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'Beyond the Walls': Montreal Review

Beyond The Walls Montreal Film - H 2014

The Bottom Line

A small celebration of the underdog

Venue

Montreal World Film Festival, Documentaries of the World

Director

Gayle Embrey

The tales of struggle behind colorful street art

MONTREAL – Diving into stories of challenge and heartbreak behind community-created murals and showing the solidarity they can foster, Gayle Embrey's Beyond the Walls functions as a compendium of quick history lessons under an umbrella of underclass solidarity. Clearly sincere, the film has more value for community activists and the like than for the more aesthetics-minded audience at which other street-art-oriented docs are aimed; at fests, it should draw a small but appreciative crowd.

Traveling the globe from El Salvador to Belfast, Embrey backs up one interviewee's claim that "the bigger the crisis," the more artistic activity one will find. Focusing more on the people's experience than what they produced, she gives ample screen time to telling the stories of an 800-person massacre in El Mozote, of the military dictatorship that "disappeared" citizens in Argentina and of stop-and-frisk intimidation in Brooklyn.

She watches as outside facilitators work with local communities, helping them create images that remember happier times, rail against current oppression or find heroes that have been obscure until now. Though it's not trying to be comprehensive, the film lets us in on symbols in some of these colorful works, explaining what that white scarf means, how that Aboriginal geometric pattern is more than pretty dots and who the women are on that tribute to unsung female leaders.

The point of these projects is community-building, not aesthetics, and many of the images are of course amateurishly rendered. But Embrey finds some — like the pointedly political walls of New York's Groundswell and Los Muralistas de el Puente collectives, or the series of Bloody Sunday-themed works by the Bogside Artists — that stick vividly in the viewer's mind, showing how the best muralists communicate not just with each other but the outside world.

Production company: Power Surge Productions LLC

Director: Gayle Embrey

Screenwriters: Zeke Eagan, Gayle Embrey

Producers: Gayle Embrey, Pablo Robert

Director of photography: Esteban Perroud

Editor: Iair Michel Attias

Music: Mike Oldmark

No rating, 91 minutes