Audio begins, and with it, a downward spiral unfolds. The voice of a woman sinking into a health anxiety attack quickly entangles a complex labyrinth of fears and emotions. The Spiral is a dive into a lonely ride, a hypnotic escalation towards childhood, family, and the loneliness of “home.”
Once a Prison, Now a Portal features the work of five filmmakers who focus on the family as a unit of unease and the hard-won potential for healing. While acknowledging that families can be rife with conflict and are often sources of deep, generational trauma, the films presented in this program explore what might be possible should boundaries be enacted, communication supported, and healing prioritized.
The name of this screening comes from writer and poet Ocean Vuong. In a TV interview, Ocean describes the writing process for his book On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous as one that required hiding from his roommates, a lovely but loud family. This writer found solace in an unlikely place: the closet. As a gay man having left the metaphorical closet, Ocean willingly re-enters the physical one, and transforms it. As he describes the experience—“what was once a prison became a portal for me”—a portal to a story that foregrounds a complicated family and their shared vulnerability.
Likewise, the works by Maria Silva Esteve, Madya Jan Leghari, Jasmine Callis, Adam Mbowe, Nadia Ghanem, and TJ and Ruth Cuthland themselves are sites of transformation where cycles of familial trauma break down. Though distinct in genre and aesthetic approach, their works come together to present a host of tender possibilities: manifold inherited futures that are a little less haunted by those who came before.
Mention of suicide and suggestions of domestic violence, flashing lights
Nadia Ghanem is a filmmaker based in Cairo. She recently finished her first short film as a director, Three Disappearances and a Song (2021) which premiered at the 43rd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival. Nadia is currently working on her first feature Looking for Spiderman' which received development awards from A kiss in the Desert, Rawiyat film Collective, Two Stories Production and Dox Box.
Madyha J. Leghari is a visual artist, writer and educator based in Lahore. She pursued a BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore and an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design on a Fulbright Scholarship. Madyha has been the recipient of the Vasl Writing Mentorship; Mansion Artist Residency; Delta Research Placement at the Flat Time House; Siena Art Institute Artist Residency and the Murree Museum residency.
Adam Mbowe is a Gambian/Canadian, Montreal-based filmmaker. A recent graduate from Concordia University, creating art through moving images has given her the means to describe experiences that may otherwise have been forgotten or rarely explained. It has given her the power to illustrate blackness and queerness through film as reclamation. With her work, she is inspired by the inherent value of simple memories and how these small, poignant moments almost escape description yet say so much.
jasmine lynea is a film director and writer residing in Philadelphia. Her raw and colorful evolving film work aims to redesign familiar worlds with unique possibilities. A radical dreamer, Jasmine chooses to blend fantasy and reality in her black queer narratives to escape limitations that diminish our spiritual existence and power. Jasmine’s short films have been screened in several festivals, including Seattle Black Film Festival, Hip Hop Film Festival, and San Francisco Black Film Festival.
María Silvia Esteve is a prominent emerging female director in Latin America. Her first feature Silvia, premiered at IDFA. Her new project Mailin, won the IDFA Bertha Fund and was double award winner at the Visions du Réel Industry 2022 as the project with the highest international potential. She is writing her first fiction feature Fauces, based on her film Criatura, which won the Pardino d’oro to the Best Auteur Short at the Locarno Film Festival 2021.
TJ Cuthand was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Saskatoon. Since 1995, he has been making short experimental narrative videos and films about sexuality, madness, youth, love, and race, which have screened in festivals internationally, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Mix Brasil Festival of Sexual Diversity in Sao Paolo, Hot Docs in Toronto, imagineNATIVE in Toronto, Frameline in San Francisco, Outfest in Los Angeles, and Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany, where his short Helpless Maiden Makes an ‘I” Statement won honourable mention. His work has also screened at galleries including the Mendel in Saskatoon, The National Gallery in Ottawa, and Urban Shaman in Winnipeg.