Saturday, September 12, 2020

TIFF Spotlight: Akilla’s Escape

Akilla’s Escape
Directed by Charles Officer
TIFF Screening Schedule

It's not easy to escape your past, and an involvement in criminal activity makes it even more difficult. Geographic areas and socioeconomic factors contribute to the establishment of gangs and other groups that are distinguished based on any number of affiliations, including the defense of territory and the distribution of goods. There is a notion that people work their way up from the lowest on the totem pole to a position of power, if they decide or are given the opportunity to choose whether they would like to remain involved or use what they’ve learned to forge a different path in life.

In 1995 Brooklyn, Akilla Brown (Thamela Mpumlwana) is fifteen years old and being interrogated by police for what he knows about his father and the Garrison Army that protects him. Twenty-five years later, in the present day, Akilla (Saul Williams) is on the verge of a career change after the drug operation he runs with Benji (Colm Feore) is set to become legalized, something he sees no appeal in running. When he walks in on a robbery in progress, Akilla thinks fast and ends up subduing one of the thieves, Sheppard (also Mpumlwana). Charged by his associates with finding out who hired him, Akilla sees a startling mirror image of himself in the Jamaican boy in way over his head whose future will inevitably be shaped by his actions as a teenager.

This film opens very strongly and memorably with a montage of headlines and news footage charting nationwide events in Jamaica over the past few decades interspersed with Akilla dancing to an upbeat and distinct melody. The events it portrays are relatively stark, with Akilla faced with the reality of a gun in his face and almost certain death so many years after being just a small cog in a much larger machine during his youth. There is a full-circle narrative that builds as Akilla comes to understand both his role as a young member of a gang and a far higher-ranking leader who isn’t any more invulnerable to bullets.

As the adult Akilla, Williams displays a detached resolve, aware of his limitations of his own power and the necessity of what he must do to remain alive and in business. Playing two roles, Mpumlwana is quietly effective, subtly distinguishing the characters from each other while highlighting their similarities. This film has its own beat, one that elevates a familiar story given its own unique feel thanks to its spotlight on the Jamaican heritage of its protagonists and its worthwhile cinematic representation of inescapable cycles of violence.


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