‘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 Honey Makers’ Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Honey Makers is a short film that explores the social climate in England. Based on the award-winning play by Deborah Grimberg, the film, set in 1984 London, tells the story of two Indian immigrants from Uganda who struggle to create a home in the face of mounting resentment, while dealing with a bee invasion in their own garden. Director Jeneffa Soldatic showed certain people in London taking what is theirs. They mark their territory and come in swarms. If you don’t address them, they could stay awhile. There is a shop that is owned by a couple named, Arjun (Anil Goutam) and Lalita (Nila Aalia), who came from Uganda to open their shop. They find that there is a bees nest in their backyard and they don’t know how to handle it. Lalita wants to get rid of it, but Arjun has gotten used to the bees being in his backyard, and doesn’t mind that they are there.

What is so interesting about The Honey Makers is how Soldatic shows the parallel between the bees and the swarm of Londoners outside the shop. In such a short amount of time, we see how Lalita and Arjun are affected by the men outside the shop. They are verbally abused and bullied by these men, who take it upon themselves to storm the shop and take what they want. It shows the racism from different perspectives, and how everyone handles the situation. Arjun does not want to cause further issues so like the bees, he pretends that these men outside the shop don’t bother him. Lalita, on the other hand, takes matters into her own hands and calls a beekeeper behind Arjun’s back.

What is really interesting about the second half of this short film is how the beekeeper, named Arthur (Finbar Lynch) approached the swarm of bees. He understands that they are nuisance, but they needed to be handled in a certain way in order for them to leave. The racism is addressed with Arthur, as he mistakenly makes the assumption that Arjun and Lalita are from Pakistan. Arjun and Lalita educate Arthur, and you can see the shift in his mindset. The strength lies in the structure of this film, as each moments shared between the thugs and the couple, lead to an even bigger blowout. The final stand-off is powerful and it has a great performance by Goutam.

The Honey Makers takes a very simple story and adds so much tension within the runtime. Even though there is a beehive in their backyard, Soldatic only showed them a couple of times. It was the presence of the bees, that set the symbolism for the Londoners swarming their shop. There are ways to approach difficult situations and Arjun allowed himself to think before doing anything drastic. The short film has strong, emotional moments, and it is filled with tension as it builds to a powerful conclusion. With great performances from the entire cast, this film will definitely pull at your heartstrings, and will put you in their position.

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.

Everything I Learned Came From The Television Short Film Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Everything I Learned Came From The Television is a very unique science fiction short film, that explores the damaging effects of media consumption. There are metaphors that symbolize the media’s influence, whether it be from a friend, or an inaccessible overlord, media will always have this hold on people.

The opening of this film is haunting and powerful, as a song with the title of the film, begins to play. The imagery in this film is quite stunning because of the lighting and shadowing used from the television monitors versus the world outside. We see young Hannah (Brittany Lynn Blanchard) staring at multiple monitors, as she sits on the floor. Her eyes are blank and the static from the television replace her pupils.

It locks you in the moment it begins because of how interesting the visuals are. The story is linear and the concept is intriguing because of how well crafted this film is. However, the concept does get lost in translation, as the dialogue doesn’t quite explain the purpose of Hannah recruiting minions for this ‘cult’. She has been tied to her Protector (Josh Wingate) and wants to be free of this attachment. It was a mental journey for Hannah because she started to understand the underlying issue of her powers.

Everything I Learned Came From The Television has solid visuals, beautiful cinematography and symmetry within the frame. The concept of this short film is really interesting and works well in the current climate. Technology is a beast and it can be perceived differently by other generations. It explores the true state of media consumption through a science fiction tale.

Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Pressure Play Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Pressure Play is a short film that premiered at the Canadian Film Festival. The film is an in depth look of the mind of a seventeen year – old Black teenager named Fraser (Emidio Lopes), who really wants to make his high school basketball team. Fraser is very reserved and quiet, but on the court, he finds his voice and his freedom. The film is directed and co-written by Eric Bizzarri, it is a follow-up to his film Cold Hands which also deals with toxic masculinity.

The most impressive thing about the film was its sound design. It flowed really well through each scene and brought a certain edge to Fraser’s character. It’s a very internal role and it was hard to understand what Fraser was feeling at times. There was no development for his character and it felt like it was basketball or nothing for him. It’s understandable that a teenager would feel that way but his story really did not go past basketball.

The camerawork was good and the shots on the court were effective, it felt like you were in the middle of the tryouts alongside the rest of the players. There was one scene in the locker room, where players were having their pre-game conversations. They were talking about their encounters with girls and their own lives. It would have been beneficial to extend scenes like that, to understand why Fraser felt uncomfortable during those conversations. There was so much left unsaid for Fraser’s character and I wanted to know more about him. It left me with so many questions.

When it comes to showing sports in films, it somehow always comes down to the story you want to tell through the Coach’s actions. Is the Coach going to be uplifting and inspirational or stern and abusive? Pressure Play accurately shows the “tough love” approach, with unconventional tactics used by Coach Riggs (Andrew Bee) as he verbally abuses the boys on the team. It escalated quite quickly from scene to scene making Fraser’s timid demeanor, counter that of Coach Riggs. As Riggs pushed harder with his abuse, Fraser began to open up and find his voice.

Pressure Play is a film that scratches the surface of toxic masculinity but never fully dives into that subject. It shows the mental game of a young man who wants something and fights for it, even when the rules to the game come with a level of verbal abuse. It will leave you wanting to know more about Fraser and if his basketball dreams will come true.