On the final day of the weekend screenings for the first week of the festival the theme turned out to be shining a light on what is generally kept in darkness. All three films featured a Q&A session which is always illuminating on how the projects came to be and the journey they have been on to reach the screen. What began as a subtle and gentle look at female choice and sexuality eventually developed into one of the most emotionally powerful moments I have ever experienced in relation to film.
Prior to the screening of Awakening of the Ants we were able to see Crocodile, a short film about an estranged mother and son connecting through the power of the internet. The son, a gaming streamer on YouTube, has not spoken with his parents in years and is unsure of how his parents would react to finding out he was a professional gamer. Without giving anything away, Crocodile is a wonderful example of creating believable emotional connections between characters that are incredibly relatable, so that the audience can be fully engaged over the space of approximately 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a publicly available version but if you do happen to follow the short film circuit do keep an eye out for this one.
Awakening of the Ants
Before the short we were introduced to Awakening of the Ants by director Antonella Sudassi, who had been working on the project for five years. The feature is simply one part however of a three part series encompassing a short film, the feature and a documentary, all under the same title. The feature film tells the story of a woman in her late 20s juggling the responsibilities of being a wife, motherhood, understanding her body and her sexual identity. The film is incredibly intimate and extremely deliberate in its delivery of its themes. There’s barely a second wasted throughout which, if you follow my writings, is something I admire very much, especially when a project such as this has come from a place of passion, personal experience and has had to endure difficulties through its development with relation to the Costa Rican film board (or lack thereof). During the Q&A following the screening, much of the film’s symbolic representation was explained to the audience, which did help to fill out some of the gaps left by the film’s ambiguous events. Personally, I found the film to be an interesting and worthwhile exploration of many feminist ideas and concepts, even though the film did lack a certain dramatic weight. In Costa Rica sexuality (and especially female sexuality) is considered incredibly taboo and it is encouraging to see a film like this come out of a country that is still so behind on how society views the female body and the behavioral practices we fall into that have come from years of suppression of certain subjects. As a piece of feminist media it is excellent, wonderfully portraying a message of self-confidence and self-exploration through small steps, as opposed to the cinematic and dramatic.
One of the more illuminating documentaries I’ve seen in recent years, Coppers, directed by Alan Zweig, tells the stories of police officers lives from their own perspective. In the modern market of crime documentaries today much of what we are shown is from the criminals or the victims perspective, often asking the audience to empathise with either group. Very little room is left for those who were first on the scene or those who had to conduct the investigations. Furthermore in crime dramas that are from the officer’s perspective, we rarely are shown what truly happens to them and how they are affected mentally over years of service. Coppers attempts to shine a light on those dark areas in this field and for the most part succeeds. The documentary is very well presented with a consistent tone and atmosphere through the interviews of several police men and women of varying degrees of experience. The one thing they all had in common was that they had all left the force. Often through crime dramas or crime documentaries we hear of horrible, inhuman acts. What Coppers uniquely does is it shows how such events seen first hand can have an effect on those present psychologically regardless of the fact they are wearing a badge.
Last on the list for the day was an incredibly powerful and moving experience from start to finish. The documentary Prey follows Rod MacLeod and his lawyer Rob Talach as they file a lawsuit against the Catholic church denomination “The Basillians of Toronto” for the sexual abuse of Rod when he was a young man. The idea behind the public trial (instead of a settlement out of court, which is usually how the Church deals with cases such as these) was to spread awareness and give other victims the confidence to not only come forward, but to start to chase vindication instead of consistently being victimised by the courts, society and the Church itself. The documentary is incredibly well structured and presented with several interviews that were given after the trial with multiple involved parties including Rod, Rob and the public representative of the Church, Father David Katulski. Whilst the subject matter is considered common knowledge at this point, very little has been done by the Church itself to rectify any of the damage caused by this abuse by its members and the film calls the Church out to change that. Director Matt Gallagher and Rod himself were present at the screening and did a live Q&A session afterwards. We have all seen hard subject documentaries about horrible cases such as these but to have Rod stand in front of me and tell me and the rest of the audience “This is real, this happened to me,” was an incredibly powerful and moving moment, and not something I will forget for a long time. I can only praise Rod for his bravery and continuing determination to not only heal himself but to give a light for those still in the dark, to come forward to and see that there is hope for change. The film is currently rolling across the film festival circuit but will undoubtedly come to some sort of streaming service within the next year, and it is certainly not one to miss.
The power of film can sometimes be understated when compared to political movements, marches, art pieces and statements, but it is my belief that film truly has the power to change how people think, how people react and how people choose to live their lives following a screening. Never in my life so far has that been more true than as I write this at the end of today. I’ve cried at more films than I can count, and I’ll cry at many more but I have never experienced a true face to face emotional connection with a subject like I did today. Rod’s presence at the festival was testament to true courage and true inner spiritual strength, that I have nothing but respect and admiration for.
Written by Alfie Smith