This Saturday, July 3rd at 5pm ET, we’ll be joined live by John Ware Reclaimed director Cheryl Foggo and No Ordinary Man co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt. They will discuss how they navigated telling stories that had rarely been told before and connecting that history to the present day lives of marginalised people.
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Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s Àma Gloria, her first feature as a solo filmmaker (she co-directed 2014’s Party Girl) is a touching, sentimental film about the bond between a young French girl, Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), and her nanny from Cape Verde, Gloria (Ilça Morena). Cléo’s mother died years before, and Gloria moved to France to earn a living to support her two children back home, whom she now hardly knows. Told mostly from Cléo’s perspective, Amachoukeli-Barsacq keeps the camera low at her sightline, often with shallow focus, as she’s someone still discovering the world.
When Gloria’s mother dies unexpectedly, Gloria must return home to her family in Cape Verde, severing the mother-daughter-like bond she has with Cléo. But before they say goodbye forever, Cléo spends a summer with Gloria in Cape Verde.
Dropping into an unknown world
Cléo’s naivety about her surroundings means that Amachoukeli-Barsacq can shoot the customs and daily life in Cape Verde as something that still feels foreign — she herself is not from Cape Verde — but never veers into exoticization.
Dropped into a world she doesn’t know or understand, Cléo must come to terms with how she doesn’t belong here or with Gloria anymore, even though they share a bed during their stay. In Cape Verde, Cléo finds a beautiful community, which faces a level of poverty that is outside her experience. She doesn’t like sharing Gloria with her children, and Gloria’s children resent Cléo for taking their mother from them, even now. Still, her visit is a mostly positive one, and Amachoukeli-Barsacq lets us bask in the blue skies and sea, and the rich colours of the land.
Àma Gloria is a tactile film
Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s aesthetic is very tactile. She is very attuned to the physical language of touch between Gloria and Cléo. We often see Cléo sitting or standing wedged between Gloria’s thighs, resting her head on Gloria’s chest, or simply holding hands. They’re affectionate in a way that may no longer be helpful to them. Cléo tries to comfort Gloria about the lost of her mother by explaining that she lost her, too, but she’s OK now.
We wonder how much Cléo has simply replaced her mother with Gloria. Cléo is always discovering the world with her hands and feet touching new things and ground, and her eyes always taking in her surroundings; the film begins, after all, with her getting tested for a pair of glasses to see the world afresh. Short and colourful animated sequences spliced throughout the film offer a sort of subconscious read of Cléo, who hasn’t quite understood her emotions yet.
Cléo’s perspective limits the film’s explorations in Àma Gloria
If the film feels a little slight, it’s perhaps because it is so immersed in Cléo’s perspective. Films like Second Mother and The Maid, which also deal with the complex relationship (and in those films, power dynamic) between a nanny and her charge, go deeper into the psychology of the carer and are richer for it. Ama Gloria, meanwhile, never fully acknowledges how colonialism has ripped Gloria from her family and turned Cléo into her temporary surrogate child.
The film doesn’t quite dig into how Gloria’s absence has strained her relationship with her children and what the job in France meant for her and their futures. Her son lashes out at Cléo, and her daughter has doubts about her pregnancy, perhaps because of the position her mother was forced into by having children. But we rarely see how Gloria feels about this and whether this affects her feelings about Cléo.
Instead, Amachoukeli-Barsacq focuses on the emotional connection between Gloria and Cléo and how they slowly and painfully come to terms with its end. The final shots will destroy you, and the film cuts to black with an indelible, heartbreaking image.
Related reading/listening to Marie Amachoukeli-Barasq’s Àma Gloria
More stories of childcare workers and their charges: Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s The Maid (which we briefly discuss on the podcast) and Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother explore some similar terrain as Ama Gloria.
More recent French Cinema: Four French films directed by women made our list of the Best Films of 2023. Alice Winocour’s Revoir Paris and Rebeca Zlotowski’s Other People’s Children both screened at last year’s Rendez-Vous. We also loved Claire Simon’s documentary Our Body and Sandrine Kiberlain’s A Radiant Girl. Éric Gravel’s thriller about a single mother, Full Time, also made the list.
More past highlights from Rendez-Vous with French cinema: Our #3 film of 2020, Mikhaël Hers’s Amanda, has yet to secure US distribution. (It is available on VOD in Canada and the UK.) We also love Philippe Faucon’s Fatima, which screened in 2016. His most recent film, Les Harkis, is excellent and screened last year, but has yet to receive distribution.
