TCFF: My Name is Myeisha (2018) & Hostages (2017)

The first annual Toronto True Crime Film Festival is fast approaching! Taking place June 8th and 9th at The Royal Cinema in Toronto, the festival features both documentary and fictionalized feature films, along with shorts and panels exploring the fascinating world of true crime.

Looking for a reason to stay up? I checked out the festival’s late-night fare:

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My Name is Myeisha (2018)

Directed by Gus Krieger, My Name is Myeisha is an experimental film based on the stageplay “Dreamscape” (itself based on the real-life murder of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller), and its theatrical origins are evident throughout, in the glorious staging and spoken word narration.

Set on December 28th, 1998, the film opens with a family celebrating Kwanzaa, but the young female relatives are more interested in getting ready for their night out. Myeisha (Rhaechyl Walker), her cousin Roni (Dominique Toney), and their friend Kai (Dee Dee Stephens) are excited to head out for a night of clubbing, but their night of joyful, combative camaraderie cut short when they get a flat tire. When the trio pull into a rest station to call AAA, Myeisha is accosted by a strange man. She smokes a joint to calm down, passes out in the car, and seems to be awakened by a nightmare about being found by a police officer — at this point, the film transitions seamlessly and beautifully into a choreographed musical number alluding to the dangers of driving while black.

As the song ends, we’re transported back to the parking lot, as an out-of-body Myeisha looks on as multiple police officers surrounding the car in which she is sleeping, guns drawn. She explains to us that this holiday story won’t be a “jingle bells and ho-ho-ho” style “feel-good show”.

She ain’t lying.

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The rest of the film takes place over a series of flashbacks and fantasies, as Myeisha guides us through both her life over the past day and a series of significant events in her life via voiceover narration, regular breaking of the fourth wall, and vibrant musical breaks and dance performances. The events of December 28th unfold slowly via the film’s unique and dynamic structure; while unspeakably tragic, the story is also engagingly and refreshingly realized. Triple-threat Rhaechyl Walker is an electrifying presence onscreen, turning in a compelling and heartbreaking performance that effortlessly carries the 80-minute production.

My Name is Myeisha is a brilliant, incisive, timely, and emotionally devastating must-see feature and scathing indictment of police brutality which deserves the wide release that it almost certainly will never have. It screens on Friday, June 8th at 9:30pm.

Hostages (2017)

A Georgian-Russian-Polish political thriller based on true events, Hostages (AKA Mdzevlebi) tells the story of seven discontented Georgian youth who hijacked an airplane in 1983 in a desperate attempt to escape the U.S.S.R. and experience life outside Soviet restraint. The film centres on a young couple, Nika (Irakli Kvirikadze) and Anna (Tinatin Dalakishvili), who spend the days leading up to their wedding developing an ambitious escape plan with five of their friends. The day after the wedding, the group board a flight from Tblisi to Leningrad with a stopover in Batumi (a resort town near the Georgian border) with the intention of hijacking it and landing in Turkey.

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Multiple complications and delays ratchet up the tension to dangerous levels, as the group struggles to adapt and stay calm. As the plane turns back toward Tblisi midway through the trip, the group must make a difficult decision — seize a full commercial flight against all odds, or return to the life that they are trying to escape and give up all hope of liberation.

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Tense and engrossing, Hostages is a tragic ballad of desperation that foregoes unnecessary exposition. Circumstances are neatly and economically established, keeping the focus on the characters and the moral complexity of their ultimately doomed endeavour. While an arms-length approach to character development creates an emotional disconnect, the stylish cinematography by Vladislav Opelyants contributes to making Hostages a glossy and glacial gem.

Hostages screens at 9:30pm on Saturday, June 9th.

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