Saturday, September 29, 2018

'Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.' A Candid Look At The Scrappy Scandal-Magnet, Repeatedly Silenced By The Age of Celebrity

The most intriguing part of M.I.A's new documentary “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A." is that Maya, (birthname Matangi Arulpragasam), originally wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, having felt she had so much to share with the world. Before becoming the notoriously provocative English-Sri Lankan musician that we've all come to know, Maya was busy creating personal footage of her family and friends, both in London and Sri Lanka. Now, Steve Loveridge, one of her very dear friends from film school has made the Sundance-winning documentary about her, utilizing hundreds upon hundreds of hours of personal footage that Maya has accumulated from her youth to present day. This makes for a very personal profile that doesn't feel like propaganda made out to make you like her necessarily or to boost album sales (she hasn't released one since 2016).

Maya immigrated with her mother and siblings to London from Sri Lanka as a refugee from the civil war in the mid-1980s. Her father was the founder of the Tamil revolutionaries and stayed behind to fight, only coming later on the UK. She touches upon her love for Western hip-hop growing up and her trip back to Sri Lanka to film a documentary about her heritage and answer some questions about her own identity.

The concept of not belonging to either your native country nor the one you were brought up in rings true for me on a very personal level and will be sure to touch other immigrant youths as well. Feeling like she stood out in London, Maya goes back to Sri Lanka to make her film school documentary she was developing at the time. Upon coming back, she chats to family members, who remind her that she didn't go through the unrest and turmoil that surrounded their lives. She's yet again an outsider, confused about where she truly belongs. The idea of being a child of immigrant parents and dealing with the confusion of your own self-identity and heritage was a portion of the film that stood out, and I almost wish was touched upon even more, as it's a topic that's swept under the rug on a regular basis in the society we live in today. 

Coming back from Sri Lanka to London, Maya decides to incorporate elements of her heritage and roots into making a hip-hop mixtape and taking it to UK producers. The rest is history. With the hours of personal footage, early demos, and behind-the-scenes views of some of her ballsiest, most controversial moments in her career, you're left feeling a deep respect for this intelligent, well-spoken, and independent artist, and at times shocked at the way the media portrays her. Loveridge offers fantastic examples of this such as the visit from former New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg, where she fawns over Maya's work then proceeds to write a scathing review on her, to all the times she's been labeled a terrorist sympathizer, or uneducated on the politics of Sri Lanka.

While some may not like that the film focuses on her formative years, it offers a look into the mind of an artist that people have been quick to discredit, making it only fair she gets to share her side of the story. A voice for the marginalized that understands the necessity of having a large platform and using it to talk about issues that will, if anything, educate the masses, M.I.A is finally given a platform to speak. "The worst thing they can do is make you irrelevant," she says at one point and thanks to Loveridge, that simply won't be a reality. 

Once again, a huge thank you to Taro PR, Elevation Pictures, and The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) for the tickets and opportunity to view this fabulous documentary.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Eighth Grade

Stand-up comedian Bo Burnham broke out as a YouTube star in 2006, two years after Facebook was founded. He's considered a viral pioneer, with people mimicking his style of skits and songs later on to oblivion. Nobody considered he'd turn to filmmaking, but here he is, remarkably getting into the mind of a 13-year-old girl in his feature film, Eighth Grade. Ironically enough, the star of his film, Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla, was born in 2003, and I would assume had no prior knowledge of who Bo was. 

Eighth Grade is probably the most relatable film to tackle teenage adolescence in years. Burnham wanted to keep it personal to himself but put the focus on a younger character - a teenage girl. Kayla is overly shy and anxious, maneuvering her way through her final year in middle school, struggling to fit in and be noticed. She comes home after school and makes inspirational YouTube videos to a virtually empty audience, making them seem more self-therapeutic than anything else. Her dad, played by Josh Hamilton, is the most endearing father figure you'll ever watch, and if you're past the age of 24, you find your heart going out to him and the trials and tribulations he goes through with his daughter on regular basis. 

You may wonder how a male director, one who's never written a movie before, could relate so well to a 13-year-old girl. Burnham did research online, finding teens on YouTube who weren't getting the same level of viral success he was years prior. He told Rolling Stone,  “I remember just watching these [clips] and thinking: If this was a performance, this would be incredible,” he says. “What got me was that image of a kid looking into a camera, addressing an audience who she knows is probably not there. Yet we’re there, watching the movie.” 

Mean Girls garnered a cult status for the comedic value Tina Fey brought to the screenplay and the superb acting of rising stars that were later catapulted into success. Larry Clark's Kids, on the other hand, was bold and gritty, with Harmony Korine contributing to a brazen script that shocked an entire generation in the '90s. A wake-up call to the world, Kids was uncomfortable to the point of worry - was this really what teenagers were doing? Eighth Grade, on the other hand, is simply real. It's not over-the-top like Mean Girls, nor does it take place in a brash urban setting like Kids. It's about everyday, suburban youth and growing up - with the everyday pummelling of social media taking center stage and commandeering the narrative. 

I haven't personally related to a movie like this in years. The sentences uttered are almost identical to what I put my own parents through growing up. All too familiar, I found myself squirming and cringing, remembering exactly what it was like during these turbulent years. Being in my mid-20s and growing up with Facebook, the subject matter of social media being all-too-consuming was familiar, but not to the level it affects teenagers today. With Instagram and Snapchat at an all-time high, the pressure to maintain a perfectly curated life is more dangerous to mental health than ever. 

 If you want to re-live all your middle school and high school traumas - and trust me, it's fun - be sure to check out Eighth Grade, hitting Vancouver and Toronto theatres on July 20th and the rest of Canada August 3rd.

Huge thank you to Taro PR and Elevation Pictures for the fantastic opportunity to view this screening. 

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