Friday, March 15, 2024

NCIFF ’24: Dounia, the Great White North

Poor Dounia desperately misses her father. You can blame Iran and Putin for that, because they enabled and encouraged the carnage Assad unleashed on his own country, particularly her hometown (as seen in her first film, Dounia: The Princess of Aleppo). Fortunately, Dounia and her grandparents found safe refuge in Quebec, where they have been largely welcomed by their new northern provincial community. Her mother died in Syria, but they still hope to be reunited with her father, whose fate remains unknown at the start of Marya Zarif & Andre Kadi’s Dounia: The Great White North, which screens during the 2024 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Dounia and her grandparents never come out and say it, but it seems like they find it weird that they must learn French after coming to Canada. Hopefully, the local version of identity politics-tribalism never turns violent, because Dounia’s family has seen more than enough of that.

Dounia forged a fast friendship with Rosalie, the girl next-door, who also happens to be the daughter of the school teacher. Even though she is starting to fit, Dounia worries constantly over her missing father, so their classmate Miguizou introduces them to her grandmother, whose Atikamekw wisdom might help the Dounia’s spirit animal guide her father to sub-Arctic Quebec. That might sound like a longshot, but this is a fable, not an expose or a white-paper report.

The Great White North
is also a quickie, clocking in just under an hour, making it highly appropriate for the under-10-year-old target demo. The animation might be a bit simple for serious connoisseurs of the medium, but it captures the look and feel illustrated children’s books.

The Dounia sequel is also thematically as well as stylistically appropriate for young viewers. Kadi & Zarif only briefly touch on the carnage the axis of authoritarians unleashed on Aleppo and they largely gloss over hot-button immigration debates. Of course, nearly every frame of
Great White North expresses a message of tolerance and acceptance, but it does so gently, rather than beating the audience over their heads.

Dounia: The Great White North
is a nice little film. That is not meant to be dismissive. It is fifty-one low-stress minutes, featuring several warm, loving characters. It is a nice little film. Recommended for family viewing, Dounia: The Great White North screens tomorrow (3/16) as part of this year’s NYICFF.