VOD film review: IWOW: I Walk on Water
James R | On 26, Feb 2021
Director: Khalik Allah
Cast: Frenchie, Khalik Allah
Watch IWOW online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Dogwoof On Demand
Where exactly is the line between film and art installation? IWOW: I Walk on Water gives us an answer of sorts. Clocking in at three hours, it’s an intimidating, uncompromising and unabashedly personal piece, part poem, part experiment and part documentary. The latter is the most important aspect of the whole endeavour; this is a raw, truthful depiction of the reality of homelessness in America, charting the stories of people sleeping rough in Harlem.
Director and photographer Khalik Allah is clearly invested personally in the mammoth project, rooting the whole thing in the corner of 125th and Lexington where he has worked before. We see conversations with his girlfriend, Camilla, and with his mother, as he agonises over achieving the endeavour, but his preoccupation lies with Frenchie, a sixty-something Haitian man whom he knows from previous collaborations. How did he end up where he is? How does anyone on the streets get help to climb back on to the accommodation ladder?
Allah follows a parade of voices in his effort to paint a varied tapestry, with scenes ranging from rappers performing to drug-addled musings on religion. There is, as the title suggests, a prophetic nature to the film’s decision to focus on the outsiders on the fringe of society. Allah blends colour footage and monochrome stock with 16mm and digital video, crafting a stream of conscious montage that’s at times befuddling and other times immersive, but never less than visually captivating.
The result isn’t the most accessible watch, but it’s a stirring counterpoint to the kind of lives we normally see depicted on our screens – a film that actually takes the time to stop and listen to people’s stories. IWOW may stop for too long, but as you drift in and out of its real-time diary, it captures the limbo of homelessness and the variety of experiences with a singular artistic vision.