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Poignant, timely, ‘NOA’ a film you’ll think about tomorrow and the day after


Promo PhotoOne of the more provocative short films screened at December’s edition of Thank God for Indie Monday was NOA.

Beautifully shot without either dialogue or subtext, NOA opens with a rolled up rug being tossed from a van and coming to rest in the dirt and weeds alongside a desolate stretch of road. Inside is the body, presumably of a young woman, but only a glimpse of her hand and hair is provided before the camera cuts away to a darkened apartment where a pretty young lady slowly dresses in the gloom of her bedroom.

She is an urban dweller, presumably somewhere in America, but few clues are given as to where or when. The woman does not appear to be in any rush. In fact, there is an air of deliberateness in her movements and actions.

Eric Dec 2017 TGIM 01SOn the street, she traverses a nightscape with no apparent concern or trepidation, passing graffiti tags professing “No Future,” “No Future” along the way. Given the film’s opening sequence, the viewer quite justifiably wonders whether she is about to be abducted, but that supposition is dispelled when she arrives at a building and is ushered inside by a pretty shady looking character.

Angela Page 11S Eric Dec 2017 TGIM 02SThe woman is escorted to a severe-looking woman, and in spite of the lack of dialogue, it becomes clear that the protagonist has arranged to get a passport and fake ID. But the price to be paid for her new identity is a steep one. She steps outside onto a balcony overlooking the cityscape, where she strips off all of her clothing. Once back inside, she is led upstairs where she must subject herself to sexual exploitation at the hands of an orgy of writhing male and female bodies.

As the rolled up carpet is pushed from the moving van, the viewer suspects, perhaps even expects, that the girl is dead. Was the promise of a passport and new ID merely a ruse designed to lure the Ilene Safron Whitesman at Dec 2017 TGIM 03Sgirl to her death, or did something go horribly wrong during the group rape? But no, in the end, she’s alive and as she peels back the carpet beneath blue skies, we see that the passport and ID have been shrink wrapped to her chest. A smile crosses her face as spies other young people, even children, gathered in the forest, welcoming her arrival. The message is clear. This is a new beginning and while her existence is likely to be fraught with difficulties, she’s going to be okay. She has a future. And it’s a future of her own choosing.

Ilene Safron Whitesman at Dec 2017 TGIM 01SAs the ensuing discussion by the evening’s celebrity judges, host Eric Raddatz and various audience members underscored, this film operated metaphorically on multiple planes.

“What price would you pay for freedom,” summarized Mainsail Productions owner and Emmy-winning videographer Ilene Safron Whitesman. On an individual level, don’t we all trade a part of ourselves for the promise of a better, more secure future? That job we hate. That spouse we despise. The list goes on and on.

But Rachel Burttram Dishes at Dec 2017 TGIM 01Sgiven the horrific scene only hinted at by the film, it is difficult not to give NOA a sexual connotation.

“We’re living in a time when we’re hyperaware of the exploitation of women because of people coming forward in Hollywood and politics,” observed local stage, film and television actor Rachel Burttram Powers.

“It’s that whole ‘me too’ thing,” agreed Tom Conwell, who hosts Sunday morning’s Ask an Expert show.

The references, of course, were to men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly and a legion of other power Tom Conwell Does Dec 2017 TGIM 05Sbrokers in the entertainment and other industries who routinely threatened to deprive their victims of their futures in order to sexually exploit them or ensure their silence following a sexual assault.

But host Eric Raddatz felt that the film operated on an even more pervasive and insidious level. Pointing to an expose coming out that Wednesday in Florida Weekly, he saw a clear analogy in Eric Dec 2017 TGIM 03SNOA to human trafficking, pointing out that Florida finds itself in the top three states in number of reported cases of human trafficking and sexual slavery each year.

“For those who are survivors of the death camps like Auschwitz, for those who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse, is there a rebirth that comes after that?” Raddatz asked. “Is there life after that? What is life like after that? Are there smiles Audience Participation Dec 2017 TGIM 04Safter that? Can there be smiles after that?”

Although she conceded the dubious place that Florida plays in human trafficking, one audience member thought that the film’s importance was as an emotional portal into conditions which are unfamiliar for those of us lucky enough to be living in the United States. “We’re actually pretty Audience Participation Dec 2017 TGIM 03Sprivileged. For us, living in the United States, it may not hit close to home. But elsewhere, in other places around the world, it’s a really common thing, an everyday thing. Normal.”

And in that respect, NOA may indeed serve as a metaphor, not for the sacrifices we make to secure a better future or even for sexual exploitation or human trafficking, but for all the refugees forced to flee their homes and take on new identities in order to escape places in which “No Future” is really their stark reality.Rachel Burttram Dishes at Dec 2017 TGIM 02S From this perspective, NOA provides insight into the mindset of a Columbian who leaves behind her home and material possessions to assume a new identity and life in a place like America to escape the murders and poverty common in cities like Medellin, Valle del Cauca and Bogota. By featuring a beautiful young woman, NOA invites us to empathize with refugees from places like Syria, Iraq, Turkey and adjoining countries who leave everything behind and endure Rachel Burttram Dishes at Dec 2017 TGIM 07Sindescribable hardships, including sexual exploitation, to escape civil war, political oppression and the abject poverty and absence of opportunity that is part and parcel to such a widespread humanitarian crisis.

If this was truly the intent of the filmmakers, then NOA comes at an interesting time in U.S. politics, as political leaders and their constituents re-evaluate the role, if any, that this country will play in welcoming immigrants and displaced refugees.

There Tom Conwell Does Dec 2017 TGIM 01Sis much to applaud in the film beyond the metaphorical themes implicit in NOA. All three judges found the cinematography beautiful, the absence of dialogue compelling, and the acting extremely well done.

“The final sequence of shots was really, really beautiful,” remarked Rachel Burttram Powers, who has performed in three independent films herself. “When you see there is help for her and that her credentials are taped to her chest Tom Conwell Does Dec 2017 TGIM 04Sso that what’s she has gone through – which is really horrifying – was worth the price she paid … Well, this is definitely a movie I will think about tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.”

“You knew she didn’t want to be where she was,” added Ilene Safron Whitesman. “She was getting a passport out of there. The smile at the end said it all. When she saw the kids [in the forest], that represented a new beginning.”

Ilene Safron Whitesman at Dec 2017 TGIM 04STom Conwell summed up his own reaction to NOA with a single word – “cathartic.”

An audience member was equally intrigued by the enigmatic name that the filmmakers gave to their film. “No other alternative,” she offered. “No other answer.”

And that about sums it up for millions of political refugees, displaced migrants, and illegal immigrants who seek asylum in foreign countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain and, yes, even the United States.

Ilene Safron Whitesman at Dec 2017 TGIM 06SGiven the feedback provided by the judges and audience at December’s T.G.I.M., NOA seems like a lock to make it into the full film festival in March. If you missed December’s T.G.I.M., don’t miss NOA again. The 8th Annual Fort Myers Film Festival takes place at multiple venues throughout Lee County from March 21-25, 2018.

December 30, 2017.



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