to pull back as well and let the camera linger, building a different kind of tension that is no less effective. 

The film highlights the unswerving bravery of a group of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and focuses on the titular character rather than wallowing in the atrocities of the Nazis who follow her—though it certainly shows us their casual cruelty throughout, especially in a memorable scene where one officer forces Alina to remove her bra. Alina is the driving force behind the film, and Alia Shawkat plays her well, though viewers are left to fill in the gaps about her past and motivations. The other characters largely feel stock, though the film is so short that it would be hard to give everyone in-depth development. Still, even with these flaws, Alina remains a tight, stirring portrayal of heroism in the face of danger, elevated by its technical aspects rather than its script.

You can also read Anna’s Interview with Rami Kodeih the director of Alina or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website