Terrick drives a cab for work, working nights to support himself and his family. He is also a loving but unpredictable father to his two young children, with whom he loves to share imaginative, compelling folklore and stories from his homeland of Ghana. But he also had a contentious relationship with his ex Manie and isn’t allowed to see his children as often as he’d like.
When faced with the possibility of being cut off from them altogether, Terrick begins to push the boundaries to see his son and daughter. But when he almost goes too far, he gets some guidance from the spirits of his homeland to pull him back from the edge.
Writer-director Alex Emanuel’s short family drama blends gritty urban naturalism with lyrical, rhapsodic fantasy to portray the unique and powerful love that a father bears for his children, as well as the rich heritage he seeks to bestow upon them as part of that love.
Visually, the film deploys two distinct but intertwined visual styles that represent Terrick’s two worlds he’s navigating. The first is a muted naturalism that captures Terrick in his life as an immigrant in London, bleary-eyed and exhausted as he drives cabs at night or deals with his contentious ex, who has appeared to set up a new home and new life with another man.
The second visual mode is the lyrical, magical realm of Ghanaian folklore, rendered with beautiful lighting and a sense of whimsy and imagination in the camerawork and editing. These light up the stories he tells his children, bringing the tales to life with a sense of heightened drama and poetry. These sequences form the lively heart of the film and of Terrick, showing the inner riches of his character and background — an inner life that doesn’t have many expressions in his everyday life of work and conflict.
His true identity is a parent and a storyteller, and those parts of himself are intertwined as well, since it’s through stories that he bonds with his children. When Terrick’s access to his children is threatened, it’s not just a potential loss of love, but the loss of an opportunity to pass on his culture and heritage onto his offspring, which raises the stakes and amplifies the anger, sadness and hurt he feels.
Actor Okezie Morro portrays Terrick with great empathy as he grapples with the possibility of losing his children — and makes it all the more understandable when his behavior becomes increasingly off-kilter. But when faced with the choice of taking things just a step too far, the inner spirit of his Ghanaian heritage calls him back from the void — and sets him back on the right path.
“The Storyteller” spends an unusual amount of time — more akin to a feature than a short — after Terrick’s crisis point, investing time and attention in the ripple effect of his realization and decision upon his life. But it’s necessary, for it forms the heart of his arc: connecting to his heritage and spirit on his own terms, for himself, and coming to a healthy peace and acceptance within himself. Like one of his own stories from Ghana, he embraces the role of a hero in his own life, facing his own fears and finding the courage to transform himself. Only then is he able to connect with his children and family in an entirely new way, leading to a new stage in life whose hope and optimism are truly and happily earned.