‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba


By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.

Cowboys Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Cowboys is a modern-day western with a deeply touching family story, that will give you some form of hope, in regards to parenting. Steve Zahn plays Troy, a troubled father who only has good intentions for his son. Troy has recently separated from his wife Sarah (Jillian Bell) over many issues. The film is structured incredibly well as the use of flashbacks is integrated to add more depth to the story, as Troy takes his son Jo (Sasha Knight) out for a camping trip. We see that Sarah is having a very hard time accepting that her trans son wants to live his authentic self.

It was really interesting to see how each parent approached the idea of their child transitioning into their authentic self. We see that Troy respects his son’s wishes and treats him as he would like to be treated. Whereas Sarah struggles with the idea of transitioning, or of feeling outside of your body. Sarah forces Jo to wear dresses and to act like a little girl, essentially forcing these gender norms upon her. It got to the point in the film that Troy couldn’t bear to see his son treated so horribly in his own house, so he plans to take him away from Sarah.

What we see on the surface is that Troy is trying to be the best father that he can be to his son. We see the father/son bond early on in the film and that is what stole my heart. If children are fortunate enough to have a parent who treats them with respect and allows them to be their true self, then it’s a beautiful thing to see. This film also gives audiences another lens to look through. Sometimes adults don’t realize what their children are going through because of their own busy schedules. They don’t notice that their child might be reaching it out without actually doing so. Parents need to be more aware of what their children are showing them, without using their words because sometimes it can be difficult to articulate.

Cowboys is a an important watch because of how candid the conversations are about a young boy knowing who he wanted to be. He was young enough to know how he was feeling and everyone should respect that. It’s a beautiful film that explores family relationships, trans lives and overall acceptance. The performances from Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight were fantastic and their dynamic will warm your heart. It is always lovely to see a father/son relationship on screen that is so wholesome and loving. The film was a pleasant surprise and is definitely a must-watch.

2020 Year in Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

2020, what a year!

It was a rough year but we had some great films that came out to help get us through the madness! So without further ado, here are my Top 10 films of 2020 with some honourable mentions of course.

1. Promising Young Woman
dir. Emerald Fennell

(center) Carey Mulligan as Cassandra Thomas
Courtesy of Focus Features

“This film is unlike anything I’ve seen and it is because of how the story is structured. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, only to pick back up and deliver one of the most controversial endings of the year. Some will agree with the ending and others will most definitely be infuriated. However, the ending of the film is the perfect reflection of how women are treated and what men deserve.”

Promising Young Woman Review Excerpt

2. Emma
dir. Autumn de Wilde

(left) Mia Goth and Anya Taylor Joy
Courtesy of Working Title Films and Focus Features

“The film felt like the embodiment of the character of Emma Woodhouse, like her entire soul was spread into the corners of the frame and we could feel her presence, even if she wasn’t on screen. De Wilde captured Ms. Woodhouse’s entire being and made sure we understood who she was.Emma had the perfect balance of tension between possible suitors and a whirlwind of situations that caused Emma to spin out of control.”

Emma Review Excerpt

3. Da 5 Bloods
dir. Spike Lee

(left) Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors
Courtesy of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

“The wonderful thing about Spike Lee, is that he makes you fall in love with his characters in the first act of the film. In the second act, he shows you their pain, flaws and grievances. Then in the third act, he exposes his characters, like an open wound, to the world that has so deeply wronged them, time and time again. It is a film, like every other Spike Lee film, that unloads accurate information about Black history. Lee has never shied away from telling it like it is and has always managed to show every perspective on racial ideologies.”

Da 5 Bloods Review Excerpt

4. The Invisible Man
dir. Leigh Whannell

(center) Elisabeth Moss
Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures

“Not only did Whannell write a fantastic story, he also created a chilling, isolated atmosphere that affected his protagonist, as well as the audience. You feel everything with Cecelia because of the framing and camera movements, it feels as if you’re stuck with her on this journey. The sound design is also something that flowed nicely throughout the film and was utilized at the right moments, for dramatic effect.”

The Invisible Man Review Excerpt

5. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
dir. Cathy Yan

(left) Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett -Bell
Courtesy of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.

“I loved everything about this, especially the fact that it focused on the many ways women can be mistreated by men. It definitely has a different girl power energy and maybe it’s because I’m older but this badass, anarchist, violent, R rated energy just gives off a higher level of empowerment. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like that. Seeing all those women on screen, harnessing their powers and setting aside their differences in order to take a villain out.”

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn Review Excerpt

6. Soul
dir. Pete Docter

(left) Tina Fey and Jamie Foxx
Courtesy of Disney Pixar

Soul is emotional and incredibly moving because it has conversations about the choices people make in their lives. What makes us fully formed people? Why do we have the need to find a purpose in life and if we don’t we consider ourselves failures? These are internal struggles that we have all faced, time and time again.”

Soul Review Excerpt

7. Palm Springs
dir. Max Barbakow

(left) Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg
Courtesy of Lonely Island Classics and Neon Hulu

“It has a nice mixture of comedic moments and realistic discussions about life, which I really appreciated. The perception of loneliness, is always something that should be explored and how life can sometimes seem meaningless, if you do not have someone to share it with. That is why placing the central event, as a wedding day, in this film was extremely beneficial because of the weight it holds on everyone’s lives. It is very well crafted because they address so many different ideas of love and relationships.”

Palm Springs Review Excerpt

8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
dir. George C. Wolfe

(left) Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Viola Davis, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman
Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane

“The direction had this dual sense of atmosphere. Even though it takes place in a recording studio, it did not feel stuffy and static, like other plays that have been adapted for the screen. Wolfe created two separate rooms that had separate energy from each other. What was most impressive was how Wolfe captured his actors.It felt like we were on stage with these actors, the close ups and tight knit camerawork that was used was extremely effective.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Excerpt

9. One Night in Miami
dir. Regina King

(left) Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree
Courtesy of Snoot Entertainment and ABKCO

“Regina King’s direction was subtle and effective. She took the stage play and made it her own. It felt effortless as everything flowed from scene to scene, even light conversations to deeper ones. Even though the film takes place in one room for majority of the runtime, it’s the dialogue that holds you and the way King focused on her actors. She brought out such fantastic performances and the way she moved them through each scene was strong.”

One Night in Miami Review Excerpt

10. The Trial of the Chicago 7
dir. Aaron Sorkin

(left) Sacha Baron Cohen, Danny Flaherty, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance
Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures and Amblin Partners

“The film is not a representation of this current era that we are living in. Instead it represents the long fight against systemic racism and how this level of injustice has not been handled properly. A Sorkin script is never easy to get through, many actors have said that it is harder than it seems. It is fast paced and the soundtrack also brought everything together, it wasn’t overused and it came in at the right moments.”

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Review Excerpt:

Honourable Mentions

Best Animated Feature

Wolfwalkers
dir. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Courtesy of Cartoon Saloon

AND…

Over the Moon
dir. Glen Keane

Courtesy of Pearl Studios, Sony Picture Imageworks and Netflix Animation

HIDDEN GEMS

Definition Please
dir. Sujata Day

Courtesy of Atajus Productions

Swallow
dir. Carlo Mirabella – Davis

Courtesy of of IFC Films

Miss Juneteenth
dir. Channing Godfrey Peoples

Courtesy of Sailor Bear and Ley Line Entertainment

Well there you have it! For a year with limited new theatrical releases, there have been some great films. There’s more to come in 2021. So start making your lists now!

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.