Night Cries, The Smell of Burning Ants, and Sink or Swim

While these three films all deal with family politics they all are dancing in different realms. Night Cries is about an aging daughter dealing with taking care of a invalid mother with a healthy dose of identity and race issues explored through the daughter being Aborigene and the mother being white. This one is unique among the trio because it almost exclusively about an older child, this is a fascist of the family dynamic not often shown on screen, the child taking care of the mother. Add on top of that the loss of racial identity through being raised by a white woman and then the lost connection to colonial community through the death of the mother you explore deep topics that are never solidified in the film itself but instead left to the viewer to parse out.

Another interesting element of Night Cries when compared to the two later films is that it is not made up of found footage but instead through filmed scenes on a set makes a cinematic play. The flat backdrop make the physical objects standout giving them more weight and definition. The skull outside the outhouse sticks up from the floor drawing attention to itself making you consider its purpose to the themes and story. This is also achieved through the projected background during flashbacks but is even less real invoke hazy memories of the past. The confined space of the physical set makes you feel trapped alongside our lead and this feeling of confinement is only emphasized at the end when the light focuses solely on her crying face.

Smell of Burning Ants is a film about how young boys are trained to fit into a specific view of masculinity that can end up being psychologically dangerous as well as socially dangerous. The film is told through narration and appropriated footage from after school type PSAs. The footage is used excellently drawing connections to the education system and how boys are taught how to operate. The narration however is where the films message is and where I think it falls flat because when rewatching this I muted it and the visuals supplied so much depth that was ruined when I turned the sound back on. The narration lacks any subtlety required for talking about such nuanced topics. In Tomas J Gerschick’s critique he brings up that this film has a very narrow view not touching on the power giving to men based on gender or experienced outside of a white male experience but this is only the beginning of the of how narrow the view is. This film basically says the consequences of training boys for masculinity is that they become psychopaths (seen in the violence towards animals at a young age and the emulation of emotion without truly experiencing them). The problem with this though is that when you generalize a group of people you leave yourself open to clear counter arguments such as “not all boys grow up to be psychotic”. The filmmaker talks directly to us which would be ideal if he was talking about his experience but he is trying, and failing, to talk about all boys experiences. There is no complexity to this film and while the technical aspects are on par with our other two the ideas and themes are very shallow.

Finally, we have Sink or Swim which is a beautiful and thought provoke rundown of an unnamed girl’s constantly evolving relationship with her father. The film is told in 26 segments that invert the alphabet the segments all have appropriated footage like Burning Ants but some of the footage is taken directly from the filmmaker’s previous work which adds a wider variety to the footage. This footage is seamlessly tied so it never distracts from the other visuals. The pattern of the alphabet thrown backwards creates a a connection to language and growing up. The filmmaker has a wonderful quote from one of our readings where she says “It’s a very vivid experience of childhood to acquire the alphabet and then to acquire the use of words. ” (McElfresh, op.cit., p.5). The film is in many ways about the girl emulating her father just as a child starts learning the alphabet by just repeating it and then grows to use it intelligently. I also got from the backwards alphabet a sense of recounting something under duress like you would when pulled over for drunk driving. This film is a retelling and sometimes it feels like a it could be a narrative reluctantly told. This is most likely not an intentional choice by the filmmaker but I am a firm believer in viewer interpretation over artist intention so I wanted to bring this up.

There are many more layers to be explored. The narrator of the film is a child even when relating adult memories which adds a layer of how the narrator perceives herself. Then there is the Greek Mythological bent which is fascinating to a classics student like myself but simply to intricate for this blog post (although I will mention that Athena was suppose to be a male which is why Zeus put her inside him and that adds all kinds of questions and ideas into the motif). The film being 40 minutes long helps it be more complex than our other two films but there is also just a level of intelligence her that is hard to top. All three films, though, bring up interesting ideas that can lead to great discussions.





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