What the truth can say is worth a thousand “expert” words
Toronto Film Critics Association-winning documentary The Stairs is outside the boundaries of good and bad, and instead addresses the realm of survival.
The Stairs humanizes addiction by putting faces and stories and realities in front of a word that is all too easily judged by its cover.
Produced and directed by Toronto’s Hugh Gibson, the moving doc tells the story of Marty, Greg, and Roxanne who work in their old neighbourhood of Toronto’s Regent Park, built in the late ‘40s as a public housing project. After surviving decades of street involvement, each of the three now works at Regent Park’s Community Health Centre in various capacities to ease others’ paths by drawing upon knowledge and understanding from their still very real pasts.
But the path ahead is never clear, especially for someone with the amount of lived street experience as Marty, Greg, and Roxanne. While each is at a different point on their paths of recovery, obstacles are faced collectively as a family in the 90-minute told over the span of five years.
Gibson originally started by creating two short documentaries for the Safer Stroll project and the Crack Users Project (CUP) but in the process knew there could be, and really needed to be, more.
The urgency of Gibson’s film is timely at a point where Canada faces an epidemic more severe than the AIDS crisis at its height, in terms of deaths. The Edmonton screening will also host local harm-reduction organizations to come and chat with Gibson about the current situation in our city and how to address the surrounding issues.
“I think that people in Edmonton could relate to a lot of the subject matter; certainly the film’s about a particular neighbourhood in Toronto, but it could be really anywhere in North America. The stories are common to every city.”
The doc’s narrative is told only by the three main characters without any talking head ‘experts’ or clinical voices, something that Gibson and the agencies he worked with were very firm on. Gibson even admits himself that he and his team were no match for the knowledge and power of voice the subjects had.
“These are subjects that have been covered a lot—drug use, sex work, homelessness—there’s no lack of work on the subjects,” he says. “But I started thinking, ‘Well how come I haven’t seen a Marty or Greg or Roxanne on screen before?’ … Each of them is so different from the preconceptions and the stigma surrounding their lifestyles.”
Gibson is right, we don’t normally hear this story. And as Judy and fellow social worker Sushi mention in the film, there’s no Richard Gere—he’s seventy and he’s broke. Lifestyles are dehumanized when reality is never portrayed. And while being devastating at moments, a flash of hope counters and the essence of The Stairs shines through with what’s ultimately beautiful about the struggle that is life.
And perhaps an important thing to remember is that there are many addictions. Yes, narcotics is an obvious and stigmatized one, but there is also wealth, power, and consumerism that too quickly slip under the radar.
Gibson just hopes you take something new away from the documentary that you didn’t walk in with and “just see people as people.”
Sun., Jan. 21 (3 pm)
The Stairs, followed by filmmaker Q&A
$8 – $13