TIFF Review: 'Anatomy of Assistance'

Anatomy of Assistance
(Canada, 13 min.)
Dir. Cory Bowles, Writ. John Titley
Starring: Keeya King, Raven Dauda, Kingslee Christie, Shamier Anderson, Matthew Owen Murray, and Clé Bennett.
Programme: Short Cuts Canada, Programme 6 (World Premiere)
Kingslee Christie and Keeya King star in Anatomy of Assistance. Photo by Elly Dassas.

There is a proverb, attributed ambiguously, which says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” A young woman named Talia gets an eye-opening taste of this proverbial knowledge in the entertaining and socially conscious short Anatomy of Assistance, which premieres next Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Talia, played by newcomer Keeya King, is on the receiving end of some financial aid thanks to an assistance program to help students at Clarkswell Secondary School. Most kids would be happy about getting an envelope stuffed with cash, but Talia refuses the system and thinks she can be the next Malcolm X by turning down the help.

“There’s no discrimination here, ok, every student gets it” advises her guidance counsellor, Mr. James (played by Barney’s Version’s Clé Bennett), to which Talia replies, “You mean every black student.” “It’s from black people,” Mr. James shoots back. Talia clearly has a lot to learn. She’s book smart, but she’s too young and naïve to grasp the long-term benefits of the assistance.

The greater life lesson comes later when a streetwise cop, Officer Rayley, (Raven Dauda) catches Talia in the park drinking cheap booze she bought she bought with her assistance money. A slow-zoom stare-down ensues between Talia and Officer Rayley, and the elder emerges the victor of the amusing standoff. She gives Talia a taste of what life could be like if she throws opportunity away.

Anatomy of Assistance is a fun coming-of-age tale. Director Cory Bowles (aka Cory on the hit series 'The Trailer Park Boys') balances the realistic snapshot of social and institutional divides with a fine layer of humour. There’s a good message about education and opportunity for teens, but also a youthful breeziness to the well-paced action and natural dialogue. Anatomy of Assistance also marks a notable film debut for star Keeya King who provides a believable and relatable turn as the film’s smart but misguided rebel. The film is well cast, with Dauda making a strong antagonist to King as Officer Rayley, who goes from foe to friend as she transforms from a cop with a chip on her shoulder to a well-intentioned elder who provides Talia a life-lesson she can’t find in a classroom.

With a look and street-smarts reminiscent of Season 4 of HBO’s The Wire, Anatomy of Assistance is a fun and thoughtful satire on social gaps. There’s no shame in accepting assistance, but, as Rayley teaches Talia, there is in refusing help when so many others go needy. This sprightly short is an entertaining fable about the ways in which we can better the world by taking help and, in turn, helping others.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Anatomy of Assistance screens in Short Cuts Canada 6:
-Thursday, Sept. 12 at 7:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
-Friday, Sept. 13 at 12:15 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Some of the shorts will also be playing online 24 hours after their public screening, so please check http://www.youtube.com/tiff and see if Anatomy of Assistance is one them!

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year's festival.