Credit: Jeff Busby


SXSW Film Festival Visions Section

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Bruce Gladwin

Writer: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben

Cast: Mark Deans, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty, Belinda McClory, Breanna Deleo

Screened at: SXSW Film Festival Online, LA, 3/15/22

Opens: March 12th, 2022

Experimental cinema invites audiences on a ride that likely won’t be all that much like anything they have experienced before. It can be transformative and intriguing or unusual and alienating, and sometimes a combination of all of those. One of the best facets of unbounded genre is that it can give voice to a population that isn’t often represented and tell a story that features its members prominently. Shadow does exactly that, assembling a group of people with disabilities for an important conversation about artificial intelligence and their relationship with it.

This film is based on the play The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes. It was created specifically for the screen rather than filmed while being performed on stage, and features a cast of mostly people with intellectual disabilities, using a program of paid internships to ensure representation both in front and behind the camera. During its short 56-minute runtime, the group of activists, led by Simon, Scott, and Sarah, look to the future and wonder about their place within it, how they will advocate for their community while struggling to agree on how to define themselves.

This is certainly an interesting and innovative work, one that enables a talented set of actors to have prime roles in a drama that speaks specifically to their experience in the world. It does require some context, as watching the film without any knowledge of its intention or framing is highly disorienting. The presence of artificial intelligence and the way that it inserts itself into the narrative is also peculiar but prescient, since that uninvited takeover is highly relevant to the subject that this meeting is discussing.

Shadow plays with the expectations viewers may have of the roles that people take on, with its characters going to great lengths to explain their motivations and unpack others. The unfiltered nature of the conversation is highly enlightening, and shows the different ways in which the trio of leads interact with the world. Simon is headstrong and believes he knows best, while Scott is aware of his abilities but not eager to utilize them in this context. Sarah knows people tend to ignore her, and wants to be able to find her voice even with more domineering peers around her.

The involvement of artificial intelligence is particularly thought-provoking since there are moments in which a screen starts to spell out the words that this film’s characters are saying, something they note might be offensive given that it implies they can’t be understood because of how their voices sound. Confronting societal expectations and perspectives in that way is fascinating, but it’s also confusing and contradictory given that the film itself includes subtitles throughout to make sure that audiences don’t miss a word that is being said by any of its participants.

Shadow, an Australian film, doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, classified in the Visions section of the SXSW Film Festival for its world premiere. Its genres are drama and experimental, and its tags are “health/disability/illness” and “social justice.” It is all of those things, and it is also quite individualistic in the way that it allows its actors to represent a piece of the experience of being someone with disabilities, even if that doesn’t necessarily match the exact way they walk through the world. Giving this cast a voice and grappling with how those who don’t fit neatly into a box will be categorized and accommodated in a technology-driven future is absolutely worthwhile, and it’s hard to shake this very thought-provoking piece of experimental screen theater.

56 minutes

Story – B

Acting – B+

Technical – B

Overall – B

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