‘Under The Heavens’ Director Gustavo Milan Shows Motherhood Through A Different Lens

By: Amanda Guarragi

Under the Heavens explores the current socio political climate in Venezuela, while highlighting a very intimate story about motherhood. Director Gustavo Milan, wanted to raise awareness for the Venezuelan people, who were forced to flee the country in search for a better life. The second part of this story is quite personal for Milan because it was something that had happened within his family. The film is about a young Venezuelan mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), who was immigrating to Brazil, and on her way, she meets a struggling young couple with a baby girl. Her ability to breastfeed causes their fates to become forever entwined.

The film begins with Marta on the side of the road, waiting for someone to stop, in order to help her get to her destination. Eventually, she meets this young couple who are also heading in the same direction. The driver of this truck, asks for payment, for all three of them, and Marta offers to cover the cost. Right from the start, we see that Marta is generous, selfless, and always attempts to do the right thing. This couple and their baby girl, have a very odd dynamic when they are first introduced. The wife and child are completely detached from the husband. You could feel that something was not right between them. Gustavo Milan’s direction details the exterior world scale in Venezuela and the small, intimate moments between these characters.

Milan balances the importance of the the two stories effortlessly, but mainly puts the focus on the baby and the two women. Milan wanted to tell this story because it has always been at the back of his mind,

“It’s related to something that happened in my family. I wasn’t born. My mother made a choice of nursing my cousin because my aunt didn’t have milk and she became almost like a second mother to my cousin. They are very attached to each other and my mom is also very attached to my cousin.”

– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’

He learned a lot about that when he was a child, it made such an impact on him and it blurred the boundaries of motherhood for him. He never knew how to talk about it, but he knew that it was important enough to bring it to the screen one day. The idea to blend these two stories together, officially came to him, when he saw an image of a woman in the newspaper, “She was walking along the shoulder of the road, that connects Brazil to Venezuela, and she had a baby in her arms. And for some reason, I didn’t think it was her son or daughter.” He ended up writing the first draft of the script that exact day.

Courtesy of Nanucha Films

The reason why this short film makes an impact is because of the way Milan leaves many situations up to interpretation. He shows just enough to get his audience interested in these characters and then he leaves it open-ended. The viewer gets to create a backstory for these characters because of the choices they make in this film. Milan wanted to show his audience the hardships Venezuelans have had to go through. More importantly, he shows what women have to endure, and their resilience in getting what they want. The relationship between the two women, Marta and Alice (Brenda Moreno) is interesting to watch because they both approach motherhood differently, and there is no judgement, which is refreshing.

The relationship between Marta and Alice slowly builds, as Alice places her trust in Marta. Not only with taking care of her child, but with helping her get out of her abusive relationship with her partner. It’s almost as if there was an unspoken understanding between the both of them. The gravity of their relationship is truly felt at the end of this film. The way Milan ended this film, shows how much he values his audience and their ability to connect the dots on their own. The last scene has Marta and Alice on a boat. There is a moment where Alice, who is the real mother of the baby, has to hand the baby over to Marta. Milan said that Brenda Moreno was so connected to this story, and to her character, that it was even difficult for her to let go of the child.

Courtesy of Nanucha Films

Milan went on to say that the ending of this film was decided during the editing process of the movie,

“I actually shot Alice leaving the boat, and stepping off the boat, and actually walking away. So I guess I shot for clarity. I knew that would be a difficult moment to add it. Then, when I was editing, it’s just one of those situations where less is more you don’t have to show everything to the audience. When she learns, you learn.”

– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’

Having the film end the way it did, leaves the viewer wondering what Alice was trying to get away from. She managed to get away from her abusive relationship, but why did she give up her child? What does this mean for Marta? Who has now taken on the role of being the sole guardian of this child. What else was she getting away from? There are so many questions, but then your heart connects with both women. Maybe the way their babies came into their lives, were not by choice, and they did not know what to do. The idea of motherhood is very complex. There can be maternal figures that have a better relationship with some children than their actual mothers. There is always a bond that can be formed based on the emotional and spiritual connectivity between a child and a maternal figure.

