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Beba review – Rebecca Huntt’s personal, probing documentary-memoir | Toronto film festival 2021

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The New York artist and film-maker Rebecca Huntt makes her feature debut with this unsentimental documentary-memoir of discontent titled Beba – her childhood nickname. It reflects upon her complicated upbringing as an Afro-Latina woman whose Dominican father and Venezuelan mother aspirationally brought her and her two siblings up in a tiny apartment on Central Park West. It leaves her with issues around family dysfunction and class, especially as she had to live in this increasingly chaotic household into her adult years.

A gifted student who was turned on to Shakespeare and Angelou and who became the centre of a brilliant creative coterie at New York’s Bard College, Huntt found that the wellspring of her inspiration as an artist was to be the unhealed wound of her family background. Her upbringing emerges from this movie as a fractious and contested site in which the African and Latina sides are at loggerheads with each other as well as with white condescension, a tension which she locates in a larger context of racism, ideology, non-assimilation and a rhetoric of grievance.

The most revealing and, in its way, uncomfortably funny interview is the one Huntt tries to film with her mother, who is clearly fantastically irritated at the perceived accusing tone of questions about her children’s feelings about their African side and the racism they were going to face. She looks miserable throughout and Huntt says: “Mommy, I know your micro-aggressive attitude isn’t cool.” But her mother thinks that Huntt herself is being too aggressive, and she concedes the point. Her father seems happier with the filming process. In fact, he is the smiliest and happiest person in the film, although he is unhappy about questions about Huntt’s brother, with whom he fell out calamitously.

Huntt says: “As a product of the New World, violence lives in my DNA,” and there could well be truth in that, an inherited violence which is invisible to the white students and contemporaries whose attitude of well-bred liberal dismay infuriates her.

The tone of the film is sometimes a little opaque. There is some slightly cliched 16mm footage of subway scenes and indulgent home-movie material and Huntt’s own voiceover has something of the student graduation piece about it. But there is a rich, dense texture to this very questioning, personal film.

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The Groucho

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