Hot Docs 2023: Our Review of ‘Cynara’

Hot Docs 2023: Our Review of ‘Cynara’

On February 19, 2011 a panicked call came into Toronto 911 dispatch. A sobbing, barely understandable voice at the other end of the phone resulted in fire and medics racing to the Scarborough scene. But what they thought might be a ‘routine’ difficulty breathing call turned into a mystery for first responders who arrived to a woman, Cindy Ali. She’s on the floor and her daughter, 16-year-old Cynara without vital signs on the couch.

Director Sherien Barsoum, in her feature debut, follows the plight of Cindy. She makes first contact with responders who consider her the prime suspect in her daughter’s death. The courts then subsequently sentence her to life in prison for first degree murder of Cynara. Cynara suffered from cerebral palsy and required round the clock care from her family, which included her father and three sisters.

Barsoum uses courtroom audio footage alongside reenactments that she explores moving the camera through still scenes. The result is often haunting and prevents the reenactment visuals from seeming merely mediocre. It doesn’t have the fault often seen when using this method. She also provides interviews with the Toronto Star reporter who has been researching this case for years. These interviews also show her family and her appeals lawyer, all of whom seem to believe in Cindy’s wrongful conviction.

Cynara looks at the inadequacies of the investigation and touches on prejudice that the Ali family faced. This is due not only to their background but also the disability of Cynara herself. While these certainly could have been delved into with a bit more detail, Barsoum makes a compelling case for Cindy, and other families caring for disabled individuals. This film opens our eyes to the shortcomings of the judicial system in this country and also to the power of community.

  • Release Date: 4/30/2023
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Hillary is a Toronto based writer, though her heart often lives in her former home of London, England. She has loved movies for as long as she can remember, though it was seeing Jurassic Park as a kid that really made it a passion. She has been writing about film since 2010 logging plenty of reviews and interviews since then, especially around festival season. She has previously covered the London Film Festival, TIFF (where she can often be found frantically running between venues) and most recently Sundance (from her couch). She is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics. When she’s not watching films or writing about them, she can be found at her day job as a veterinarian. Critic and vet is an odd combination, but it sure is a great conversation starter at an interview or festival!
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