Nicole Dorsey’s first feature film, Black Conflux, premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with strong performances from an all-Canadian cast.
“Even though it takes place in the 80’s, in Newfoundland, it could take place in any decade, in any part of North America,” said Ella Ballentine, who played the lead role of Jackie. “Black Conflux talks about themes that for decades we’ve swept under the rug.”
This psychological coming-of-age tale explores the seemingly separate lives of 15-year-old Jackie, and loner, Dennis. It gives a haunting account of their struggles in the face of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.
“Prior to Black Conflux, I was Anne of Green Gables,” said Ballentine. “It is a trilogy of films … [that are] very family friendly, light hearted, and easy to watch; where as Black Conflux is the complete opposite.”
She explained that while she was sent the project by her manager just like any other project, it one stood out because of how much she could relate to Jackie’s character.
“For me, the first thing that stood out was what it means to grow up as a woman… questioning things you’ve never questioned before, and asking yourself about things that you never thought you would have have to second guess,” said Ballentine.
“What is feminine? What are boobs? What are boys? All that stuff. But then also, who is my family? Can I relate to them? Do I even like my town or my friends?”
Her character, Jackie, is a fun-loving, yet troubled and vulnerable teen who goes from choir girl to party animal. Her desire to fit in draws the attention of dark forces, leading up to her encounter with Dennis.
“Then, there’s this whole other storyline with Dennis which brings up how we isolate people in society. Dennis is a very mentally ill person,” Ballentine said.
“In film, we like to show the mentally ill as being very violent and aggressive people, which I think is a terrible representation.”
Dennis, played by Ryan McDonald, is a mysterious character with violent fantasies and zero social skills. But, rather than nourish stigma against mental health, Dorsey orchestrated the story so that in a turn of events, Dennis proves not to be dangerous.
“Jackie and Dennis represent all the people in our society who are misunderstood,” said Ballentine.
It’s safe to say that many people didn’t expect the movie to end the way it did. In fact, Exclaim! writer, Matt Bobkin, went as far to say, “There’s so much that Black Conflux gets right that it’s a downright shame to see all the work come undone in its final moments,” in a TIFF review.
Ballentine explains, “If the film had ended differently, conversations after the film would have been completely different.”
Rather than turning Dennis into a murderer, the ending makes the audience question whether redemption is possible for him. Moreover, Dennis’ story begs the audience to consider how media, film and the internet impact men and the way they view women.
“It summarizes that you can’t change your past, but you can take steps forward and it’s up to you to choose where that goes,” said the young actress.
Black Conflux was selected Wednesday for Montreal’s Festival Nouveau de Cinéma, which will be celebrating its 48th anniversary from Oct. 9 – 20.