“Know Your Place” is a film written and produced by Zia Mohajerjasbi. The film is set in the city of the Seattle and follows a family’s struggle to find stability in the wake of death, sickness, and financial troubles. A combination of Muslim and Christian influence carries the family through each day.  

Robel (Joseph Smith) is the film’s main character. Early in the movie, his mother, Amuna (Selamawit Gebresus), receives an unexpected call from her sister-in-law. Amuna learns that her nephew is gravely ill. The family’s troubles are more than any single person can bear, and Robel steps up to help his mother deliver her promise: send medicine and supplies to their dying cousin.

On its face, the conceit of “Know Your Place” is simple. The task turns out to be quite complicated. Robel is a classic teenager trying to grow and be happy amidst the drama of his community. His personal decision to deliver the suitcase represents his maturation, a willingness to contribute to the solution despite a hopeless situation. Mohajerjasbi transforms Robel’s excursion across town into a test of his resourcefulness and personal character.

Dialogue and silence unveil memories and wisdom that lurk beneath the crass surface of the city. Often times, it is the characters’ physical exchanges that communicate their love or irreverence in ways that may be cliché if spoken. The soundtrack of the film, by Richard Skelton, adds a bit of life to the characters’ environments while also providing a balm to more turbulent narrative moments.

The cinematography of the film aids the resonance of each beat and the implication of the actors’ choices. The movie is generally understated, so transitions reinforce the inevitabilities of survival. Mohajerjasbi’s creates an atmosphere that asks for empathy and summons a familiarity for anyone who has spent time in older neighborhoods on the brink of gentrification. The only drawbacks were moments when scenes stretched on a bit longer than necessary, delaying the plot.

Still, the movie delivers on its promise to deliver a personal drama that demands personal change. Perhaps its final challenge is a question: How does one embrace what comes next?

“Know Your Place” streamed at the BlackStar Film Festival (Aug 4 to Aug 6). The festival presents a selection of independent movies for audiences. Events were held in person and virtually. Information on future screenings can be found on the BlackStar Film website.

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