Film Reviews

Review: ‘Silas’

A beautifully rendered portrait of an activist striving to change the world.

Courtesy of TIFF


Silas
(Canada/South Africa/Kenya, 80 min.)
Dir. Anjali Nayar, Hawa Essuman
Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere)

Liberian activist and political candidate Silas Siakor is a voice the world desperately needs. His commitment to preserve the environment and cultural life of Africa from multinational corporations is a heroic struggle. Silas chronicles Siakor’s fight against illegal logging and political corruption. It’s a beautifully rendered portrait of an activist striving to change the world.

Canadian director Anjali Nayar (Gun Runners) teams up with Kenyan actor and filmmaker Hawa Essuman for this character piece that charts the fight an activist engages in to deal with the plight of a nation. Silas spans five years as Nayar gets intimate access to Siakor’s personal and professional lives.

During that period, Silas Siakor opened the doors of his Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) that advocates for the protection of Liberia’s natural resources. This struggle is a challenge since the lucrative logging ventures by foreign markets uproot Liberia and its people, betraying their landscape and those of all of Africa’s citizens.

His cause becomes more sharp and focused with the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President in 2006. Naryar and Essuman show Sirleaf riding a wave of popularity and endorsements from the international community as Africa’s first woman to be elected Commander in Chief. Silas shows Sirleaf winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to cleaning up Liberia’s corruption, but the doc finds a worthy foil in the President, who embodies the very corruption that Siakor identifies as the root of Liberia’s decline.

Devastating footage shows a country in social neglect. Streets heaped with garbage and severely underfunded hospitals give way to an Ebola outbreak and a state of emergency. This catastrophe brings more missing money from the public purse and increases Siakor’s thirst for justice when a loved one dies as a result of corruption and negligence.

Nayar and Essumen give a heroic portrait of Siakor that keep the issues front and centre. They aren’t interested in beatifying Siakor or making propaganda—the film ends with Siakor’s entry into politics, but that’s more of a story arc and bit of character development than PR spin. Shot with an intimate scope by Nayar and cinematographer Joan Poggio and cut into a lean and urgent portrait by editors Andrew MacCormack and Roderick Deogrades, Silas is an accessible character study and eye-opening glimpse at Liberian affairs. By zooming in so closely on Siakor and his remarkable fight for change, Silas calls upon more committed activists to join the fight.

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TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for more information.