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SHEFFIELD DOC FEST 2018

Review: Silvana

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- Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring and Christina Tsiobanelis’ documentary on the Swedish feminist and hip-hop star raises issues of sexuality, gender identity and cultural heritage

Review: Silvana

In 2014, Silvana Imam’s place of prominence on the Swedish hip-hop scene was cemented when her record "Imam" shot to number one. A recording of the rapper listening to the radio announcing her song’s position at the top of the charts provides for a dramatic opening verse to Silvana [+see also:
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, which is playing in the Doc/Rhythm section at the Sheffield Doc/Fest. The feature debut by filmmaking trio Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring and Christina Tsiobanelis follows the rapper’s career over the next few years and intersperses it with biographical details through the use of home videos shot in the mid-1990s, when Silvana’s family moved to Sweden from Lithuania. Given that she is the daughter of a Lithuanian mother and Syrian father, cultural identity is a hot topic in this documentary, as are gender identity and sexuality, as the filmmakers bear witness to the blossoming relationship and then romance between Silvana and fellow pop star Beatrice Eli.

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The directors quickly sketch out the various sides of the feminist and rapper. A clever introduction in which Silvana explains to a priest that three filmmakers want to shoot her in a church for a movie quickly places Silvana in context. She is multi-faceted, boisterous and confident as she celebrates her number one. But there is also a more vulnerable flip side to her, which is captured as Silvana dances naked in a forest, talking about her fears of being loved and the realisation that becoming a public figure is not always a bed of roses. She laments, “People recognising you when you’re drunk is hard; I haven’t had that before, and I’m paranoid that no one loves me.”

Her relationship status is swiped right when she meets fellow musician Eli and they become lesbian icons. The couple become public property as they discuss their love in interviews, but it’s during the intimate moments when the couple discuss their music, Swedish society and the nature of fandom that the film excels. Where the story feels abrupt is when dealing with the price of fame. We hear a phone call from Silvana’s manager, Babak Azarmi, explaining that the rapper is cancelling a gig in Paris and needs a break from performing. But the exact circumstances or footage of Silvana from this time is absent, as the filmmakers instead include the artist explaining how she has come to hate interviews and journalists, and also stating that following a year in which everything exploded, she had no idea how to cope. 

The other key relationship is between Silvana and her parents. In 2015, she visits her family in Lithuania and ponders the fact that she cannot express her homosexuality freely there. Her father becomes a more important figure in the film when the singer returns from a break and asks her parents to perform on her records, but more could have been made of the relationship between the parents and of her Syrian heritage. The documentary shows Silvana’s happiness at her father signing a rainbow flag, but why this is so important has to be inferred and is unclear. That being said, this is an excellent portrait of the artist, which deals with major themes with panache and in an entertaining style. 

Rise and Shine Films is handling sales of this production by Mantaray Film. Its Swedish distribution has been entrusted to TriArt Film.

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