“Who Will Start Another Fire” – Not everyone is ready [MOVIE REVIEW]

Valerie Teichner in “Slip” directed by Nicole Otero. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Who Will Start Another Fire” is an ambitious project to highlight short films from emerging and diverse talents across the globe. Although all the films have something to offer from the perspective of personal point of view, not all show the mastery necessary to jump immediately to the next level. But for some of them, “Who Will Start another Fire” can be seen as a sizzle reel for under-represented stories, directors, and writers. Regardless of skill level, all offer worlds and themes that are important to consider.

In “Like Flying” we meet the adorable Chinese child, the daughter of toxic, dysfunctional parents who have immigrated to Los Angeles. She begins acting out their lives as though she were playing house with a doll. She creates her own scenario, mirroring and repeating the arguments she has heard countless times between her overworked and unhappy mother and her irresponsible, unfaithful father. Director Peier Tracy Shen raised several interesting issues, all of which were explored—the difficulties of the immigrant experience; the burden on one parent when the other is absent and unhelpful; the effect of parental discord on a child. In Mandarin and English.

“Family Tree” by Ugandan director Nicole Amani Magabo Kiggundu is ultimately about the upending of life as one child experiences it. Nagawa is a proud 8 year old school girl whose father is a government minister. Her life comes apart when her father is involved in a near fatal accident. Arriving at the hospital with her mother, it slowly dawns on her that he wasn’t exclusively her father. Holding vigil also are his actual wife and their three children as well as other sundry mistresses and their children. What had been so clear earlier in the day was now destroyed. The story is strong but lacks the precision focus it needs to see this from the child’s slowly dawning realization. Unfortunately the child actress playing Nagawa is too inexperienced to communicate the heart break and nuance the story needs. In Luganda and English.

“Troublemaker” by Olive Nwosu shows us the world of Obi, a young, bored, lonely African kid living in a settlement where his every move is guaranteed to annoy the adults around him. When he entices a friend to play act war with fire crackers and imaginary guns in his Biafran village, he stirs up more than he bargained for. In a very short 11 minute film she has presented the portrait of a lost child in a confusing universe. In Igbo with English subtitles.

“Polygraph,” directed by Samira Saray has attempted to give us a complicated love story between two women, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. That the Israeli is in the Army Intelligence branch and has been candid about her relationship with the Palestinian nurse creates an irresolvable conflict. Neither character is explored fully and the complexity of the relationship and love seems superficially told. In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

“The Lights Are On, No One’s Home” by Fay Ruiz follows the path of a trans woman who returns to the home she left many years before to find it as changed as she is. There’s not much there there. In English.

“By Way of Canarsie,” directed by Emily Packer and Lesley Steele, is a short documentary trying to give the audience a flavor for this New York waterfront community end of the L line. The directors have tried to give an overview that is expansive in a 14 minute time frame. By trying to do everything, they end up muddying those Canarsie waters. As the old adage goes, too much choice often amounts to the same as too little.

“The Rose of Manila,” opening on a clip of Imelda Marcos discussing how she and Ferdinand joined to become a formidable father and mother of the Philippines, segues into a short docudrama of a young Imelda, the Catholic school girl and dream student of every teacher. Focusing on just one alleged episode when Imelda entered a local beauty contest, Director Alex Westfall has, within the short 12 minute time frame, illustrated the ruthless, unstoppable resolve she had from the beginning. This is a masterful piece of short film with a fully scripted story very well directed and acted.

“Slip” by Nicole Otero is the highlight of the series, remarkable in that there is no actual story, just a camera following the movements of one woman, wandering New York at night through parks, abandoned streets, and subways. Without any spoken dialogue, the journey of this woman, restless and confident, is mesmerizing. Otero also had the added advantage of Alex Ashe as her cinematographer who, no doubt, used only available light and hand held cameras. It is impossible to take your eyes off actress Valerie Teichner with her aquiline nose and piercing eyes. Somehow, Otero has managed to tell a story that is about nothing and ends up being about everything. It’s whatever the viewer brings to it. This is a director to watch. She’s earned her right to a seat at the table.

“Not Black Enough” by Jermaine Manigault was an ambitious project trying to tie the symbols of Jim Crow racism into the color shaming within the black community when some deem others as not being black enough. Manigault is unable to coalesce the abstraction of a white man in black-face tap dancing around our hero with the confrontation the hero has with those of his peers who ridicule him as being too white aspirational. Manigault’s greatest strength is in the last few moments as the hero pleads with the others for greater acceptance to all in the community. It is not their differences or similarities that are seen by white society, it is only their one shared characteristic—the color of their skin. Their color, dark, light, or any of the shades in between, defines and targets them, And as they argue heatedly back and forth, who should arrive but two white cops who see only blacks, blacks with targets on their backs. The end of the film shows Manigault’s promise; the beginning, not so much.

Now streaming on KinoNow.com

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Written by: Neely Swanson

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