There is no right way to be a mother, or to even go through motherhood. Milan is able to show the complexities of this, through the budding relationship between Alice and Marta. Under the Heavens is a short film that will start an important conversation about the political state of Venezuela, and the importance of helping out your fellow woman. It is very personal, emotional, and Gustavo Milan combines both stories, in an impactful way. Milan is a gifted storyteller and you can tell that this film came from a very personal place.

The Canadian Comedy Series ‘Ghost BFF’ Tackles Important Social Issues With Humour

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we consume media, we usually gravitate towards series or films that we can hopefully relate to. If we are lucky, we can find a show or film with characters who speak to us on a different level. That is why representation on-screen is important, whether there is a diverse cast, or stories that highlight different social issues. There are creators who highlight issues such as mental health, suicide, and depression. Not only do these conversations need to be had among friends or family, but it is important to show these conversations on-screen. The Canadian comedy series Ghost BFF tackles all this effortlessly and is nominated for four performance Canadian Screen Awards for stars Vanessa Matsui, Kaniehtiio Horn, Jean Yoon, and Angela Asher. 

Ghost BFF is a dark comedy about depression, following two women, Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Amy (Vanessa Matsui) – one alive, one dead – as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide. The series shines a light on mental health, highlighting tough topics like depression and anxiety, suicide, treatment, and mindfulness, while adding some well-needed humour. Kaniehtiio Horn and Vanessa Matsui have incredible chemistry on and off-screen, they both understood the material and they created a very honest space, to explore their characters mental struggles. Matsui, who is also the showrunner, really wanted to bring these social issues to the forefront because of her personal connection to the subject matter.

Web series Ghost BFF puts the focus on mental health via two friends. And  one of them is dead. | TV, eh?
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui wanted to make sure people, especially women, feel represented on-screen. She could see all these young women suffering and no one was talking about mental health,

“I wanted to make a show that used comedy as a bridge, to talk about something that at the time, was pretty taboo and arguably still is. At the same time, I wanted the series to make you laugh, so it’s not so heavy or difficult. And if you are suffering, that hopefully you feel a little less alone, after watching this show.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The reason why many can connect to this show is because of the humour that is added to painful, emotional moments when discussing these difficult subjects. Not everything has to be grim and dark; humour is sometimes the best release and as Kaniehtiio Horn said, it’s a way to cope during hard times. When asked about her connection to this character and to Matsui, she said that after knowing her for 15 years or so, that it was a collaboration in the making. Horn said that one evening, during TIFF, they connected and Horn wanted to audition for the project. Sometimes projects can choose the person, and in this case, Horn didn’t know how much she needed the character of Tara in her life, “It gave me confidence to start working on my own things. Just seeing my peers, these women who are my age making things happen and that really lit a fire under me.” The way Horn and Matsui came together and supported each other through this process is truly inspiring.

Vanessa Matsui on Twitter: "… "
via Vanessa Matsui on Twitter

Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is always important to shed light on these issues because these conversations need to be presented on-screen. Media has a wide reach, no matter what form it takes, and it is important that it connects with people. Whether it is because of diversity in its cast or social issues, these stories are important in order for everyone to feel seen. Matsui and Horn are both on the same page when it comes to representation in the media, “I think you realize once you start talking about it, or see what you might be doing, that it might be reflected back to you in the content that you’re consuming, you feel a little less alone.” Horn went on to say that she even started going to therapy and that working on this project allowed her to explore her own mind, while diving into the character of Tara.

