Hot Docs 2021: Our Review of ‘The Last Shelter’

Hot Docs 2021: Our Review of ‘The Last Shelter’

There’s no water on the Sahara. There may be some on the edges of it, where some communities in the Western Sahel region thrives. But they use the little they have for necessities, for drinking, bathing or to mix with concrete to mark the gravesites of the people who tried to cross the Sahara but couldn’t. Those are just a few things that make living in the Sahara sad, Other things include the tears of teenage African girls like Esther, as a man tells her that she’s luckier than the girls who try to cross the Sahara and pay for it.

Most of the shots in The Last Shelter close up on Esther, one of the reluctant residents in a literal shelter in Gao, Mali, one of the few riverside cities on the edge of the Sahara, where Africans, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, cross for reasons of their own. They even try to learn English to prepare for their destinations. Esther is like most of the subjects here, cagey about their reasons. That makes it difficult for viewers, some of whom are immigrants, to understand their reasons and think that living in underdeveloped countries isn’t enough reason.

Africa is where The Last Shelter comes from and who this film is for. The cagey language might not be for everyone outside of discerning festival audiences, but that can be enough sometimes. And to be fair, the subjects here make less omissions and more revelations. There’s a poetry in the layered narration here. One by one, some of the subject speak about their experiences in crossing the Sahara while the film shows that beautiful, unforgiving landscape, clouds heavy with rain that the sand prays for. Viewers think about this land as the film returns to the shelter’s conflicted residents.

 

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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