In the fall of 2020, we started to notice a trend in (particularly Canadian) documentaries: films that frame historical narratives about marginalised people.
Two standouts in this subgenre were John Ware Reclaimed (Cheryl Foggo) and No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt), Canadian-produced films that tackle Black history in Alberta and transmasculine history respectively. Using creative techniques, these films present an alternative narrative from the one perpetuated in mainstream literature and media. They use nonfiction storytelling to reclaim history.
This week marks the start of the 2021 Creative Nonfiction Workshop, a two-month workshop exploring boundary-pushing documentary cinema. We consider “creative nonfiction” to be documentary films that challenge what we traditionally think of documentary to be. They’re just as much about who’s telling the story, why, and how, then what the story actually is.
Our first live Zoom masterclass will be a conversation between filmmakers Cheryl Foggo, Aisling Chin-Yee, and Chase Joynt on Saturday, July 3rd, at 5pm ET. The conversation will revolve around the topic of reclaiming history in documentaries. It will last ninety minutes and attendees will get the chance to ask the speakers their own questions.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post for more information on how you can attend.
Who is Cheryl Foggo?
Cheryl Foggo is a Canadian author, filmmaker, screenwriter, and playwright.
In John Ware Reclaimed (2020), Foggo uses reenactment, animation, and music to explore the history of the Black diaspora on the Alberta prairies, focusing on the story of rancher John Ware and how it continues to resonate today.
This is what Foggo said when we interviewed her about the film:
I would say the bulk of my research and the output of my research, both creative, non-fiction, and journalistic, is based on the Black migration [to Canada] of 1910. I’ve written a book called Pourin’ Down Rain, which just had its 30th anniversary reprinting. It was the very first book I ever wrote, and it’s still alive because the content is still really not known. People outside of Alberta, and even people in Alberta, don’t know that we have Black history here. My next steps are around that. I’ve done a lot of work on that history, and I often tie that in with my creative works, as well.
I am peeling back the layers of Black history that was here before my family came in 1910. I’ve written about Annie Saunders, who was a Black entrepreneur in Southern Alberta, before John Ware came, running three businesses in Pincher Creek, Alberta. I think this history is so interesting and so important, and just not well enough known.
Who are Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt?
Chase Joynt is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Victoria. In 2020, he co-directed his first feature with Aisling Chin-Yee, No Ordinary Man.
Aisling Chin-Yee is an award-winning producer, writer, and director based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Her first narrative feature was The Rest of Us (2019). She has produced a number of films, including Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013).
No Ordinary Man rewrites the narrative around 20th-century trans jazz musician Billy Tipton by auditioning and interviewing transmasculine actors, exploring how Tipton’s legacy relates to their lives today.
This is what Joynt and Chin-Yee said when we interviewed them about the film:
As a trans man interested in trans history, I’ve always been interested in who controls the story. The story of Billy Tipton’s life has always been controlled by the mainstream media. This project was an incredible opportunity to approach Tipton’s life from a trans perspective.Chase Joynt
We did some digging to try to find any moving images of Billy Tipton, and there weren’t any. We knew that if we were going to write scenes or create a representation of Billy on screen, it would actually be the first time anyone would see his likeness portrayed. We wanted to use the process that an actor has to go through [to get into character because it is similar to] the process we’re trying to do in this film, which is asking, what was Billy thinking and feeling in that moment? If we put [his] words in the hands of a variety of different transmasculine artists and actors and activists, how will they come to interpret that story?Aisling Chin-Yee
How can I watch John Ware Reclaimed and No Ordinary Man?
Ticket holders to the 2021 Creative Nonfiction Workshop will be given screening access to both films. Unfortunately tickets are currently closed for the workshop. If you sign up for Seventh Row updates, we’ll keep you posted on if that changes and on any future events.
John Ware Reclaimed is currently available for free on the NFB website in Canada. It’s also available to rent on iTunes in most English-speaking countries, including the US and UK.
No Ordinary Man is currently available to rent on VOD in Canada. It will be out in the US on July 16th. It is still seeking distribution internationally.
How can I attend the masterclass?
Only 2021 Creative Nonfiction Workshop ticket holders have access to the masterclass, and unfortunately, ticket sales are now closed.
However, we’ve set aside a small allotment of free tickets to this one masterclass, exclusively for students and low income people. You will get access to the Zoom call tomorrow, but none of the other benefits of being a workshop ticket holders (access to the films, a free ebook, access to a recording of the masterclass after the fact, etc).
If you are a student or a low income person and you want to attend the masterclass tomorrow, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll let you know if we can accommodate you.