Alis Review

For writers, writing a story at times is a personal journey. As the writer creates their character, little by little they put something of themselves in the character. The fictional character slowly becomes a projected version of the author. Through the character, the author is able to feel safe and share more of themselves than usual. The character becomes an avatar for who the author wants to be and who the author really is. Alis takes the viewers on this same journey. The only difference here is the authors are teenage girls that live in a home known as Arcadia.

Alis is an incredible documentary from Nicolas Van Hemelryck & Clare Weiskopf that asks the young girls of a home to imagine a young girl named “Alis” and share her story with them. The girls are interviewed individually and they ask if they can be themselves on camera. You can feel the nervousness of these young girls as they take their seats and prepare themselves for the interview. As the girls start talking they begin describing Alis and most of their descriptions are similar: Tall, lighter skin, long blonde hair, and happy.

Being that these girls are from Bogota, Columbia, we see how lighter skin and blonde hair are what’s considered to be happy in this world. The girls talk about how Alis was always happy and tried to make friends with everyone. By asking these establishing questions, the directors are gaining the young girls’ confidence. They are slowly trying to get these girls to relax and just be themselves while talking about Alis.

As you watch this documentary you see the wall around these girls slowly start to disappear. Little by little you hear these young girls’ story of Alis start to change. We learn about her home life and what caused her to be placed here. We start to hear about the struggles that Alis went through while living on the street. The girls start to tell the viewers about what she had to do to survive. The beauty of this documentary is seeing the girls feel safe enough to tell the viewers their life stories and use Alis as the medium to share their truths.

Alis is a documentary that needs to be experienced. Watching the young girls tell their stories is heartbreaking at moments. Knowing that they are telling you what they are going through is very brave of the young girls. At one point the interviewer asks the young girls if “Alis is real” and the young girls’ answers vary.

Although the stories the young girls tell are hard to fathom, there is some light at the end of this tunnel. The young girls are optimistic about their lives and feel that they will be alright in the end. Hopefully, the directors make a follow-up to their lives in another 10 years.

Alis is part of the Documentary, Documentary Competition, Outlook, & Women in Cinema portion of the Chicago International Film Festival. Catch the U.S. Premiere of this documentary while it plays at the festival.

Final Thoughts: Alis is a stunning and beautiful story of hope in hard times. Hearing these young girls describe their “classmate” Alis is a trip that takes you on some highs and lows. Alis gives the viewers an inside look at a world that they would have never known existed and presents it in a manner that does not exploit the storytellers.

Kid-Friendly: This one is iffy. I feel kids should watch this to see what hope looks like but some of the matters discussed might be too much for them to hear. I would suggest parents watch it first and make a decision afterward if their children should watch it. The subtitles might draw some kids away from it.

Violence: While there is no violence shown visually, there are descriptions of violent acts.

Through a creative act, teenage girls who lived on the streets of Bogota give life to ALIS, a fictional classmate. As their voices intertwine, the character comes to life revealing their past experiences, dreams and sufferings. The innocent game becomes a descent into hell where their luminous faces guide us to the depths of the dark world they once inhabited only to emerge with new skin, thus breaking the cycle of violence and embracing a brighter future. ALIS is a psychological documentary, an intimate coming-of-age story of hope revealed through the amazing perseverance of the girls. By closing their eyes, they can believe that a new universe is possible.

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