When the Yorkton Film Festival handed out its hardware last week, it was the film Captive which walked away the big winner.
Captive, directed by Mellissa Fung, took the Best of Festival award, and also won the Golden Sheaf for Documentary Social/Political, as well as the awards in the Emerging Filmmaker, Research, and Mental Health categories.
Fung told Yorkton This Week via email that the win was a big one in her eyes.
“It was very emotional for me, because I had just spent the last few weeks trying to convince two of the girls in the film to stay in school,” she said. “For the last two years, we have struggled to help them continue their education, helping them through several boarding schools, but their grades were still suffering - I'm sure due to the trauma they are still dealing with.
“And so the Festival Award was bittersweet, because as honoured as I was that the film - and their trauma - was being recognized, I realised that their journey through that trauma is still a long one.
“My hope is that the award will help further what my hopes are for the film: to raise awareness about the plight of these girls and so many others like them, and open a dialogue about trauma, recovery, and how women and girls suffer the most in conflict.”
Of course the award is something special for those involved with the film.
“This film took a village to make,” said Fung. “I am grateful for the award because it honours the hard work of so many talented people and this award really belongs to them.
“You may have noted Shelley Saywell listed as 'creative story consultant' in the credits. She should have been listed as a director, but she was too generous to take that credit. The interweaving of stories was mostly Shelley working her magic. She and our amazing editor, Jon Wong, spent hours together last year in the edit suite when I was stuck in London due to the pandemic.
“I had amazing DOPs, Duraid Munajim and Mark Klassen, and Peter Hamilton on sound. The composers, Ohad and Justin, did a beautiful job. And everyone in post took such good care of this film while I was here making notes remotely.
“I am so, so grateful. And of course, Stuart Coxe, who stuck by it for so many years, never giving up on it or on me.”
As for the film, ‘Captive’ is a powerful, personal journey of surviving the physical and psychological pain and trauma of captivity and the toll conflict takes on women and girls, explained Fung.
“Filmed over four years and several high-risk trips into north eastern Nigeria, we meet Zara, Asma'u, and Gambo - three brave young women who have escaped imprisonment by Boko Haram and who are now trying to rebuild their lives,” she said. “Through their struggles, and a shared trauma, I also come to terms with my own past, confronting the deep trauma I thought I had long left behind.”
The idea for the film originated with a tragic incident.
“In April 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped overnight from one boarding school in Chibok. That horrific incident spawned the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. But in reading more about Boko Haram, I realised that those 276 girls were only a fraction of the girls Boko Haram had taken and disappeared into the Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria,” explained Fung.
“I also learned that some girls had escaped, but were being shunned by their communities as the ‘wives’ of terrorists.
“And so I wanted to find out how they were coping in the aftermath of such trauma.”
The film followed.
“I thought if we followed the girls' journey, it could be a poignant commentary on trauma and healing in the face of such terrible violence and conflict,” said Fung.
The film has debuted to a good response.
“It had a great reception when it premiered on TVO and everyone who has seen it so far says the same thing - that it made them think and they hope it gets wider distribution beyond Canada,” said Fung, who added the Golden Sheaf may help in that too. “. . . I hope the award will help the film get wider distribution, so we can raise wider awareness.”
‘Captive’ can be seen on TVO's YouTube channel.