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Who Will Start Another Fire [2021] Review: A Mixed Bag with Powerful Surprises And Incredible Messaging

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Anthology films have an added edge over fictional features. That is, the running time never serves as a burden for them. If the form is placed in a fine structure, the results would most certainly trick. The combination of nine low-budget short films from all over the world come together in an extremely effective style in Who Will Start Another Fire (2021). 




The theme of coming-of-age and a rebirth of sorts culminates fiercely with each story of this film. This is because the mental and emotional maturity is not just of a young person, but society and a community in general. The nine storytellers here tell uniquely engaging stories with frequently inflamed passion. The heat morphs into symbolism and is satisfying enough. 

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Like Flying (USA)

Director Peier Tracy Shen tells the tale of a girl sailing through a childhood. A childhood that is made of the fragmented pieces of her parents and their separation. Through a bird’s eye view of a fairly trivial real-time event, the poignance of the short is extracted not only from the stunning depiction of the Chinse-American community but also the minimal character study of a kid navigating through a distinct world. A world of cinema and sorrow. 




Family Tree (Uganda)

We meet Nagawa, an 8-year-old schoolgirl, whose day is almost like any other. She’s performing a school project about her family tree to her classmates and instructor. According to Nagawa, her family is just herself, her Mum, and her Dad, who she only gets to see once a week. This is her routine. When her mother Margaret picks up Nagawa from school, she doesn’t dare to tell her daughter that her beloved father has died in a ghastly accident. They arrive at the hospital to pay vigil. Her father, an Honourable in the Ugandan parliament is extensively admired, and a few people are assembling outside the private ward— including his mistresses with his and their children. 

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Director Nicole Amani Kiggundu is extremely assured of her writing and direction choices for her short film about a fatal accident and its revealing nature. While the narrative is quite potent and disturbing, the maturity of intentions is rugged on the screens. The cinematography is subtle and so is the editing, but the dialogues and performances are too bulky for a narrative built from the metal pieces of tragedy.




Troublemaker (Nigeria)

Obi is burning, bored, and desperate for something to do. When his best friend, Emeka, gives him a parcel of fireworks, the boys decide to have some fun. With such a simple premise and breathtakingly beautiful rural atmosphere, the director Igbo deconstructs a terrific coming-of-age tale about children coming to terms with the sensitivity of adults and the wars they wage. The performances are remarkably on-point and the writing by Olive Nwosu is so humane in places that their ease will instil a lot of thinking inside you. By the end, Obi’s last expression stirred almost everything inside me. However, the running time serves as the only flaw, too short for making everything land. 




Polygraph (Israel)

Set in the backdrop of the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza, the film is a lesbian love story between an Arab nurse an Israeli intelligence officer. The conflicts are bound to arise in such a romance. However, the conflicts are a lot more complicated than you’d think. The outsider’s perspective of a native who is deeply in love with the occupying enemy is not so moving as it is terrifying. Carrying flavours of betrayal and outbursts of sexuality underneath, Polygraph works because the performances and writing are well done. This is also a good cover for the rather depthless filmmaking by Samira Saraya. 

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The Lights Are On, No One’s Home (USA)

Faye Ruiz’s visually touching film carries the anguish of a trans woman’s coming out and gentrification. The talky aimlessness of the film gets a rather colourful approach. However, the realities and their eruptions are entwined seamlessly. Mar, the protagonist of this short, feels extremely resonant when she tries to imply that the indifference of the sea beaches and the greenery of the trees makes more sense than people. It is rather refreshing that the film never tackles the stereotypes and judgements towards the protagonist. Its taciturnity and conversations unite and the results are astonishingly powerful. 




By Way of Canarsie (USA)

Directors Emily Packer and Leslie Steele choose to innovate non-fiction filmmaking by using real conversations and happenings of an often-neglected shoreline community to formulate an unsettling, fictional future. The format is unsettlingly concrete. However, the craft has too much mundanity and little meditation, and it drains the viewer out of energy and patience. The fourteen-minute hybrid of documentary and storytelling is boring and the weakest segment of the anthology. 




The Rose of Manila (Philippines)

Director Alex Westfall’s portrayal of Imelda Marcos and her rise to fame before the constitutional authoritarianism of her husband’s Marcos Regime in Phillippines has sprinkles of Tagalog but is mostly in English. The duality seeps into the storytelling as well. This is a fairly straightforward narrative about escalating towards success, wearing broken shoes. However, the sly nature of the narrative makes it all the more provocative. The protagonist would go on to be a criminal who will steal billions from her nationals. Even in her younger days, she manipulated her way to the top. But you constantly feel a sense of empathy towards her, because the story comes off as very humane. 




Slip (USA)

Director Nicole Otero’s segment is probably the sharpest and the most provocative of all the stories told in Who Will Start Another Fire. Starring songwriter Tei Shi, it simply depicts a restless woman arriving home at the end of the day and descending back into the night. But the hypnosis of it all, amid the red-lit cascades of space and time, is so strangely beautiful that you give yourself to the existence of such a piercingly simple but disarming situation of magic and delusion. 




Not Black Enough (USA)

Jermaine Manigault’s persuasive and blunt short film about black man as an aim for the gun of the white man is a pointed look at years of oppression and a moment of rage. The film works a lot because it uses realizations to flesh out the inner turmoil of being a racial minority and standing together for a fight. “Do all black lives matter?” this question seemed to reverberate across the room as the film ended. 

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Who Will Start Another Fire encapsulates nine thoughtful tales really smartly. It doesn’t feel like you spent only two hours across nations. Not only does it reverse its America-oriented nature on its head, but it also serves as an example of a mixed-bag anthology done right. Please don’t miss it. 




★★½

Who Will Start Another Fire hits US Theaters and Virtual Cinemas from June 11.

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