Wislas a lewa

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Wislas a lewa
Wislas a lewa.png
The film's theatrical release poster
Directed byAlisha Yao
Written byDeron Vignon
Produced byAlisha Yao
StarringMargaret Craskell
Donna Munro
Mishti Pulugurtha
Production
company
Distributed byRigal Pictures
Release dates
Running time
119 minutes
Country Imagua and the Assimas
LanguagesWestern Imaguan Creole
Estmerish
Budget20.75 million Arucian shillings

Wislas a lewa (We are fighting to live or We fight to live) is a 2022 Imaguan slice of life drama. Set in modern-day Cuanstad, it depicts a young mother being informed that her apartment complex is being evicted to be turned into a hotel operated through a foreign short-term lodging company. In response to this, she and her fellow tenants organise to fight their evictions and ensure that they can continue to stay in Cuanstad.

Released at the 83rd Montecara Film Festival in October 2022, Wislas a lewa was the first Imaguan film to win the Special Jury Prize in the Montecara Film Festival. Wislas a lewa is the first feature film to be almost entirely in Western Imaguan Creole. It is produced by Locals1st, and is distributed by the Satucine-based Rigal Pictures.

Plot

A still from Wislas a lewa

A young mother, Nikkya Blundell (Margaret Craskell) lives in an apartment building in the borough of Colton, far away from the sea. She and her son are preparing to go to the nearby park when she notices an important notice in her mailbox. She reads the notice and is informed that her landlord is planning to evict her and her child from their apartment because her apartment unit needs to be renovated.

At the park, she sees one of her neighbours, Desreta Duhaney (Donna Munro), and greets her. When Nikkya mentions that she was being evicted because her unit needed to be renovated at the end of the month, Desreta says that she received an eviction notice as well, because her apartment unit also needed to be renovated. After Nikkya expresses that she always complied with the landlord's requests and always paid rent on time, Desreta says that she notices that "all the landlords" in Cuanstad were evicting tenants to convert their apartment buildings into a hotel operated through a foreign short-term lodging company so that they could make more money off of tourists. When Nikkya asks how she knows that, Desreta says that her son was evicted from three separate apartments in Cuanstad because of this reason, and had to move to New Burdale to be able to "live securely," and that she suspects that they are being evicted for the same reason.

After heading home with her son from the park, she notices an old lady, Tandi Tallapragada (Mishti Pulugurtha) crying in a hallway on her floor, and clasping a notice in her hand. When Nikkya asks what is wrong, Tandi tells her that she is being evicted from her apartment at the end of the month, and that she lived in Cuanstad all of her life. However, with an impending eviction, and no affordable place that she can afford on her widow's pension, she would have to either become homeless, or move to an "unfamiliar place" where she has no friends. Nikkya realises that everyone in the apartment building is going to be evicted at the end of the month.

At her apartment, Nikkya calls her father, Isaac (Jason Wade) to let him know that she is being evicted from her apartment, and that everyone else in her apartment building is also being evicted. Isaac, a former dockworker, tells Nikkya that she "needs to not take this lying down," and that she should "get her neighbours together to organise" and fight "against the landlord." Nikkya tries to protest, saying that she could easily find a better apartment in Altaithe, but Isaac tells her that "your community is worth fighting for," and that she should not give up "before it even starts."

The next day, she pays an unannounced visit to Desreta's apartment, where she tells Desreta of her conversation with her father. Desreta tells Nikkya that Isaac had a good idea, and that they can use their contacts to help organise a tenants' union to demand that the landlord not turn the apartments into a homestay. Nikkya agrees to go along with Desreta's suggestion to form a tenants' union.

Nikkya then goes to Tandi's apartment and asks Tandi if she would like to join a tenant's union. Tandi is hesitant, fearing that if she joins a tenants' union, she would be unable to find any housing in Cuanstad. Nikkya assuages her fears by promising that if they fail, she can live with her in whatever apartment they can find, so that she at least has someone she knows. This persuades her to join the tenants' union, with Tandi saying she would inform her friends in the apartment. Together with Nikkya and Desreta, they were able to convince most of the tenants to join the tenants' union by the end of the day.

