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Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

With a title like “I Am Slave,” one can reasonably expect neither subtlety or uplift from this true-life drama about the plight of one young Sudanese girl who is taken from her village in and sold into serving a family of Arabs in contemporary England. And for about two-thirds of “I Am Slave” that presumption would seem accurate, as “Last King of Scotland” screenwriter Jeremy Brock has no objection to leaving the caps lock on at times when depicting the particularly brutal treatment that befalls the village princess-turned-urban slave Malia (Wunmi Mosaku). Nor does director Gabriel Range, who last caused a stir in Toronto in 2006 with the premiere of the faux assassination of President Bush drama “Death of a President,” have any qualms about pushing buttons.

But patience is a virtue, for both the audience and Malia, as much of the heavyhandedness serves a purpose when Malia comes to realize her enslavement is far more psychological than physical. Worn down by years of sleeping in the cramped corners of the home of Hiam Abbass’ cruel mistress in Khartoum and then the mansion of her slightly more empathetic cousin (Lubna Azabal) in London, Malia has no contact with the outside world and is ordered to look away from anyone in her respective homes.

She has no idea that her father (“The Limits of Control”‘s Isaach De Bankolé) is out searching for her. The whippings by garden hose and the even more painful tongue lashings by Abbass’ and Azabal’s mistresses still pale in comparison to the loneliness endured by Malia and without any money or a place to go, the fear of the outside is significantly greater than staying inside the gates of her captors.

09052010_IAmSlave3.jpgAccording to one of the film’s end cards, this is more common than one would think: 5,000 slaves are believed to be held captive in England with an additional 20,000 existing in Sudan, and the film itself is based on the story of Mende Nazer, who became a human rights activist after serving in the home of the Sudanese diplomat. Even without that basis in reality, the premise of “I Am Slave” is jarring: Malia is unable to use the phone, exit the house or have any free will beyond the confines of her small cot as cars pass by the front of the house and the world moves on without her.

The wide-eyed Mosaku’s natural stoicism cuts through some of the more manipulative aspects of Range and Brock’s storytelling – even though one expects Malia to befriend the family’s driver to plant the seeds for a likely escape, she doesn’t really warm to him, and even though there are cutaways to her father journeying to the big city, it’s obvious enough that if there’s ever to be change in her life, she’s going to be the one achieve it.

All of this is done with a modern slickness that set it apart from a Lifetime movie, but there’s a thin line as far as tearjerkers of this nature are concerned. “Fish Tank” cinematographer Robbie Ryan lends his sharp eye to the proceedings, which rids the film of any sentimental glow, and in spite of some far-fetched dramatic scenes to move the story forward, Brock has a good ear for dialogue to make the whole disgusting situation almost seem sanitary to the characters who have lost their humanity long ago. (When the family driver encourages Malia to leave, he actually emphasizes the fact that she’s a “nobody.”)

“I Am Slave” also flirts with losing its humanity in the face of becoming too much of a movie, but by its end, it moves you in a way that only movies can and brings to light a reality that sadly couldn’t be made up.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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