The reason why diverse stories matter is because everyone can be going through something different. In one way or another, someone is struggling in their own way and it would benefit them, if there was an atmosphere to help them through. When making Ghost BFF it was important for Matsui to be inclusive and have a diverse cast. The industry has definitely shifted and as Horn put it, diversity is hot right now, which can also be a long-term issue. Matsui and Horn are both weary about what the future holds for the industry but they see the shift as a positive change,

“I used to feel so little and meek and just be thankful that I got the job. That’s how I used to feel. But now with all of these initiatives, I feel a bit more confident to say things and yes there’s a shift, and it’s amazing to see and I guess I feel like I’m a part of it in terms, on the Indigenous side of filmmaking and television and it’s exciting. But again there’s this underlining thing.” 

– Kaniehtiio Horn, Ghost BFF
Ghost BFF
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui and Horn remain hopeful moving forward because there are still so many stories left to tell. And the push to have different stories in the Canadian film industry will always be relevant,

“My Japanese family has been here since the 1800s that’s a lot longer than a lot of white people who have been here and yet I’m always asked ‘Where do you come from?’ Why is that question even being asked to me when I’m from here? I think part of it is that we are not represented in the media, people have this really narrow version of what a Canadian looks like.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The most important thing that Matsui wants audiences to takeaway from this series is that hopefully people will feel a little less alone. That if you are going through a rough time, this show will bring you some laughter. Matsui went on to say, “If you are a young woman, or woman of colour and you might not fit into the perfect casting, I hope this inspires people to create their own work, especially young women.” Horn and Matsui have put so much of themselves in Ghost BFF and you can see the love for their characters on-screen.

Matsui is slated to make her directorial feature film debut very soon and she is currently working on the show Hot Zone. Horn has also been busy with guest starring on an American television show called, Reservation Dogs and will be turning her podcast, Coffee With My Ma, into an animated series!

If you want to check out Ghost BFF the first two seasons are online. And if you want to cheer them on during the Canadian Screen Awards it will be streaming live on academy.ca from May 17th – 20th.

How ‘Woman In Car’ Presents The Female Experience: An Interview With Writer-Director Vanya Rose


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.

Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,

“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Courtesy of Thievish Films

In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,

“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car

Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.

Courtesy of Thievish Films

Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.

Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

How the Female Experience is Depicted in the Short Film “Twist”: An Interview with Aly Migliori


By: Amanda Guarragi

Women have shared so many similar experiences with each other for many years and there have been films that have truly captured the female experience. The short film Twist, written and directed by Aly Migliori, analyzes the loss of innocence in this coming of age thriller. It takes the female experience and tells a universal story that women know a little too well. Migliori gives a fresh take and elevates the experience through the use of colours, lighting, minimal dialogue and the score.

Migliori wanted to put these character in a space and in this heightened period all in one night, “I wanted to show the consequences, the learning, the growth and kind of feeling the loss of innocence without any kind of explicit blame or anything. It’s a pretty impactful moment for her, it’s pretty innocuous for the others.” The film takes place at night as a teenager named Hannah (Helena Howard), finishes work at her local ice cream parlour and she walks home alone at night. A car, with three boys pulls up right beside her and they convince her to get in, so they can drive her home.

She takes this universal story, this universal experience and makes a great thriller while addressing a young girls first encounter with the dangers of being a woman. Naming the film Twist was extremely clever because it’s an entendre. Migliori played with the idea of the expectations of the title, both literally and how everything unfolded at the ice cream parlour. She goes on to say that, “The ice cream parlour, this very Americana ice cream parlour has connotations with American nostalgia, American childhood and kind of American censorship. I think this story is kind of resisting that mythology, while playing with it.” That is why the ice cream parlour as the centerpiece of the film worked so well. It felt like a wholesome location because of the nostalgia tied to everyone’s childhood and then Migliori turned it into a place that has scarred its lead character.

Courtesy of First Hunt Films

What was most impressive was how the score elevated the moment Hannah realized what was happening and how this moment would affect her for the rest of her life. All women remember the one moment where everything changed, when their perception of the world, of boys, changed. The score had this teenage pop angst as Migliori described with a sinister undertone that completely worked with Howard’s performance. The connection was so raw and it forces the viewer to remember that specific moment in their own lives.

