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TIFF Film Roundup - Briefs On John Akomfrah's 'Peripiteia' & Haitian Drama 'Twa Timoun'

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by Lisa Harewood
September 25, 2012 3:31 PM
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John Akomfrah's 'Peripiteia'

It’s been just over a week since my return to Barbados from Toronto and I’m slowly recovering from a whirlwind three weeks that culminated in TIFF 2012.

To experience TIFF as a networking filmmaker is to face the daily dilemma of whether to catch a screening or one of the scores of informative panels featuring some of the best creative and business minds in the industry today. Even if you restrict yourself to screenings, with over 300 features in the program, it is almost impossible to get to everything on your list. This year I found myself with far less time to watch films but here is what you can expect from some of the films I did get a chance to see should you come across them at a festival or cinema near you.

Peripiteia

John Akomfrah, OBE, is part of the Black British filmmaking pantheon. As one of the founder members of the Black Audio Film Collective (1982-1998) his work has been dedicated to injecting the voices of the African Diaspora into narratives that have traditionally shut them out.

Akomfrah’s work easily straddles the worlds of film and artist moving image. He is as much a contemporary visual artist as he is a filmmaker. His new work, Peripiteia, which debuted at TIFF 2012, is in fact one part of a new three video commission entitled Hauntologies which goes on show in UK gallery Carroll/Fletcher from 5 October to 8 November.

In this wordless 19-minute piece Akomfrah takes his inspiration from 16th century sketches by German artist Albrecht Dürer which feature an unnamed black man and an unnamed black woman, played in the film by Trevor Mathison and Monique Cunningham respectively. Nothing is known of the personal history of the subjects of those drawings but these are believed to be some of the earliest Western representations of black people. So Akomfrah imagines their lives, which consists mainly of drifting in isolation across the wintry landscape. Just as the drawings themselves lack a wider context, so do the characters on screen. These images are occasionally intercut with archival photos of black people, many naked and some in chains. One particularly haunting image featured a naked black woman seated on an earthen floor, a metal stake driven through her thigh, blankly/defiantly looking directly into the camera.

The super high definition footage practically jumps off the screen. Every frame is painterly. Though entirely devoid of dialogue, sound plays a huge part in this piece with the howling wind so vivid I found myself pulling my sweater more tightly around me as I watched. Akomfrah has spoken in previous interviews about “reconfiguring” the relationship between sound and narrative, moving away from simply augmenting the images that are already in place, to sound as a more integral part of the narrative and it’s definitely on show here.

Twa Timoun (Three Kids)

In the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake, three 12-year old boys leave their care home and strike out on their own to try and live without restrictions.

Director Jonas D’Adesky blurs the line between narrative fiction and documentary with his debut feature, Twa timoun (so much so in fact that it is described as his first feature documentary in the TIFF program, but as a fiction on his website). It’s easy to see why. The film is characterized by a largely improvised script, characters who share the same name as the actors who play them and an observational camera style that gives it a sense of immediacy.

We follow the titular three kids, Vitaleme, Pierre and Mikenson as they find and set up a new home in an abandoned house and deal with the daily struggle of surviving without the protection of adult minders.

The boys have a complex dynamic. They are peers and comrades but Vitaleme is clearly the ringleader and asserts a dominance over the other two that sometimes has a faintly menacing undertone. Like all boys of that age, they frequently play fight but watching it, one never knows if something more serious is about to flare up. All three have experienced traumas, but Vitaleme wears his emotional scars closer to the surface and often seems on the edge of full-blown rage. Eventually, this simmering tension and the other boys’ differing ambitions will contribute to a rift between the boys. An accident will further precipitate their separation.

As the story develops two new characters are introduced into the piece, in the form of two girls who live in a partially ruined orphanage, one of whom may be the missing sister of one of the boys. Though adults do also populate this world, in particular the social worker trying hard to bring the boys back into protective care, the child cast carries the film and it is their perspective on life in this uncertain environment that the audience experiences.

Time in this story is fragmented and difficult to pin down. One day blurs into another as the boys live a life undefined by normal daily routines. It’s a mix of the exciting and the banal. One day they’re able to scheme and scrape together the funds to celebrate one of the boy’s birthdays at a restaurant and on another the discovery of a toothbrush amongst the rubble of their new home is enough to inspire fascination and nostalgia for the simple and familiar.

The Haiti of Twa Timoun is a place where life continues to go on. The ruins are as much a part of the new landscape as the billboards advertising cell phone calling plans. People carry on with their lives. Markets still bustle with people shopping, cooking and selling. This is the new normal and people are finding their way in it.

According to his bio, Jonas D’Adesky is a 29-year old Belgian who has studied both sociology and filmmaking. After graduating in the latter in 2010, he volunteered to work on a documentary for an NGO in Haiti, where he first had the chance to meet the children who would come to make up the cast of Twa Timoun. He is already in production on a new documentary film.

Lisa Harewood is an independent producer from Barbados, whose first feature, A Hand Full of Dirt, was nominated for Best First Feature Narrative Director at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles and won the Reelworld Audience Award in Toronto. She's back in Toronto this year as one of Reelworld Film Festival's Emerging 20 filmmakers. Follow Lisa on Twitter @islandcinephile.

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