Has it been five years since I last saw the Reel Youth Film Festival? It’s been a long time. Nevertheless having VIFF online gave me the chance to see it again.
This year’s films were a mix of films that looked like they were done by youth and films that were obviously directed by 20+. Some looked very professionally done while some make the amateurishness obvious. All of them did have themes and messages that appeared to be directed to the youth or would be of youth interest.
This year, there were eighteen films. There were five Canadian films, but only two local. Film entries for this year came from the United States, Brazil, India, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, Romania, China, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Iraq and the UK. Films were a mix of animation, documentary to live-action fiction. They ranged from drama to comedy to informative.
Topics were of a wide range. Even with this pandemic, there was one Canadian film by a teen girl about the struggles of physical isolation and only being able to reach out through a computer. There was another from India of a woman using her creativity to work from home. There were other themes of focus like breaking social barriers, generation gaps, regaining silence in a world full of noise, choices that can change one’s life, a future of pollution, overcoming loneliness with your passion, dealing with post-war trauma, and dealing with autism. There were also some light-hearted films like an animated film about monkeys and baby aliens.
The two themes that most stood out among the short films were themes involving racism and racial identity, and sexuality. With racism being a hot topic in 2020, the Fest didn’t stray away from it this year. One film was about a black girl admitted into an all-white private school and made to feel inferior. Another is of a Mexican-American girl and how she deals with the identity of herself and her people at a time with calls of ‘build the wall’ from Trump and his supporters. There were two films of Inuit people. One was of an elder from Nunavut who passes down to the younger generation hunting skills, cultural traditions and the language. Another film focuses on Inuit youth and what culture means to them. The film ends with them doing traditional throat singing.
As for films about sexuality, there were three. One was a documentary about a Vancouver drag performer who performs by the rule “Don’t do drag for free.” Another was a drama of a girl from China returning home after her grandmother’s death; a grandmother who rejected her after she spoke of her orientation. The third was a comedy about a girl who never had a first kiss from a boy. She realizes she’s a lesbian and gets her first kiss from a girl during the first snowfall.
They again had the ballot for the three favorite films of this year. This year’s ballot was completely online. I had lots of problems trying to access the online ballot. So it looks like I will have to post the picks of my Top 3 here:
- Monochrome – The story of Essence, a 17 year-old girl who’s the only black student in an all-white private school. The teens and students don’t hesitate to make her feel like a misfit. She feels like the only way to fit in is to assimilate herself. It’s a very powerful message about the racism we don’t always notice.
- Little Swallow Coming Home – A Chinese film about a young girl who returns home after her grandmother died. The memories of how her grandmother rejected her when she came out as a lesbian flood her mind and make her nervous. Then she notices a photo with a message from her grandmother saying she always loved her. It’s a reminder that LGBT struggles are universal. Not just at home.
- Dayo – A man named Dayo is lonely at home. But when he walks into the kitchen, he’s an artist and beloved for his culinary confections by the customers and his co-workers. It’s a brief three-minute animated film, but it packs in the charm in its time.
This year’s Reel Youth Film Festival didn’t offer too much in terms of local film. Nevertheless the Festival was very good at providing a wide variety of films from around the world with common themes relating to young people.
“We must dare to invent the Future”
Judging by the title, you’ll think The Great Green Wall is about something environmental. You are mostly right. However this film is about something more, just like the wall.
Before I get into the film, I need to explain what the Great Green Wall is. It’s official name is The Great Green Wall Of The Sahara And The Sahel. The Great Green Wall is an environmental project and initiative meant to protect Africa against climate change and desertification. Those most vulnerable to desertification are the lands and people around the areas where the Sahara ends off known as the Sahel. This environmental wall of reforestation is to be done across twelve African countries around the Sahel. The main goal is to prevent the spread of the Sahara that has desertified a lot of green space in the past, strengthen regional resilience and natural systems for a sound ecosystem, and also maintain better living conditions and a better quality of life and even a future for the people’s of Africa around this area.
The idea of a ‘great green wall’ to contain the Sahara was first imagined by a British botanist in 1954, but was never taken seriously. The idea was brought up again in 2002 at an international meeting of the Community Of Sahel-Saharan States and approved in 2005. The African Union endorsed it in 2007 and the first plantings occurred in 2008. Eleven of the countries involved created the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW) as well as a harmonized strategy to plant out the Wall was adopted by African nations and implemented by the UN in 2012. However by 2016, only 15% of the acreage has been planted. Although many countries have been successful in planting, many of their plans are threatened by civil war.
