Soul Survivor

Director: Stephen Williams
Screenwriters: Stephen Williams

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Although set in the changing urban environment of Toronto, instead of the city streets we see in so many American films, the message in Soul Survivor is universal: hope. Stephen Williams has created a modern fable about two Jamaican cousins struggling in their “not so perfect” new world. Tyrone is the hero of sorts. He has a big heart loaded with innocent optimism, although he is alienated from almost everyone. His father drinks, his mother is dead, and his cousin Reuben, for whom he feels responsible, is a free-thinking, loose cannon on a self-destructive course.

Soul Survivor’s characters are realistic, but its design is unapologetically expressionistic. Music is the key to its message. Progressive jazz, hip-hop, gospel, and especially reggae give you that “all is well” feeling, in strong contrast to the countermelody in the images: smoke-swirling poolrooms, bars, domino games, and dingy apartments. The result is a foggy no-man’s-land where no one seems to belong and no one is getting out.

What is remarkable about Soul Survivor is it in no way glamorizes drugs or violence; instead it reveals their destructive power. This film firmly focuses on the true essence of youth: angst, alienation, and spiritual exile.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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