November 12, 2020 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

Gentille M. Assih’s feature-length documentary Into the Light will be launching free of charge exclusively at NFB.ca on Wednesday, November 25, to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Online panel discussions will be held in early December to mark the world premiere and launch, complementing Quebec and Canada-wide campaigns to prevent violence against women. This deeply moving documentary gives voice to inspiring Canadian women of African origin who regained control over their lives after suffering from domestic violence. The film celebrates their strength, helps us to understand the inherent challenges of immigration, and transcends cultural differences, while shedding light on a widespread phenomenon. Into the Light is a luminous dive into the quest for personal healing, driven by the power of sharing and friendship.

Breaking the silence: the freedom that comes with speaking out

Into the Light breaks the silence by drawing back the curtain on a hidden world and allowing strong, eloquent women whose voices are rarely heard to step into the limelight. This documentary comes at an urgent moment—at a time when women in North America have a 1-in-4 chance of being physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, when the pandemic has heightened current social problems, and global movements to break the silence surrounding gender- and race-based injustices are emerging. Into the Light testifies to the tremendous power that comes from overcoming isolation and speaking out, which brings with it a sense of release, healing, and the ability to impart a better tomorrow to future generations.

Domestic violence: a widespread problem

Without shying away from the context of immigration, Into the Light paints a unique portrait of strong, proud women who eloquently expose the mechanisms of domestic violence, which transcend cultural boundaries. The courageous and necessary decision to demand respectful and egalitarian relationships between men and women is at the heart of a film that’s brimming with hope for the future.

Women, Africans, Canadians, Quebecers—their journey

The film follows Christiane, a high school French teacher, and her friend Aïssata, who works in finance. They had no clue that the process of immigrating to Canada and integrating into a new culture would contribute to the breakup of their families, which fractured as a result of domestic violence. Along the way, we meet Chouchou and her husband, a younger couple who’ve recently arrived in Canada; an imam; a pastor; an African motivational speaker; friends who had no idea what they were going through; a doctor during a medical appointment; and even Christiane’s father in her country of origin, Togo. As we meet the people around them, we come to understand the depths and complexity of their experience and the courage it takes to reclaim control of their lives. They make a powerful and positive impact.

The filmmaker’s approach, and bridging cultures

Gentille M. Assih’s close relationship and bond of trust with the film’s protagonists allowed her to capture an authentic sense of these women’s liberating life stories, which carry the film. Showing a side of Montreal that will be unfamiliar to most viewers, the doc reveals how challenging it can be for immigrants to reconcile their culture of origin with that of their new home, and the gulf that can divide a couple as a result. The documentary is of a piece with Assih’s other films, which sensitively and tactfully explore social issues while confronting prejudices. By transcending differences and allowing us to witness these women move on with their lives, Assih builds a bridge between cultures and speaks the language of universal humanity.

After its world premiere, the film will continue to be available free of charge on NFB.ca throughout Canada.

Virtual discussion panels

The documentary’s release on November 25 will mark two annual campaigns for the prevention of violence against women, with two virtual discussion panels available Canada-wide in early December. Both will provide opportunities for discussions with members of the film’s production team and experts on the subjects of women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence and welcoming immigrants. The French-language panel, organized by the NFB, will take place on December 1 during Quebec’s 12 days of action to end violence against women, which conclude on December 6, in commemoration of the Polytechnique massacre. The English-language panel, presented by Women’s Shelters Canada, will take place in early December (date to be confirmed) as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which end on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

A mini-lesson on NFB Education

A mini-lesson for 14–18-year-olds on the topic of domestic violence, consent, and body image was developed by a teacher for NFB Education.

Synopsis

 Into the Light by Gentille M. Assih (79 min 46 s)

Produced at the NFB by Nathalie Cloutier

Into the Light features the liberating life stories and powerful words of inspiring Quebec women of African origin who’ve regained control over their lives after suffering from domestic violence. The film transcends prejudice and breaks the silence, pulling back the curtain on a poorly understood, hidden world, while testifying to the tremendous power that comes from overcoming isolation and accepting one’s self. It’s a luminous dive into the quest for personal healing and universal humanity.

About the filmmaker

Writer-director Gentille M. Assih made her first documentary, Itchombi, in 2009, and that same year, she produced and directed the short drama Bidenam, l’espoir d’un village (Jury Prize at the Vues d’Afrique International Film Festival in Montreal). In 2010, she made the documentary Akpéma, which laid the groundwork for Le rite, la folle et moi (The Rite, the Madwoman and Me). Released in 2012, this documentary feature won numerous awards, including the audience choice award for best documentary at the Cinémas d’Afrique d’Angers in France. She earned her master’s in film from UQAM in 2013. Into the Light is her first NFB film. In her work, Assih turns an intimate lens on her subjects and fearlessly shines a light on taboo topics. While her camera remains unflinchingly focused on social issues and injustices, her sensitive writing conveys a distinctly positive vision of humanity.

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