On Sunday, following the church service, Desreta, Nikkya and Tandi meet at the church hall to discuss what demands they should make, and who should present the demands to the landlord. The three of them agree that they should request that the mass eviction should not take place at all, and that the landlord should not convert all of the apartment building's units into homestays. When they discuss who should represent the tenants' union and present the letter outlining their demands to the landlord, Tandi suggests that Nikkya be the union's representative, as she is a young mother and whose plight could move the landlord in favour. However, Desreta and Nikkya suggest that Tandi be the representative, due to her age, her ethnicity making it likely that the owner would listen to them, and because her plight would "swing the landlord in favour of the tenants living in the building." After some convincing, Tandi accepts the offer on the condition that Nikkya writes down the demands and gets the tenants to sign it, and that Desreta pays for the bus fare "to and from the landlord's house." They agree to deliver the letter by Monday afternoon.

Upon returning home, Nikkya heads to her apartment, where she writes the demands on a paper, before stapling it to two blank sheets of paper. She spends the rest of the day getting all the tenants to sign the list of demands, promising that the landlord will see it the following morning. By the evening, after returning to her apartment after getting all the tenants to sign the list of demands, and while cooking dinner for her and her son, she hears a knock on the door. She tries to continue cooking, but after hearing more knocking, she answers the door to see the landlord (James Fletcher).

He angrily demands in Estmerish to know why she and Desreta have been "disturbing the residents of [his] apartment building." Nikkya responds by telling him that she knows that everyone is being evicted from the apartment building at the end of the month for "renovations," and demands to know if he intends to list them on the foreign short-term lodging company. The landlord tells her that he is within his rights to "do as [he] pleases with [his] own property" and that she is "free to leave tonight and find somewhere cheaper" if she doesn't like how he is doing things, but that if he catches Nikkya and Desreta "doing any funny business," he will see to it that the locks to their apartments would be changed.

The next morning, Nikkya hands the list of demands to Tandi, complete with the signatures of all the tenants. Desreta gives Tandi bus fare so that she would be able to present her list of demands to the landlords. Nikkya then takes her son to school, while Tandi boards a bus to travel towards the landlord's house in Caynarsh.

After a long and circuitous route that takes her through the city centre, and all the way towards Hochester before crossing the bridge into Caynarsh, Tandi gets off at the bus stop nearest her landlord's house, and walks towards his beachside home. She bangs on the door with her cane, but does not hear a response. She tries again twice, but still receives no response. Frustrated, she puts the letter through the mail slot, and then takes the bus back home.

When Tandi returns home, she sees Nikkya and her son outside the apartment building, as well as Desreta. Tandi learns that they had their locks changed when Desreta went to work, and when Nikkya picked her son up from school. However, Tandi is able to unlock her apartment door, and offers Desreta and Nikkya a place to stay for the night.

The next morning, they were awakened by loud banging on the door. When Tandi opened the door, she sees the landlord demanding in Estmerish why Tandi is letting Nikkya and Desreta stay with her. Tandi tells the landlord in Western Imaguan Creole that "we are fighting to live in our own city" and not lose their homes to "tourists and retirees," and that if the landlord wants to be on the wrong side of history, he is free to do so. The landlord demands that Tandi say it in Estmerish, and Tandi tells him to stop ignoring what the people need. He insists that he is listening to the people's will by providing "short-term options so they can live flexibly," to which Tandi says that "people need homes."

Desreta and Nikkya appear behind Tandi at this point. When the landlord demands that Tandi kick Desreta and Nikkya out, Tandi refuses, and the landlord threatens to call the Royal Imaguan Constabulary on them. Nikkya goes to a corner of the living room to call the Royal Imaguan Constabulary to request that the landlord be punished for harassing the tenants and for denying her access to her own rental unit.

