REVIEW: The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

October 6, 2016

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

"...a highly confronting, ultimately courageous piece..."
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REVIEW: The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Sophia Watson
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Director: Ros Horin
Cast:

Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh, Nancy Denis, Rosemary Kariuki, Tariro Mavondo, Yordanos Haile, Effie Nkrumah

Distributor: Goodship
Released: October 6
Running Time: 84 minutes
Worth: $17.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

…a highly confronting, ultimately courageous piece…

It’s always difficult when theatre directors take on cinema. Our own Baz Luhrmann, for instance, is often famously criticised for having chosen the wrong medium to work with – and it’s a criticism not undeserved. There seems to be something inherent in theatre direction that simply doesn’t translate on film. But why should we expect it to? Sometimes a story can be strong enough that it almost doesn’t matter how it’s told; just that it is in fact, told.

An Official Selection of The 2016 Sydney Film Festival and The 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is a documentary celebrating the remarkable resilience and spirit of four African Australian women from Eritrea, Kenya, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Aminata, Rosemary, Yordy, and Yarrie all fled violence and sexual abuse in their homelands, eventually finding a safe haven in Australia. For years, they each held their pain within, until they decide to join a theatre group and speak out. Under the nurturing guidance of acclaimed theatre director, Ros Horin, the four women came together to let their life stories be transformed into an extraordinary theatrical experience, which became a sell-out success from its very first show.

Filmed over three years, this documentary charts the personal journeys of Aminata, Rosemary, Yordy and Yarrie, from their first theatre group meeting through trauma, healing, and public triumph, as The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe travels from western Sydney, to the city, to the international stage. While the film itself isn’t particularly strong in the traditional cinematic sense, the stories of these four women give it gravity. If nothing else, director and writer, Ros Horin, has given these women a deeply therapeutic platform to confront their traumatic pasts, and maybe that’s enough. On the other hand, her decision to put Aminata, Rosemary, Yordy, and Yarrie through this terribly painful experience of reliving their trauma so publicly raises concerns.

For most of these women, the culture of silence, shame, and fear surrounding sexual abuse had meant that they had never before shared these experiences with another living soul. It is terribly confronting then, to not only speak the words out loud for the first time, but to speak them out loud in front of a room full of strangers and unknowing family members. It’s a controversial move on Horin’s part, and she continually questions the validity of her project throughout. Her primary goal, however, is maintaining her responsibility for the mental and physical wellbeing of the women during production.

When it comes down to it, the film – as a film – is not great. Horin’s style, perhaps given her proclivity for theatre, is frustrating with regard to structure, pace, and overall style. Cinematic snobbery aside though, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is nothing if not viciously moving, and should be applauded for the sheer bravery of Aminata, Rosemary, Yordy and Yarrie in their quest to not only survive, but live. It is a highly confronting, ultimately courageous piece that gives even the most afflicted women hope in the power of female perseverance, and the redemption found in shared pain. If you don’t tear-up at least once during this documentary, you might be made of goddamn stone.

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