Illusions of Control

Zainab Fatima
Seoyeon Park

Strikingly beautiful, simultaneously heartbreaking.

Illusions of Control is a documentary directed and written by Shannon Walsh, that follows women from many different parts of the world – such as China, Canada, Japan and Mexico – who work to overcome the challenges that confront them.

The audience is introduced to five women: Silvia has begun a search for her missing daughter in Mexico, Kaori is organizing women in her community to keep record of the radiation in Japan, Yang works in an expanding Chinese desert, Lauren faces a disease that will change her life forever, and Stacey explains the arsenic crisis in Yellowknife. As I followed these women throughout the film, I came to understand their point of view and see what their lives are like.

The film expands the viewer’s awareness to the struggles people face in other parts of the world. I personally learned about a lot about issues I was completely oblivious to, as the film expanded my understanding of and
connection with humanity. The film delivers a vital message about human nature: that we have the ability to persist no matter the situation, The film delivers a vital message about human nature: that we have the ability to persist no matter the situation, even if the obstacles are beyond our control.

Illness, climate change and corruption, are amongst the obstacles faced by some women in Illusions of Control. Due to the heavy subject matter, the score, alongside some of the sights we view, the film has a similar air to that of a horror movie. Wide and long shots of barren landscapes, signs displaying the word “danger”, paired with the subdued soundtrack, left me with a chilling sensation.

At the same time, there were moments that were very aesthetically pleasing, shots framed with intentional symmetry, where everything is still except the clouds. As I was distracted by the beauty of these visuals, the film would then introduce a new person, facing a new challenge. The disasters we see in this film are not easily forgotten. Thought provoking, eye opening and heartbreaking, it makes me feel grateful for things I take for granted, such as clean water.

The most memorable thing in this film was the love the parents had for their children. It stuck with me because I have always wanted kids, but knowing that you can’t always protect your loved ones is a terrifying reality. In Illusions of Control we meet a few people who are trying to find or protect their children in the face of crisis: kidnappings, arsenic in the air and water, and pollution.

Trying to shelter one another from external factors that are bigger than us is extremely difficult. All we can do is try our best to provide for our loved ones, and love them unconditionally. The film reminded me a lot of the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in which the protagonist is part of a world that doesn’t give her the freedom to live. There’s a moment in the book where two main characters are talking, and one of them says
that he feels as if he is standing in the middle of a river, trying to hold onto his friend. However, the river’s current is too strong to keep them together, and they are separated.

This heart-wrenching metaphor can describe how issues going on in the “big world” disrupt our “small worlds”, meaning that the lives of many, are at the mercy of external factors that are beyond their control.

Climate change is one of those “big world” problems that affect us. Animals are caught in the middle of it, where their habitats are destroyed, and there are people whose homes are surrounded by toxic water and air. Issues as daunting as climate change cannot be overcome by one individual single handedly. Yet there are so many individuals that are directly affected by it every single day. Even then, the women we are introduced to in Illusions of Control continue to strive forward, in efforts to improve the lives of their families.

Campus Beat

First Generation Student Union

Hannah Toms
Lua Presidio
Alistair Henning

With university attendance rates around the world climbing higher than they ever have before, we’re living in an age where an increasing amount of young people are part of the first generation of our families to go to university. Holding this status is obviously an enormous source of pride for both the individual and our parents, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a first-generation student myself, it’s that people don’t tend to realize the social, cultural and financial factors often accompanying the first-generation identity that can make succeeding at university almost impossible for us.  

The First Generation Students Union (FGSU), is an organization recently established on campus to represent UBC’s first-generation student population. In a statement to Discorder, the organization says that a disproportionate number of first-gen students come from low-income backgrounds compared to their peers, and that this is their biggest barrier to a smooth university experience. Many first-gen students must take on multiple jobs a semester in order to help their families pay their tuition and student fees, which decreases the amount of time they have available to complete their course work and adds to the already overwhelming stress of being a university student. “This devalues the experience of a university life by making it a continuous, relentless uphill battle,” says the FGSU.  


The other major adversity faced by first-gen students is our sense of alienation from campus life. As the FGSU puts it, first-gen students “often feel that they do not belong in the student community.” I’m privileged enough that low socio-economic status has not been a factor to contend with in my university experience, but I can confirm that trying to feel at home in an environment where the vast majority of your peers come from university-educated families and you don’t, is a difficult task. No matter how hard your parents may try, they cannot give you the same support in terms of navigating the academic and social ins and outs of university compared to parents who have experienced university first-hand, and you’ll always feel at least a little bit lost because of it.  


For the above reasons and more, first-gen and low income students at UBC need support, and the FGSU’s goal is to provide it. Aiming to build a network of first-gen students on campus who will support each other as they work toward graduation, the FGSU intends to begin hosting social events and panel discussions focusing on the first-gen identity, and to establish peer support and mentorship programs uniquely for first-gen and low income students. In order to “help bridge the gap between first-gen and non first-gen students” that exists at UBC, the organization has already begun collaborating with UBC’s Equity and Inclusion Office to bring awareness to and promote the first-gen student identity among our peers in an effort to encourage more integration between these two communities. The FGSU also has its own podcast in the works, which its members will use to “share their stories about barriers in accessing education within the context of the first-gen identity” with other first-gen students at UBC and with the student population at large. Finally, the FGSU has established partnerships with existing UBC organizations that address needs often experienced by first-gen students, including the AMS Food Bank, the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, and the Financial Wellness Peers, in order to connect first-gen students with these organizations’ services.


The creation of the entirely student-run FGSU in January 2019 marked the first official time a presence representing the needs of first-gen students has existed at UBC. In fact, while the administrative bodies at universities across Canada, such as McMaster University and University of Ottawa, have in recent years established support services designed specifically for first-gen students, such an initiative has never been undertaken by UBC’s administration. But the FGSU is not disheartened by UBC’s delayed efforts of inclusion and support toward first-gen students, and in fact feels that UBC has accelerated its actions to follow their organization’s example by increasing its commitments to ease university life for us.


“We believe that even if changes take a long time to come into effect,” the FGSU states, “knowing that the university is supportive of our efforts in enhancing equity and inclusion allows us to be optimistic about our future.”