When the constables arrive, the officer, Marvin Mattson (Eddy Lundell) takes a report from both Nikkya and the landlord. Mattson believes the landlord's account of Desreta, Nikkya, and Tandi "harassing tenants" and denying them their quality of life, and orders the other two constables to arrest them. However, as they begin to arrest Nikkya in front of her son, other tenants observing the situation demand that the three not be arrested, and expressing support for the tenants' union. Despite the outpouring of support, the constables refuse to halt the arrest, and in response, some tenants decide to block the exits of the apartment building.

The constables call for backup, and because of the fact that the tenants are blocking the constables from taking Desreta, Nikkya, and Tandi to jail, they request that the gendarmerie be sent to "free the constables and the landlord." The gendarmes arrive, and were able to break through one of the entrances so that the constables can take the three away to prison. The three are charged for harassment and for inciting a riot.

While in remand, Nikkya uses her one phone call to inform Isaac Blundell that she was now in jail, and awaiting trial. When he asked if it was connected to the fight against her landlord's plan to evict their apartment building, she responds affirmatively. Isaac then congratulates her for "standing up for your community and fighting for it." After some time passes, a guard (Miriam Busalacchi) informs her that all charges were dropped against her, and that she was now free to leave.

She is greeted by activists, Isaac Blundell, and her own son, and by Desreta and Tandi who have also been released from remand. When asked by a journalist how she feels about being released, she says that "I will do it again if I have to," before she, Desreta, Isaac, her son, and Tandi get in to a waiting car to take them to their apartment building. On the way there, they learn from the driver that the tenants' union were not only able to successfully overturn their eviction, but they also purchased their building from the landlord and turned it into a housing cooperative. The three return home to a hero's welcome by the tenants.

Cast

  • Margaret Craskell as Nikkya Blundell
  • Donna Munro as Desreta Duhaney
  • Mishti Pulugurtha as Tandi Tallapragada
  • Jason Wade as Isaac Blundell
  • James Fletcher as the landlord
  • Eddy Lundell as Marvin Mattson
  • Miriam Busalacchi as a guard

Production

Writing

In 2015, Deron Vignon, an actor and a member of Locals1st, an advocacy group that demands that house prices in Cuanstad be lowered, that local Imaguans be given priority in all purchases over foreigners, and supports tenants' unions first came up with the idea of a film where "a landlord tries to evict an entire apartment building but the tenants fight back against the landlord."

When Vignon suggested the idea to Locals1st as a way to boost its profile, he was turned down because while Locals1st produced short videos for iPlay, Locals1st believed that the video idea was too expensive for their organisation to pursue. Despite Locals1st's rejection of the idea, Vignon began writing a script for the concept.

Vignon decided that it be written in Western Imaguan Creole, partially because "no other movie he ever saw was mostly in Creole," but mostly because "as a film of people on the margins fighting against those with power," he found it appropriate that the protagonists and tenants use Creole, while the landlord, the pastor, and the constables use Estmerish to illustrate the power imbalance and their different social statuses. After finishing writing in 2017, Vignon once again approached Locals1st to produce it, only to be rejected again. In 2018, Vignon tried approaching film studios in Imagua to see if they were willing to produce the film, but all of them rejected him.

It was only in January 2021 when after the death of a "rich donor to Locals1st" and his posthumous donation of 41.5 million shillings (around five million euclos) did Locals1st approve of Vignon's request to make the film, on the condition that it use no more than half of the bequest (20.75 million shillings, or 2.5 million euclos), and that the director of media engagement, Alisha Yao, be the director.

Direction

Filming began in October 2021, and ended in January 2022, with production was done entirely by Locals1st, and directed and produced by Alisha Yao.

Most exterior shots and all interior shots were done "on-site," with Locals1st receiving permission from the condo board to set the movie at Garbrand House, and from the borough council to set the movie in the surroundings of Garbrand House: it also received permission by Cuanstad Transit to film the bus scene on one of their buses. According to Yao, "securing permissions from everyone to film scenes for Wislas a lewa took away nearly two-thirds of our budget."

Thus, in order to save costs, Wislas a lewa had to rely extensively on "an army of volunteers" for the film to be completed, including extras, with only critical staff (i.e. main actors, camera and lighting, production, and sound production) being paid. In addition, production of Locals1st iPlay videos were suspended during the production of Wislas a lewa so that they could "have all hands on deck" to make the film succeed.

