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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

By: Dwight Brown

The Tribeca Film Festival is back on track. In 2022, it offered both theater screenings (June 8th—19th) and at-home TFF App-viewings too (up to June 26th). Festival premieres and parties were back in full swing, and images of Black life were everywhere. Feature films, documentaries, shorts, series...

 

Aisha (***)

For Aisha Osagie (Letitia Wright, Black Panther), a Nigerian immigrant seeking asylum in Ireland, deportation is always on her mind. Living in constant fear, she’s caught in a maze of red tape, social services and immigration camps. Afraid to go home. Afraid to look forward. Writer/director Frank Berry (Michael Inside) takes a page out of the Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake) fight-the-system playbook, as he explores the plight of those who’ve left dangerous circumstances and sought refuge among Europe’s working class. Not much in the protagonist’s life goes right. Two steps forward, three steps back. Phone calls back to the motherland indicate certain death if she goes home. Aisha’s only glimpse of hope is a white security guard Conor (Josh O’Connor, The Crown), who is smitten. When he asks about her feelings she replies: “Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m scared.”

Deliberate pacing pulls you into a life that’s a slow wreck. Desperation and melancholy are prevalent. A gut-wrenching performance by Wright, whose Aisha echoes the thoughts of many immigrants: “I don’t want handouts. I’m just here for safety.” O’Connor’s sweet, innocent portrayal is endearing. Together these lost souls make compelling viewing. As the earth beneath Aisha is pulled out from under her again and again you sink into her uncertain life and constant misery.

Some solid dramas build to climactic endings. Others leave you hanging in ways that make you continue to ponder life’s hurdles. This sobering ode to the immigrant experience will leave audiences unsettled and hopefully reflective. 

 

The Cave of Adullam (***)

“I thought black boys needed discipline. Instead, they needed love.” That realization changed the way Jason Wilson, a Detroit martial arts sensei, mentored troubled youth. The Black boys who attended the martial arts program at his academy “The Cave,” are taught how to be disciplined and express their deepest feelings. Teaching them how to battle on a mat is a metaphor for fighting through the painful parts of their lives. Those combat skills help them cope with family, school and conflict resolution issues. 

Documentarian Laura Checkoway has the presence of mind to be invisible. When the camera follows Wilson and his mentees (Tamarkus, Gabe, Daniel, and Kevin), you’re the ghost in the room at school, prisons and homes. As the boys wrangle their anger and fear and Wilson points them towards their inner selves, watching these traumatized kids heal becomes a cleansing experience.

The filmmakers should take pride in producing an illuminating doc that feels as raw as reality TV minus the fakery. An instructive and consciousness-raising film. Spiritual and purposeful. Wilson rightfully quotes Frederick Douglass: “It’s easier to raise boys than it is to repair broken men.” That’s evident for 94 minutes where compassion prevails.