A HARD CLIMB

Doc­u­men­tary gives clear-eyed, non-judg­men­tal view of tough life

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­[email protected] twit­ter.com/chrisknight­film

“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.

TIFF

The Stairs tells the story of Marty, Greg and Rox­anne, right, each of whom have sur­vived decades of strug­gles on the streets.

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