August the First and the short film "Tell Us the Truth Josephine"

3.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: July 20, 2008
For the love of the family

Anyone who has ever had a dysfunctional moment or two in their own family (and apart from blatant denialists—that means us all) should take a gander at August the First where a celebration of academic success turns into a stunning disintegration of all things familial.

Director Lanre Olabisi (who co-wrote the script with Shawn Alexander) takes no prisoners as recent grad Tunde (Ian Alsup in a wide-ranging emotional performance that should result in many future projects) unwittingly wrecks his own party by surreptitiously inviting his father to the fete. A decade ago Dipo (D. Rubin Green, believably sad sack throughout) bailed on his wife and three children then moved to Nigeria where his potent member soon created another brood of kids needing the clamouring for of life.

Tunde’s siblings are as surprised as they are not amused: Elder brother Ade (Sean Phillips, all business in his key-line role) gradually unravels the real reason for his MIA dad’s sudden return; sister Simi (Kerisse Hutchison looks appropriately demur but can’t mine the inner anger) took her own revenge by marrying her “father” (Robert McKay), but has to make frequent trips to the washroom (notably including a tell-all chat with her ostensibly caring dad) to toss her cookies …. (The writers barely tried to conceal/reveal this important plot point.)

Their mother, Rhonda (Joy Merriweather alternates between searing and coasting through the pivotal character), faces her abandonment (or demand for disappearance depending on who’s providing the historical background—that’s entirely believable) and battle with the big C by wallowing in cheap wine and the related taunts from those who love her but not quite enough to drag her off to AA.

Not unexpectedly, Tunde follows in his father’s footsteps and isn’t entirely honest with girl friend Elsa (A. Toni Sterrett). Previously made plans to continue their studies in grad school are abruptly scuttled when Tunde’s raging desire to visit Nigeria “for a year or two” to live with his long-lost father is blurted out seconds before Elsa (having been lured from the party and into a bedroom) is about to see “something [I] want to show you.” More than his love interest were disappointed when she exits his bed and life in a huff.

The decision to shoot much of the film (Larry Hillier provided the cinematography) with the hand-held feel, wildly edited look of home videos works well, appealing to the voyeur tendencies that lurk to various degrees in all of humanity. The action is nicely balanced between moments of carefree fun (soccer with the kids; the hope of playing a long-forgotten board game as a means to make everything return to normal—“just like we used to”) and intense moments of revelation.

The climax is only marred by the inevitable fully dressed plunge into the backyard pool then a near-miraculous evaporation as father and son explode as never before.

Fortunately, Olabisi doesn’t cave and stoop to the saccharine temptation of a happy ending. For real life most certainly isn’t like that. “Actions change, attitudes don’t” a mantra that bears witness from first frame to last. JWR


Tell Us the Truth Josephine
2006, 16 minutes
Five stars

(Featured short film with August the First on Film Movement's DVD of the Month Club for new, award-winning independent and foreign films.)

Why did you leave home?

Being a country of immigrants means that every Canadian (and countless millions in other lands) can identify with this creative, fanciful testament to the flight/plight of newcomers.

Deftly underscored by Richard Feren’s music and sound design (from an accordion-laden swim across the Atlantic to Ave Maria as the priest may have shown far more than his devotion to a young charge) this self-described “experimental drama” is a resounding success.

Traversing the country on stilts a wonderful metaphor on many levels and plains, snow and sand. Juxtaposition with Terry Fox says it all.

So, was it war, mental illness, racism, homophobia, poverty, incest … JWR

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