________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.


Where I Belong.

Arinze Eze (Writer & Director). Joe MacDonald (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
45 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 142.

Grade 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.





“When you wake up, that’s your morning.” – Nigerian proverbial saying.

Where I Belong begins with a scene of a young man, clad only in jeans, shirt, and suit jacket, slogging through a prairie snow field outside of Winnipeg, MB. So begins the story of Arinze Eze. Born in Edmonton, AB, where his parents were graduate students at the University of Alberta, at the age of three, he returned with his family to Nigeria. In 1996, at the age of 22, with $20.00 in his pocket, he boarded a plane, arrived in Winnipeg during “the coldest winter ever,” and took a taxi to the home of family friends. He was not welcomed by them. However, the cabbie took him to the bus depot, rented him a locker, and did not take the fare. Wandering into the Salvation Army citadel close to the bus depot, he was introduced to a Nigerian in the congregation who helped him to get settled. Arinze now lives in the city centre, in a run-down apartment, but he has a life; by day, he works at Standard Aero (an engine production and maintenance plant), but his real passion is art and music. And, undoubtedly, he has talent: this film is written and directed by him, and its soundtrack is his original composition.

     But Arinze’s father is a professional engineer, and he would be less than happy at Arinze’s having abandoned engineering for the uncertain life of an artist. And Arinze is truly uncertain at his born-again Christian mother’s possible reaction to his five-year-long relationship with Tina Rosenberg, who is Jewish. Clearly, he is torn between a family whom he loves dearly and being honest about the life he now lives in Canada. He wants to belong in both places. In 2005, he invites his parents to visit him in Winnipeg so that he can try to regain his sense of belonging.

     Where I Belong is a tale of struggles: Arinze’s struggle to navigate the bureaucratic maze of obtaining visitors’ visa for his parents, then the struggle to make his apartment less of an artists’ “crash pad” and more of a habitable place to visit, and, of course, his struggles with Tina who loves him dearly, but with whom he breaks up (at least temporarily) amidst the stress of all of this. But, it is also a tale of small triumphs: he takes his parents to a hockey game, shows them the culture spots of Winnipeg, and Tina brings his parents Christmas gifts when she finally gets to meet them.

     Where I Belong has a lot of talk in it: there are plenty of sequences in which Arinze, his friend, Tina, and his parents speak at the camera. Although effective for a documentary film, viewers younger than Grades 11 and 12 might find this a bit tedious. The language is strong at times, but not surprising for a man who is dealing with some personally frustrating circumstances. Still, with great honesty, the story details the struggles faced by inter-racial couples, by young immigrants whose parents retain traditional cultural values, and by anyone whose personal dreams diverge radically from their families’ expectations.

     Now, the question is, where does the film belong in a school library collection? Senior high school Sociology classes might find this worthwhile viewing as would schools providing support services to students from urban immigrant populations. In reflecting upon the proverb which opens this review, it is clear that Arinze Eze has had some difficult mornings, but Where I Belong is a testament to making the best of every day.

Recommended with reservations.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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