‘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.

To All The Boys: Always And Forever Interview With Trezzo Mahoro


By: Amanda Guarragi

We all seem have our own traits that we want in a best friend. Majority of us want someone who is the opposite of who we are so they can ground us. As we’ve seen Lara Jean (Lana Condor) evolve over the years, we know that she is very reserved and lives in her own romantic little world. Her best friend Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro) is the total opposite of Lara Jean but that’s why their friendship works so well. Lucas is always the one to add some fun to her life, even if things aren’t going so well for her. In the To All the Boys trilogy, Lucas acts as the universal friend for everyone watching. The one we can relate to and the one who reminds us of our best friends.

We see Lucas grow with Lara Jean and I think that is why we love seeing their friendship. He is someone who just pops up when you need him most. Trezzo Mahoro loves Lucas, as much as we all do and after playing him for a while now, he feels even more connected to him,

His sense of fashion, he’s great but besides that he’s just, he’s a great friend. He’s a friend that I think we all need right now. Especially in this pandemonium we’re in. He would be a very cool person to have and he’s diverse and I love him. I love playing him because I could be his friend. 

Courtesy of Netflix Film

The reason why this trilogy is so wonderful is because it brings back the teenage rom-com in all its glory. There are many romantic comedies that people secretly love and call it a ‘guilty pleasure’, when it shouldn’t be considered one. We can enjoy all genres for what they are. For example, my favourite romantic comedy is When Harry Met Sally. Yes, it’s a bit dated, but for me it’s THE blueprint for all rom-coms. When asked about his favourite romantic comedy, Mahoro answered with 50 First Dates. He agreed that Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have great chemistry, much like Noah Centineo and Lana Condor. Sometimes people just click on screen.

This third instalment makes you feel like you are back in high school because of the senior trip, college applications and the most important event, prom. Mahoro does think that everyone can relate to this trilogy because we have all been through the similar situations as Lara Jean or, even Kavinsky in our early days,

I’m sure we can all think of that one crush that we had back in grade six to eight or whatever grade we were in. So, 100% I related to all of the material in there BUT at the same time it was kind of hilarious because when I did take myself back there, I was like oh geez, I can’t believe that is what I was doing at that time. So Lara Jean definitely did it better than I did. 

Courtesy of Netflix Film

Even though we all suffer from secondhand embarrassment, I’m sure we all enjoyed feeling all of those emotions again through these characters. We can all learn from these characters and that is the most important thing, these teenage romantic comedies can give us. We can’t learn about life experiences through a textbook in school, we need to be grateful that movies can give us these lessons, no matter how old we are. Mahoro also learned a lot from this trilogy,

This trilogy taught me how to be more patient, that’s for sure. The same way that Peter and Lara are with each other. They definitely taught me that and also to just have fun and have a good time. That is very, very important. I feel like people have forgotten how to do that now. That is an important aspect in our lives right now. 

Patience is always the key and can be applied to how you handle everything in your life. Mahoro also goes on to say that Lara Jean and Kavinsky’s relationship can help everyone take chances. To not be be afraid in taking the first step. That if you want something, to just go for it and put your all into it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about relationships but this is what the trilogy has given everyone. It spreads love and gives us all hope that romance isn’t dead, that people will love you for who you are and that any relationship can be a great love story.

How Adult Themes Can Be Elevated Through Stop Motion Animation: An Interview With Josephine Lohoar Self


By: Amanda Guarragi

There are many ways filmmakers have incorporated themes of grief, love and loss in their films. In The Fabric of You, writer and director Josephine Lohoar Self uses stop motion animation, to create emotional connections through memories. The film is set in the Bronx, where we are introduced to Michael, a gay, twenty-year-old mouse, who hides his true identity, while he works as a tailor. When Isaac enters the shop one day, he changes Michael’s perspective and their relationship blossoms. The film is presented by the Scottish Film Talent Network and funded by the BFI and Creative Scotland. The film had its world premier at The 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival as part of The New British Animation 2 Strand.

The concept of the film was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus by American cartoonist Art Spiegleman. The novel recounts the experiences of the author’s father, during the Holocaust with drawn wide-eyed mice, representing Jewish people and menacing cats as Nazis. It spoke to Lohoar Self, “I used it as a catalyst for looking at stop motion animation as a way of telling more adult themes and seeing it as a vehicle for themes of grief and memory.” this is what the film does so well. The memories that Michael reminisces about throughout his day cut into his everyday activities. They can be happy memories or traumatic ones and it is all framed in how he processes those moments.

Michael

Lohoar Self has a Fine Arts background and wanted to incorporate her artistic knowledge as a painter through animation. She is skilled in telling stories through her paintings and wanted to combine that with her love for filmmaking,

“I enjoy working with like-minded creative people, so painting for me was sort of isolating. This was a great collaborative, creative experience with film and animation. That’s what it offers and I was particularly drawn to stop motion animation because of that.”

She felt that stop motion animation could explore different levels because of the endless possibilities that can be created in that space. There are moments that can be altered through memories in time and space, “I think I was really interested in exploring how grief affects memory and how memories are affected after someone passes on.” Lohoar Self said. There are moments in The Fabric of You that cut through Michael’s everyday activities to show that he misses his partner. Those were powerful moments because anyone who has suffered a loss will understand how Michael is feeling.

Michael and Isaac

There are waves of sadness that can hit you at the most random moments because a small thing could remind you have that person and that is what this film does so well. Lohoar Self wanted to present the complexities of those feelings through different plains, “I thought it would be fun to draw the parallels between people seeing objects and memory and also cutting between three different layers of reality, imaginary and fantasy.” She also used a singular object, a button, to create a profound moment between Michael and Isaac.

Lohoar Self wanted to create a deeper, emotional connection between Isaac and Michael by using the buttons as a representation of individuality. Fashion is something that can define you as a person, Lohoar Self goes onto say, “Fashion can be a form of expression, so I think for me, fashion as a concept in the film was quite important, as a way of revealing your identity and revealing who you are but also a way of hiding it and concealing it.” Isaac accepted Michael for who he was and the button symbolizes something entirely different halfway through the film. The importance of that particular object being tied to a memory is what makes this film emotional.

The Fabric of You uses stop motion animation to explore themes of love and grief through different plains. The narrative structure allows the audience to process the important memories as Michael does, his emotional spectrum is put on display and affects his everyday life. The film is assembled to draw in the viewer with its quick editing and fantastical elements, while retelling a traumatic story that can resonate with everyone. There is so much that can be done with animation and to be able to use a different form, to express adult themes, can really help audiences process their feelings.

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.