Notes from Susan: Resilient Kids at TIFF 2016

By Susan MacLaury

Albie and I just returned from 4 days at the Toronto International Film Festival where we attended the Canadian premiere of The Eagle Huntress, which Shine helped to produce. The screening was very well-attended and its “stars,” Aisholpan and her parents, received a standing ovation. Very exciting and we can’t wait for audiences around the country to see the film with its theatrical release starting this October (see cities and dates here).

But change is afoot at Shine. We’re looking to expand our storytelling beyond documentaries to include fictional and narrative films based on real-life stories, animation, web series, and more. We watched both docs and narrative films at the festival and I want to recommend two very different, but equally moving films that confirmed to us that giving voice to children by sharing their stories of resilience to raise awareness, promote action, and inspire change can be done fantastically in very different formats.

The first is the feature-length, stop motion film, My Life as a Courgette, (also known as My Life as a Zucchini). It’s the story of a young boy traumatically orphaned and his ties with 6 other children and 4 loving adults. What starts so darkly evolves into a powerfully hopeful reimagining of family. I couldn’t speak for several minutes after it ended.

We also saw Queen of Katwe, the beautifully made film by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake). Funded and distributed by Disney and starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, it tells the story of chess prodigy Phiona Mutsei, a young teen living in the Katwe slum of Kampala. Make sure to stay through the credits!

It’s tremendously moving and brought us back to 9 years ago after the release of our first film, War/Dance, which as many of you know was also shot in Uganda and tells the story of three young teens violently impacted by civil war and the LRA. Like Phiona, they refuse to be defeated by life circumstances and compete in Uganda’s national music and dance festival. Organizations can book screenings of War/Dance through our IGNITE program and see the follow up short doc War/Dance Returns on our website.

Never doubt that film can inspire not only a strong emotional response, but positive action as well. It’s impossible to watch such resilient kids struggle so hard to persevere without being moved to join the fight!