What really tied everything together was the cinematography and the use of lighting. The choice to light up the ice cream parlour and make that the standout while keeping everything else around the parlour in darkness worked very well. There were bright reds used at the beginning of the film and then as the film got deeper into the story, it got darker, “The red takes on a much darker meaning later on, as the story progresses we’re still using the same colour palette, we’re just shifting it darker and she’s kind of growing up and losing her rose coloured glasses on all of the elements of the female experience.” Watching Hannah go through that experience and having all of these elements change with her made a huge impact.

Twist is a short film that offers so much in such a short period of time. It dives into the female experience and leaves you questioning the moments in your own life. All women have a similar story and no, that is not an exaggeration. Aly Migliori delivers on all fronts and her biggest aspirational takeaway is that hopefully some people find a certain parallelism in their own experiences and feel heard, while also truly enjoying this story.

Cake Day: A Story About Recovery With Filmmakers Phillip Thomas and Cameron Crosby


By: Amanda Guarragi

Cake Day is a short film that authentically highlights the journey of an addict. Cameron (Cameron Crosby) emotionally deteriorates, as he contemplates the consequences of honesty, on a day of celebration during one of his meetings. It is a poignant film that is directed with such care and honesty from everyone involved. It is important to handle this subject matter with the utmost respect, when generally retelling an experience that you may, or may not have been directly affected by. The centerpiece of this film is the meeting itself and that is why it is so special.

Director Phillip Thomas really wanted to present an emotional story that would speak to everyone. He wanted to be able to create a sense of empathy and understanding for those who have been struggling with an addiction. He managed to create a community within the film itself. It was comforting to watch this short film, knowing that the people behind the camera wanted to create this support system for its viewers,

You can’t tell an experience like this without having the authenticity and people around you to teach you what it is or else you’re going to fail. That was the whole point of the process of doing this short film, it was to make sure that I could in fact speak on behalf of people, that I haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced.”

– Phillip Thomas, Director of Cake Day

Thomas did his research and he went to different meetings with Cameron Crosby to help get a better understanding in how to tell this story. They only had three days to shoot this film and the bulk of the film takes place in one of the meeting rooms they actually attended. Thomas made sure to keep the exact same setup to make it feel authentic because normally there is no documentation of any meeting. In order to create a sense of community for his audience he needed to accurately create the atmosphere as well.

When collaborating with filmmakers, especially when discussing difficult subject matter, there is a support system that builds, when working with everyone without even realizing it. There are friendships that form when going through a creative process with others, even more so when the subject hits close to home. When getting into character, Crosby found it a bit challenging to get into the that headspace again, “To go into the headspace of the what if, what if that would happen to me and how I would react to it and like whether to move forward and try to get better.” Crosby gave an emotional, internalized performance because it came from such a personal space.

Courtesy of Superfan Pictures and Image Nation Films

Crosby wanted to be apart of a film that would send a positive message to anyone struggling, he was happy to work with Thomas because of all the care that went into the story,

“I think that’s an important message of the film just bc you take one step back doesn’t discount the 20 steps you made forward. Nothing was really uncomfortable because Phil set up such a great atmosphere, where I just felt safe and protected, which allowed me to get deeper and allowed me to get into that dark headspace.”

– Cameron Crosby, Cake Day

It’s incredibly important to have these honest conversations, where the filmmakers can go even deeper into the psyche of the character, to fully form a story that can be so personal. There is definitely a right way to tell these stories and that is what Cake Day does, it just captures this one day and expands upon the internal conflict of its lead character. Every aspect of the film, from the atmosphere to the fantastic score elevated the performances from the actors. It’s an important film that accurately depicts the struggle of being honest, not only with those around you, but with yourself.