A HARD CLIMB
Documentary gives clear-eyed, non-judgmental view of tough life
“Where’s the happy ending? It’s a good day. There’s no good ending. The ending’s when you’re dead.” So says Marty, one of a number of residents and workers interviewed at the Regent Park Community Health Centre in the east-of-downtown Toronto neighbourhood for this documentary.
He’s discussing the difficulties of recovering from addiction, something everyone in the film is dealing with to one degree or another. “Relapse is a part of recovery,” says Roxanne, a former addict and sex-trade worker. “I just don’t want it to be a part of mine.”
First-time feature director Hugh Gibson spent five years following his subjects for this remarkably clear-eyed and non-judgmental story. Yet he has whittled down what must have been hundreds of hours of footage into a concise 96 minutes that nonetheless gives us the precise details we need to get to know these struggling souls.
There’s Greg, a mixed-race man who struggles with sometimes wanting to be black or white, not both. He’s probably the most at-risk subject in the film, trying to pursue a lawsuit against the police for beating him up a few years ago, but often too strung out on crack to make necessary court appearances. Yet for all that, you never feel anything but sympathy for the man. As Marty points out, it’s a years-long journey to go clean, and few people have the stamina.
Gibson wisely keeps his focus narrow — there are no police spokespeople and no addiction experts, except those whose expertise comes from experience. Trying to help one woman get off drugs, Roxanne notes that there will always be temptation: “I still have those days.”
And Marty swears by his marijuana, a low-cost, long-lasting high, as a way to cut down on crack. Apparently, some gateway drugs actually help you close a gate.
There is demolition and new construction going on throughout the film, as Regent Park undergoes revitalization. But again, Gibson’s subject matter is the people on the ground. And it’s instructive to note that no one ever makes a speech about helping out or giving back to the community. That’s a given.
The Stairs tells the story of Marty, Greg and Roxanne, right, each of whom have survived decades of struggles on the streets.