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Now playing in progressive film: Two new films explore colour and culture

image: Clara Pasieka

'Tis the season of Toronto film premieres, and this month's picks feature a couple of sure hits.

Bee & Julie-Julie will be showing at the Reel World Film Festival on April 6. It's an animated short created by a multicultural team of (primarily) young women. The nine minute film explores the complicated relationship young girls have with image, particularly issues related to skin colour.

Written by Clara Pasieka, co-chair of the Young Emerging Actors Assembly, the hope is to start conversations about how being lighter or darker in skin tone impacts how young women view themselves.  The film starts off on the soccer field, where cousins Bee and Julie-Julie impress everyone with their moves. When the thought of receiving an MVP award comes up, Julie-Julie finds herself blushing in embarrassment. The other players tease her. The 11-year-old finds herself envying her cousin Bee, whose skin is too dark to show her blush.

Both girls grapple with their skin tones in different ways, and the film leaves a question as to whether or not Bee will try on her mother's skin lightener to make her cousin feel better.

"I wrote this film for youth, because I think we should have these conversations sooner and because I wanted girls to see girls like them navigating this territory on screen. I also wanted us to think about the way we talk to young girls, and each other about the way we look," explained Pasieka.

Film is a great way to get young people to explore issues they grapple with in their day-to-day, so this is a valuable addition to the educational canon.

Completely different is Enemy of the Reich, a docudrama premiering Saturday, April 5th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It's the true story of Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman who would become known as the "Spy Princess" for serving as a covert agent for the British military during the Second World War. Working behind enemy lines in occupied France, Khan would help support the French resistance fighters with radio dispatches back to London to help coordination efforts. After her fellow agents were captured, she became the only link between the French resistance fighters and the Allied Forces. Hotly pursued by the Gestapo, she managed to avoid capture for several months before being betrayed by French collaborators. After trying to escape twice, Khan was eventually sent to a concentration camp, where she was executed at the age of 30.

The beautifully packaged docudrama is produced by Unity Productions Foundation, a non-profit education and media company based in the U.S.  The film runs just under an hour and includes interviews with historians and family members who reflect on Khan's incredible courage, faith, and dedication to the war against Nazi Germany.

Footage of her actual home in Paris, where her Indian father and American mother had hosted curious spiritual seekers before the war, adds authenticity to the film's settings. The costumes, accents, and general mood of the 1940s is recreated seamlessly, making her story all the more compelling in showing how easily this young woman, of Indian heritage, became completely at home in both France (where she spent much of her childhood), as well as England. Not only was she clearly an engaged participant in these two Western nations, but the film shows how her Islamic faith (as taught by her father) informed her idealism and burning desire to sacrifice herself for a greater good.

Khan was posthumously awarded with the highest civilian awards by both the French and British governments. This year, Khan was also featured on a postage stamp issued by Britain's Royal Mail as part of their 'Remarkable Lives' series highlighting those born 100 years ago. 

Both these flicks are worth getting off the couch for.

p.s. Another must-see doc is set to premiere at this year's Hot Docs film festival at the end of April: The Secret Trial 5. Catch it if you can!

image: Clara Pasieka

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