In post-production editing, all efforts were made to "make the film as polished as possible," because according to Alisha Yao, "not having the film be polished" would make Wislas a lewa the "last film to be in [Western Imaguan Creole]." Post-production editing took place between February 2022 and June 2022.

Music

All music in Wislas a lewa was public domain music, with an emphasis on Imaguan music in the public domain. While most of the music in Wislas a lewa are incidental music that is only in the background because of the film's "budgetary restrictions," for the final scene where Desreta, Nikkya, and Tandi are welcomed back to their apartment building by the tenants, Locals1st decided to use a translated version of The Land, with Locals1st translating the first and second verses of the song, and the chorus into Western Imaguan Creole from Estmerish.

Distribution

Due to Locals1st's small size, following the completion of production, Locals1st sought to find a distributor for Wislas a lewa so that it can be screened in cinemas. Because of the West Arucian's small film industry and lack of film distributors, Locals1st had to look for a foreign distributor to distribute the film. After negotiations, Locals1st decided to distribute their film via the Satucine-based Rigal Pictures.

Reception

Box office sales

Critical reception

Randy Ascue, film critic for the Cuanstad Sentinel said that despite the film's low budget "occasionally making itself known", Wislas a lewa "presents a snapshot of how the Cuanstad housing crisis is affecting Imaguans," and praises Locals1st for "producing not only the first film in Western Imaguan Creole," but for "its accurate portrayal of how landlords are evicting long-time tenants in Cuanstad to turn them into homestays that can be listed on foreign short-term lodging websites," and how tenants were able to "successfully resist eviction."

Cora De Bernardi, film critic for Gazzetta di San Pietro said that Wislas a lewa's videography was "realistic and accentuated what the characters were fighting for," while the actors were praised for their "excellent and realistic acting" despite the budgetary constraints. De Bernardi also said that story of how tenants were able to successfully resist their eviction is:

"...a dream that many tenants have, but because most tenants do not tend to band together and organise a tenants' union, any efforts of tenant resistance are usually doomed to failure. To see the tenants band together against their landlord, present their demands to the landlord, and draw support from those who would not have otherwise been actively involved is something that we should all aspire to, especially as housing prices continue to rise and rise with no end in sight."

However, Raca Wagstaff from the Nua Taois Gazette criticised the film for "being an unrealistic portrayal of the outcome," with Wagstaff noting that:

"Although Wislas a lewa depicts the Royal Imaguan Constabulary arresting the organisers of the tenants' union on charges of harassment and inciting a riot, the lack of realism stems from the fact that the constabulary drops charges against the organisers for their crimes: in virtually all cases of organisers [of tenants' unions] being evicted from their apartments between 2010 and 2020, all of them stood trial, and only seven were found not guilty of the crimes that they were charged with."

Wagstaff also criticised how the tenants' union was able to buy out the apartment complex from "underneath the landlord," saying that it is "impossible to sell the property in the short amount of time that Desreta, Nikkya, and Tandi were in remand" that was implied by the film.

Controversies

Wislas a lewa was controversial due to its anti-landlord stance, with a spokesman from the Imaguan Association of Landlords saying that the film's "depiction of a landlord as a villain" was inaccurate, that "landlords in Cuanstad provide housing to those who would otherwise be homeless due to the high housing prices," and that "the amount of conversions from apartments to homestays is relatively low compared to other tourist centres."

In response, Lucas O'Doherty, managing director of Locals1st said that "the number of evictions followed by subsequent conversions to homestays has risen 240% between 2017 and 2022, which has displaced thousands of residents from Cuanstad, and has led to the rise of rent prices as the supply of apartments has shrunk."

Luc Innocent, Arucian director for TBD, critcised the film for its "negative portrayal of companies like TBD," and said that TBD was necessary to "provide tourists with cheaper places to stay [in Cuanstad] than the hotels and resorts, which gouge tourists and contribute very little to the Imaguan economy compared to guests who stay at our lodgings."