An encounter between three misfits and a troubled man takes an unexpected turn

Powerful, disturbing and very real. Zoo takes on a night out with a group of misfits in the suburbs of Montreal. Directed by Will Niava, who moved from Ghana to study and pursue his film career in Canada almost a decade ago, wanted to make a film about his own experiences with cops or with authority in general. In his move, Will quickly looked at local filmmakers, where the likes of Denis Villeneuve and Xavier Dolan became major inspirations.

These things happen in Canada

I’ve had incidents here, in Ivory Coast, and in Ghana. Once, in Ghana, my friends and I were wrongfully arrested and taken to jail. One of my friends is half white, and when the cops see that, they know that they can take advantage of the situation to demand money. They planted a joint on us. We understood what was going on, but my friend got angry. I tried to calm the situation, but it escalated, and they took us to the station.

We were stripped down to our underwear and put in a cell with ten other guys who were in the same situation. They undress you because they want you to feel like you’re nothing. That experience really juiced me up. In the moment, I was panicking. I felt like my life was over and I was never going back to the things I loved. It was a wild experience, and I needed to bring that kind of feeling to the screen.

Then, with everything happening in the States these last years, I wanted to talk about abuse of power from a Montreal point of view. These things happen in Canada, but they’re always hushed. You’ll never see anything on the news. You’ll only find out if someone happens to capture an incident on their phone or from your barbershop. My barbershop’s where I hear all the stories about people being harassed by cops or the metro police.

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A Zoo that leads to an irreversible escalation

The story in Zoo plays out through its micro-progressions. Will’s attention to detail on the small culminating narrative bits eventually lead up to the irreversible escalation. The outcome is an incredibly real and wrenching rise of tension, in which the inspirations unfortunately, are easily routinely found. Still, the performance needed to be immaculate, where Will found hidden gems with non-actors, particularly from the lead Amos Nzamba.

Montreal’s Independent Film Scene

Every Montreal film feels like an independent production. Every single thing that’s happening here right now has a super eclectic, super vibrant vibe. Filmmakers like Jeremy Comte are coming out with bomb films. He was a major inspiration in school and working with him opened up a whole new world for me. I worked on Fauve, his short film (Best Short 2019 on Film Shortage). Jeremy was involved in every step of production. He found locations on Google Maps and lived the whole experience alongside the actors, who were kids. He would shoot them on his phone, and he rewrote the script a few times so that it fit them. That’s also how I make my films: I have to live the experience.

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