The film is the Wall as seen through the eyes of Malian singer Inna Modja. She was born Inna Boccum but was called Ina Modja by her mother as a child as Modja is ‘bad girl’ in her native Malian language. Inna grew up in a musical family and was heavily influenced by both the traditional sounds of African pop music and American hip-hop and R&B of her teen years as well as the jazz records owned by her father. When she broke into the music world in 2009, she settled for a pop/soul sound. Her music ranges from themes of common pop songs to songs with strong political messages. Her music is not only big in Africa but also popular in France and Belgium.
Right at the start of the film, Inna talks of her own identity having elements with the Sahel. She grew up around the Malian area of the Sahel. The Great Green Wall is a project she is heavily dedicated to. She states the biggest elements the Wall is meant to combat: desertification, climate-change, poverty and even war. She also talks of her planned trip to visit areas around the Sahel where the Wall is vital to. It’s a trip that will take almost a year and will face the interruptions of her music schedule.
Before she embarks on her trip, she shows areas of Mali where forestation has occurred. She talks of her own childhood growing up on the Sahel. The first country she visits is Senegal. There she learns of the common belief shared by many young Africans: ‘flee to Europe or die trying.’ There’s a common belief in most of the young of Africa that there’s no future here in Africa. That their future is in Europe. Inna sees the importance of the wall as a way to keep the young in their African countries. It’s critical as it’s projected that 60 million young Africans are anticipated to migrate or attempt to migrate to Europe within the next 20 years.
Inna goes into more countries over time. She goes into Burkina Faso. One of her favorite leaders is Thomas Sankara: former president of Burkina Faso. She admires him and also hold dear to his saying ‘we must dare to invent the future.’ She then travels to Chad: a country that has suffered the most environmental damage. We learn of Lake Chad of how it used to be a big lake and it’s dissolved almost into nothing. She tells of the poverty and wars that have come from Chad’s environmental devadtation, including war children.
She then travels to Nigeria: the most populative country in Africa. She meets up with singer Waje who is a top singing star in Nigeria. She uses her fame for good and is just as supportive of the wall. Over in Nigeria she learns of many ugly truths that are common in Africa. The biggest one being children turned into soldiers. She even talks to two former child soldiers that tell their story. She then goes to Niger which has the highest birthing rate in the world: more than seven per mother. She meets with mothers who talk about the hope for their children, including one mother who just gave birth.
Her last trip is to Ethiopia. There she meets with singer Betty G., but she also sees the biggest ray of hope. For most the biggest image of Ethiopia is the famine of 1984. During the famine, hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation. Much of the areas of land that was dry dirt during the famine have seen forestry and horticulture replanted and developed. The area where there was mass starvation and death is now full of plant life. After Ethiopia, Inna returns back to Mali with a new outlook on Africa and ready to send the message out in her performances.
The film is an informative film as it’s a documentary about the wall and how much it means to a singer. We should also know that Inna is also a political activist. She has not only spoken about the Great Green Wall bit also spoken out against violence against women and female genital mutilation, which she herself was against her parents’ will. Inna is not afraid to include these topics in her music.
The film shows how Inna is passionate about the topic and wants to go to many parts of the Sahel to learn more of the issues surrounding the Sahel and to remind all of us why this Wall is important. Especially since only 15% has been planted and grown. We’re reminded of the Wall’s importance. It’s not just to prevent desertification. It’s not only to bring back an ecoculture in Africa. It’s also for the future of these African countries. It’s to give them a livelihood. It’s to prevent or end wars. It’s to give future generation of Africa a future there instead of Europe.
The film, which is co-produced by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, shows how this Wall is about African countries coming together to make this wall happen. One thing about this Wall is that many treaties and organizations have come about this. This involved many times of leaders of African nations coming together. However through Inna’s eyes we also see musicians coming together to help make this wall a reality and help make for a better Africa. We see as she meets with Malian band Songhoy Blues, we see as she meets with Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, as she meets with Nigerian singer Waje and as she meets with Ethiopian singer Betty C. In each case, the musicians are people that put messages in their music. We see them bonding with Inna for a common cause as they also share the same concerns. The Wall means a lot to them, and here we see how music unites people for a common cause.
The Great Green Wall is about an ambitious environmental project, but the film shows this wall is a lot more. It’s for the future and liveliness of Africa, to prevent the spread of the world’s biggest desert and for the future people of Africa to have a life of promise. The film, and Inna Modja, do an excellent job in delivering this message.
WIKIPEDIA: Great Green Wall. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019.<Great Green Wall>
WIKIPEDIA: Inna Modja. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019. <Inna Modja>