Boil Alert ★★★ 1/2 TIFF 2023

Boil Alert ★★★ 1/2 TIFF 2023

Throughout Boil Alert, you keep muttering why nothing has been done about the situations the Indigenous communities in North America find themselves in. Steve Burns and Stevie Salas in their poignant and vital documentary.

An indigenous woman journeys through First Nations reservations to shine a light on the devastating struggle for clean water and discovers herself in the process. This poignant exploration illuminates the human dimension of the water crisis in indigenous communities, as well as the impact it is having upon Native identity.

Boil Alert is an urgent documentary showing us the dire situation First Nation People in Canada and the United States find themselves in. The struggle to get clean water into these areas has reached beyond the point of any realm of sanity, with residents in one community still having to adhere to a boil advisory over 28 years ago. More is to come as we follow Layla on her red road journey, with what we find leaving you speechless, especially considering the two modern countries we focus on. It defies logic, and co-directors James Burns and Stevie Salas do not pull their punches to let us see the plight so many live in.

Interestingly, Boil Alert doesn’t maintain a typical unscripted structure, with multiple scripted segments littered throughout. Some work, but not all and if they were removed from the film, they would not necessarily be missed. This is purely because of how invested we become in Layla’s journey that by deviating slightly from it, even if it is about her, loses its impetus. If these sections were combined with some story about Staas’ journey, then there would be no issues; combined with this narrative, it doesn’t wholly work, yet remains interesting all the less.

Layla Staats is an excellent guide in this ambitious documentary; not only does she take us through these communities in parts of North America, but we also get time to learn about her and her own personal journey in connecting with her Mohawk identity. By having these dual stories going on in Boil Alert, we become inspired by her and her journey.

The issues raised are so simple to solve that you are mystified as to why they haven’t been. Even topics such as recycling have gotten to maddening levels. We see collections of empty water bottles and canisters strewn all around a reservation to the point where some of it is just mounted up at the side of the road with bears rummaging through it. For us to be told there is no scheme or way for those in the reservation to recycle is needless. They resort to burning the plastics in the winter to help with heat and get rid of the rubbish, causing even more ecological problems.

It is too simple to say that the citizens of the First Nations reservations have been forgotten about; they have purposely been neglected. Left to struggle along and just deal with the hand they have been dealt with. The Ojibwe people are proof of that; they have been poisoned for multiple generations due to the reed paper mill leaking mercury into their river. These are people who are slowly having their population dwindled. If you were a betting person, you would almost assume it was on purpose.

Of course, there are countless other incidents that Boil Alert could broach. Still, by keeping the audience limited in the entire picture across the continent instead, giving a more significant amount of time to a few incidents, we can feel a more substantial impact on the appalling conditions people have been left to keep living in.

You are left feeling a multitude of emotions for the Indigenous People. Anger, frustration, and sadness are all present within you. While you would want some form of hope to be present for these circumstances, we are forced to realise that this is a long-term battle. One that must be won, with more eyes on the problem thanks to Boil Alert, their aspirations should, with luck, one day be realised.

★★★ 1/2

For more coverage of TIFF 2023 please check out our reviews below:




Modern Goose

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