TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The very structure of anthology films is usually fairly restrictive, given its individual narrative nature. Typically found in the horror genre, anthologies’ success outside can be varied at best, given the abrupt shifts in narrative momentum. One of the many ways We Are Still Here deviates from this potential hindrance is through its editing, which folds its tales together with origami-like grace. It weaves separate segments into a powerful unified voice of Indigenous filmmakers from Australia, Aotearoa (the Māori New Zealand), and Pasifika (the Pacific Islander nations of Sāmoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and Tuvalu).
The anthology opens with the rotoscope-like animated Lured, written and directed by Danielle MacLean, a Luritja/Warumumgu woman. In it, a mother (Deborah Brown) and daughter (Elijah-Jade Bowen) are peacefully fishing in a handmade canoe in waters teeming with aquatic life below. Their excursion is disrupted as a colonial ship rises from below like a leviathan ready to swallow the two.
The vision strikes the overarching thrust of the film, each story providing different perspectives of those forced to live in the shadows of colonialism since the arrival of British merchant Captain James Cook. Intertwining eight stories from 10 directors, We Are Still Here envisions past, current, and future conflicts yet still find glimmers of hope and testaments to resilience.
“…different perspectives of those forced to live in the shadows of colonialism…”
Tales traverse through time, spanning roughly 1,000 years of oppression. A Māori family conflict during the Battle of Orākau of 1864 in directors Tim Worrall and Richard Curtis’ Te Puuru. The Uniform, from Miki Magasiva and Mario Gao, is about a Samoan soldier befriending a young Turkish soldier while entrenched in Gallipoli during WWI. The Invasion Day-set Rebel Art, written and directed by Tracey Rigney, follows a young Aboriginal street artist in the streets of Melbourne. Written by Tiraroa Reweti and directed by Chantelle Burgoyne, Blankets offers a glimpse into a dystopian future and follows a young girl’s quest to obtain medicine for her ailing grandfather. A young man meets his mentor during the Springbok Tour protests in 1982 in The Bull & The RuRu, from filmmaker Renae Maihi. In Grog Shop, written by Samuel Nuggin-Paynter and directed by Beck Cole, an Aboriginal man’s attempts to purchase alcohol are repeatedly thwarted by an aggressive officer.
Like all anthologies, some segments emerge with stronger voices, but the refrain from all the tales remains equally powerful and compelling. The film feels fortified by the decision to further break up the individual narratives with one another. Throughout its sleek 82-minute runtime, We Are Still Here elicits the gamut of emotions, frequently surprising us with splashes of humor, romance, and drama when we least expect it.
When operating on all cylinders, the film provides rich context and primal ambition that remains a remarkable testament to the enduring tenacity of those swept to the sides throughout history, demanding their seat at the table. By melding together a range of genres (animation, war, sci-fi, rom-com), We Are Still Here hopscotches through history led by voices of those who seldom had the opportunity to speak for themselves.
We Are Still Here screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.