Boxing with brutality’s shadows

Twenty-eight minutes are enough for emerging filmmaker Vilka Tzouras to plunge her audience into the desperation of female teenage violence with her Opening Nights film festival entry «Shadowboxer.» In 1998, she made another short, «Soldier’s Bride,» which focused on gang rape in Bosnia during the civil war. What is most surprising about these two films is that Tzouras seems, at first sight, an unlikely person to be dealing with such dark subjects. Slight in build and oozing humor and optimism, one wonders how Greek-Canadian Tzouras – an American School of Ballet graduate who was forced to leave the world of dance due to a knee injury and opted to follow another passion through the film and television department of New York University’s Tisch School of Arts – developed an urge to examine the brutal side of humanity. «Honestly, I am not sure why I am attracted to such stories,» Tzouras explained in a recent interview. «Maybe because a big part of me feels like they need to be told, maybe because I connect with pain (of others as well as my own).» The answer possibly lies in the deep sense of empathy that comes across in her films. Shot in a cinema verite-style «Shadowboxer» makes one feel trapped, both literally and psychologically. It has a documentary-film quality (the photography was done by Harlan Bosmajian) that adds credence to what is, in essence, a semi-fictional account drawn from the testimonies of counselors and teenagers from The Door, a New York youth center at which Tzouras created a weekly discussion group in preparation for the film. «I believe that there is a little piece of myself in each and every one of my characters,» said Tzouras. «They were created through personal reflection and the yearlong work I did with the youth in the violence workshops at The Door.» «Shadowboxer» focuses on Reena (acted by Melissa Martinez), a 16-year-old girl who is imprisoned for severely beating her mother. The film examines the factors that lead many young women like Reena to turn violent within the framework of modern society and urban social structures. The film opens with Reena sitting in her prison cell and reflecting on the events which got her there. The viewer is drawn into her cramped existence amid the city streets and hovel-like apartments of Coney Island and Manhattan, into her relationships and experiences, her losses and the abuse that she has suffered, and her alienation from others and eventually herself. Ending on a pensive note, the film then looks at the process of self-examination, of understanding and realization, in a quest for awareness. Can films make a difference? «Absolutely,» argues Tzouras. «Films can bring awareness and make people reflect on current and past issues.» «Shadowboxer» will be shown today at 8.30 p.m. at the Danaos Cinema.