Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:46 pm 
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ALYSSA FEDELE, ZACHARY FINK: THE RESCUE LIST (2017) - SFIFF

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Slavery still exists

Slavery is alive and well and practiced in various forms and venues. Studied here and vividly depicted by the recently formed San Francisco anthropologist-filmmaker team of Fedele and Fink is what happens on Lake Volta in Ghana, the largest man-made lake in the world. Boys are sold by poor families to work on fishing boats here, presumably short-term. But they often seem to disappear, and regularly remain slaves to their fisherman masters for years.

First we meet Kwame, a former slave himself, who goes around on the lake, by boat or to remote villages, demanding that boys be given up. Surprisingly, Villagers and fisherman
do listen to reason. Then Kwame takes the boy to a secret rehabilitation center called Challenging Heights were they live for a year with other boys and go to school, which whether they are 14 or 18, may be for the first time. The center searches for their families, who have to swear they will never let them go again, on pain of jail.

We meet several newly rescued boys. Edem longs for his friend Teye to be rescued too and it happens. Peter was sold at age three and not rescued till he was 18. Steven is sad and can't function. Kwame takes him to the water for a healing ritual. He seems to feel survivor guilt for another boy who died diving to untangle the fishing nets in the murky waters, a common occurrence. We can see the damage and hurt in these boys, their estrangement from normal life and from education.But we also see beautiful smiles, fresh faces, and health. The boys seem to thrive at Challenging Heights. It's like an orphanage whose inmates come with an unusually unified background experience. They eat plenty of food, play sports, watch TV, and, most of all, attend the center's school classes where they learn reading and writing and English.

After the time is up we see a boy reintegrated with his family or, in one case, taken in by the village chief, who offers him the choice of that or living with his mother. He chooses the chief over his mother.

Rarely has a film been so moving, simple, hopeful, and sad. Kwame and Challenging Heights are credited with rescuing 1,000 boys, but it's believed that 10,000 are currently slaves on the lake. It is a miserable life. They are beaten, worked and given no respite, and may drown.

The Rescue List 78 mins., debuted at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened online for this review. Also in the Full Frame, DocLands film festivals. See review by Dennis Harvey at San Francisco for Variety.

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