Cynara: The Crime, The Drama
by Thom Ernst – Film Correspondent
(November 30, 2023 – Toronto, ON) One of the most influential films to come out of this year’s Hot Docs, and a story currently being played out in the Ontario courts, is director Sherien Barsoum’s Cynara.
Barsoum’s Cynara is accomplished filmmaking in the best sense; a strong narrative, creative execution, and detailed facts stretch this story of a woman accused of killing her disabled child well beyond the realm of true-crime sensationalism. Barsoum’s film slowly unravels a complicated array of facts, misinformation, and conflicting evidence, exposing the inefficiencies of the Canadian justice system and the decisive undermining role racial and economic assumptions play in judging guilt before assuming innocence.
Cynara is the sixteen-year-old daughter of Cindy and Alan Ali and a sister to Amanda, Jaydee, and Chrissy. On the morning of February 19, 2011, Cindy Ali saw her husband off to work and their three daughters off to school while Cindy stayed home, as she had for the past 16 years, with Cynara. But that morning begins a nightmare that leaves the young Cynara dead and Cindy accused of being responsible for her death.
In her heart-rending documentary, Cynara, Sherien Barsoum revisits that tragic morning and the ordeal that will test the strength and love of a close-knit Trinidadian Canadian family.
Barsoum examines all the angles of the case, which begins with a 911 call from Cindy, who is barely able to speak, reporting that two men dressed in black and wearing ski masks invaded her home. Cindy claims they were looking for a package that wasn’t there. A case of a wrong address? But Cindy’s story is almost immediately called into question by a first responder who suspects Cindy might be responsible for the weakened condition of her child. (Cynara will die later in hospital). Cindy is tried and found guilty, but some believe in her innocence.
And like true-crime fiction, a determined journalist, Jim Rankin, and a dedicated attorney, James Lockyer, enter the scene, uncovering facts that substantiate Cindy’s story and a shocking discrepancy in Cindy’s court case.
Cynara re-enacts the moment a first responder enters the home while the 911 call is played above the scene. But Barsoum admits to finding re-enactments “a bit corny” and chooses to reveal the moment through the theatrical technique of tableau, where actors will freeze and then resume the next scene.
Barsoum’s film takes the audience on a disturbing, emotional journey and, through the indelible strength of a loving family in crisis, a story that is ultimately inspirational. Cynara is a film full of courage, drama, hope, and despair.
Cynara innately exposes the dysfunctions in the judicial system while pulling back the curtain on institutional racism and, by doing so, reveals not just the importance but the necessity of cinema.
Watch the trailer, learn more about the cast and crew of Cynara.
Cynara is currently available to stream on CBC Gem.
Thom Ernst is a Toronto based film critic and writer and an active member of the (TFCA) Toronto Film Critics’ Association. His work has appeared in various publications including Playback Magazine, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. He is known to CBC Radio listeners for his lively contributions to Fresh Air, Metro Morning, and CBC Syndication as well as appearing on-air for CTV News Channel and The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He was host, interviewer and producer of televisions’ longest running movie program Saturday Night at the Movies. Currently he can be heard interviewing Canadian filmmakers on the Kingston Canadian Film Festival podcast, Rewind, Fast-Forward.