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TIFF 2021 Review: ‘Beba’ is Filmmaker Rebeca Huntt’s Introspective on Cultural Identity

TIFF 2021 Review: ‘Beba’ is Filmmaker Rebeca Huntt’s Introspective on Cultural Identity

If you had the opportunity to tell your story on film archived from old footage and photographs, would you dare to tell it? In the case of filmmaker Rebeca “Beba” Huntt, she shares her narrative in the most candid and unapologetic way that at times one would ask: 

Has Rebeca Huntt exposed too much?

In Beba, Rebeca Huntt’s feature debut, she gives an introspective on the life of growing up in a biracial family. Prominently featured are her Dominican father and Venezuelan mother. Huntt scrutinizes her own biracial identity as an Afro-Latina woman and the cultural dichotomy of her heritage. She unpacks the struggle of the working-class family and the historical generational trauma that she’s had to navigate her entire life.

This isn’t the kind of sugar-coated family introspective filled with perennial optimism that tries to cover its scars. Instead, it appears Huntt is trying to achieve the opposite effect. Beba delivers a raw and unfiltered look at her past and present, unveiling the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The film, narrated entirely by Huntt herself, takes place in New York City. Filmed on 16mm celluloid, the documentary gives a dated aesthetic to its storytelling. It’s almost as if the moving frames of various shots were filmed with Polaroid photos. Huntt shoots the camera in a way that looks like guerilla-style filmmaking. It’s not clear if the shaky camera movements were intentional or if Huntt wasn’t all too concerned about shot composition, but the jarring shots work for this movie. 

Huntt utilizes several devices to show off her artistry in Beba by reciting poetry, interviewing family and colleagues, and editing archival footage featuring slice-of-life moments from her past. Huntt is not afraid to show the tempestuous relationships she has with family members and even at one point has a super awkward confrontation with her mother on camera. There are also uncensored moments with her white friends on issues of privilege and white supremacy.

According to Huntt, the inception of Beba came from the filmmaker’s intense curiosity in relation to being alive. This was after the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Huntt also had a close friend of hers take his own life, which she sheds light on in the film. Writer-director Rebeca Huntt worked closely with producer Sofia Geld, who was with her from the beginning.

The honesty of Beba is what connects you to Huntt’s story. Although it is very specific and personal to her journey, it’s quite universal. The viewer can relate in some capacity to these experiences, which makes Huntt’s way of storytelling so endearing. When Huntt tries to speak to her Venezuelan mother on camera and asks her specific questions about raising a Black child, the emotional banter the two share on camera is palpable. You can tell that their relationship is fractured. Beba also takes you through a whirlwind of emotions. There are deliriously garish moments Huntt shares with her sister on screen, heated exchanges with her mother, and sad reflections of the past that clearly still haunt her to this day.

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The throughline with these highs and lows, just like moments we all experience, is that Huntt is still here. She’s survived and has now shared her story with us like a gift. 

Beba is a film that is all about honesty. It allows the viewer to not only see Huntt in true form, but it also provides a sense of comfort that it’s okay to show all of who we are or even reflect on who we used to be. 

In a world heavily dominated by social media where the algorithm shows preferential treatment over photo filters and exaggerated profiles, viewers can see Beba in all its fullness and exhale. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to embrace your flaws. This is what makes us human, which sometimes we forget to know how to be.

Beba made its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:

The Guilty

Mothering Sunday

Hold Your Fire

Attica

To Kill The Beast

A Banquet

Kicking Blood

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