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Cynara directed by Sherien Barsoum
Cynara directed by Sherien Barsoum

Canada’s justice system is put on trial as a defense team challenges a mother’s murder conviction for the death of her disabled child in the documentary Cynara.

Directed by Sherien Barsoum, the film Cynara will World Premiere at the 2023 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on April 30, 2023.

On Feb. 19, 2011 in Toronto, Cindy Ali, a Trinidadian-Canadian mother of four, phoned 911. In a panic she reported her family’s townhome was being invaded by two masked men dressed in black suits.

Finding her prone on the floor, with her 16-year-old, cerebral palsy-stricken daughter Cynara on the couch showing no vital signs, a first responder immediately treated Cindy as a suspect rather than a victim.

What follows is the story of Sherien Barsoum’s Cynara. It’s an in-depth look at a system – from first responders to police to the Crown to the Court – that often decides culpability early and proceeds with blind determination.

Eventually sentenced to life imprisonment Cindy clung to hope, with the support of her husband, three daughters and her Church.

With exclusive access to Cindy, her family, her lawyer, witnesses and court documents, this film is both a thoughtful crime story and an intimate drama about a mother trying to clear her name.

Cynara follows Cindy’s case through the efforts of top wrongful conviction lawyer James Lockyer – who is angered by the evidence that was either ignored or downplayed in the original case, and aggressively pushes for a retrial. We also meet Toronto Star reporter Jim Rankin, who investigates the conflicting details, and interviews Cindy Ali in prison.

The film personalizes those affected, spending time with the traumatized persevering Alis, and creating a portrait of a family that loved and protected their special-needs child and sibling (as evidenced by the coroner’s reports that she was well-fed and cared-for before the events that led to her death).

“Making this film was a crash course in Canadian criminal law and the system that surrounds it,” says Writer, Director, Producer Sherien Barsoum. “What I discovered were multiple failings in that system that have created astounding craters for vulnerable people to fall into.

“On the other hand and despite compounding injustice, the Alis have shown me that they are a family of unwavering love and uncharacteristic faith,” continues Sherien. “While the facts of the case are central to this film, I made it to honour this family’s experience in hopes that it contributes somehow to discourse on the urgent need for change in our justice system and the way we see disability.”

Cynara’s creative team includes cinematographer Christian Bielz (Walrus and the Whistleblower, The Case Against Beverly Lynn Smith), Editor Rich Williamson (Scarborough, Take Light, Frame 394) and composer Ben Fox (One of Ours, Stateless). Legal and editorial research by Kenya-Jade Pinto, visual research by Pinto and Erin Chisholm. Cynara is Executive Produced by journalist/filmmaker Michelle Shephard and Bryn Hughes.

Watch the first trailer for Cynara.

World Premiere: April 30, 1:45pm – Isabel Bader Theatre
Additional Screening: May 4, 5:00pm – Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 7

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