FIN FEST REVIEW: Koumbie’s incredible Bystanders a searing effort

Every once in a while a film comes along that rocks your entire system.

When I watched Bystanders – a long-time passion project for director Koumbie – it affected me more than anything else I’ve seen this year. My gut wrenched a few times, and the questions these characters faced fed into my own emotions.

It focuses on one simple question: What do you do when someone you love is accused of unspeakable things? The answer isn’t even the least bit easy, and it splinters throughout the film into a myriad of other quandaries.

A Special Presentation at the FIN Festival, this local production beat out films featuring stars like Woody Harrelson and Hugh Jackman to prevail as my favourite of the festival.

When six friends head for their yearly trip in an isolated cabin, a secret about one of them leaves everyone stunned. Together, they must deal with their complex emotions and try to find resolution. But the entire situation is viewed differently by every single person, based on their own expeiences.

Koumbie and filmmaking partner Taylor Olson have been a consistent source for fabulous, thought-provoking content for years. This marks the former’s debut film, with Olson on-board as a co-writer.

They produce a thought-provoking script that tackles the #MeToo movement with vigour. It’s a well-worn topic, and yet so many of the ideas here feel fresh.

Across the board, the performances are fabulous – Olson knocks it out of the park again in a supporting role. Professional dancer-turned-actor Cavell Holland is a film newcomer. But he proves he has the easy, breezy screen presence to nab plenty more roles in the future.

Peter Sarty is engaging and plays Olson’s brother, Katelyn McCulloch and Deborah Castrilli are equally magnetic and affecting. But there is one singular person who absolutely stands out.

Marlee Sansom – a theatre actress making her screen debut here – is simply astounding. To see someone be strong and vulnerable all in the same scene is a beautiful thing. She has a control of her emotions most veteran actors struggle with.

If you saw this movie for Sansom alone, you’d leave satisfied. But it’s made even better seeing every member of this cast shine, accompanies by a script that crackles and dialogue that feels authentic, and stalwart direction from Koumbie all the way.

This is a confident, assured picture that proves just how damn good the filmmakers here in Nova Scotia are. Koumbie said during the Q&A after the screening this was a five-year endeavour to get to the screen.

If it took five years to get to a debut film this good, I’ll gladly wait another half-decade for their next effort.

5/5 Stars

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