‘Because of the War’ highlights Liberian musicians

November 8, 2018

The Wasserman Cinematheque may be Brandeis’ best kept secret. A state-of-the-art theater located in the International Business School building of all places, the Wasserman has been home to a few cool events the past few years but on the whole, doesn’t get nearly enough of the recognition it deserves on campus.

This past Tuesday, the theater was home to an exciting screening: a showing of the award-winning “Because of the War,” a recent documentary that tracks four dancers/singers from Liberia and their experiences fleeing the Liberian Civil War in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Currently, all four women are active participants in Philadelphia’s Liberian community, and “Because of the War” does an effective job illustrating the connections between their prosperous presents and tumultuous pasts. We see how the war impacts the four musicians—Tokay Tomah, Zaye Tete, Marie Nyenabo and Fatu Gayflor—and how the quartet preserved and continued to bring art into the world over the past three decades.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the screening was sponsored by the Creativity, Arts, and Social Transformation department and acted as an extension of CAST course 150B, Introduction to Creativity, Arts, and Social Transformation. Professor Cynthia Cohen was also able to bring the documentary’s director, Toni Shapiro-Phim, to the Wasserman. Shapiro-Phim spoke and answered questions after the screening, providing insight into the creation of the film. Despite the brutality of the Liberian Civil War, Shapiro-Phim—and her film as a whole—is dedicated to showing a full picture of Liberian life and culture. To exclusively present negative and traumatic images would be simply disingenuous, and thankfully, “Because of the War” does not fall into said trap.

Working on behalf of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, Shapiro-Phim is not a filmmaker by trade but found the medium the best way to convey the experiences of these four women. With a runtime of a little over an hour, I’d recommend “Because of the War,” a brief but educational documentary on a topic I would not consider myself aware of. The screening as a whole was yet another solid showcase set in the Wasserman cinematheque, a space I hope continues to host quality events.

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