By Matt Hume, January 16 2018 —
Beginning Jan. 19, Canadian director Hugh Gibson is bringing his critically acclaimed documentary The Stairs to the Plaza Theatre for one week of screenings. The documentary premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, receiving Best Canadian Film from the Toronto Film Critics Association followed by a global screening tour.
Focusing on three individuals from the same Toronto neighbourhood, the documentary is an exploration of street life and harm reduction.
“It’s a character study focusing on Marty, Greg and Roxanne and how each of them is stabilizing after many years of living unstable lifestyles,” Gibson says. “The film is about how they manage this newfound stability and dealing with all sorts of things related to their past and how they help other people.”
Gibson says one of the goals of the film was to humanize lifestyles that have been dehumanized, especially for individuals using drugs, working in the sex trade and dealing with homelessness.
“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions that go around, there’s a lot of stigma. And here’s a film that’s about the other side that you don’t hear so much about and what it’s like to sort of walk a mile in the shoes of the people who are most directly affected,” he says. “[The Stairs explores] what it’s like on a day to day basis, what are their triumphs and what are their heartbreaks. With the film you’re gonna meet these really extraordinary, remarkable people who I think defy so many of these misconceptions.”
To separate The Stairs from other documentaries centred on homelessness, Gibson was conscious to allow the film’s participants to take ownership of their own stories.
“They are [the ones] taking me into their turf and into their spaces which are often hidden in plain sight, which is something that will come up frequently in the film,” he says. “A lot of the stories you see are very personal — you get to know them extremely well. It’s very intimate and that was the big reason why they participated.”
A few of the Calgary screenings will also include a talkback panel following the movie, discussing harm reduction and street life in Calgary. Gibson likes doing the panel discussions in every city the film screens in, bringing local experts and relating The Stairs’ content to the audiences’ home.
“The issues [in the film are relevant everywhere], especially considering the enormous opioid crisis at the moment. Calgary is certainly not unaffected by that and issues related to housing access would also hit close to home,” Gibson says. “It’s a film about a particular neighbourhood in Toronto, but really the stories that you see could take place in any city in North America. We hear about these issues and I’m sure it’s being discussed a lot with the one supervised consumption site that has opened up in Calgary.”
While The Stairs continues to develop discussions outside of Toronto, the film’s participants continue their harm-reduction work in their own communities. Roxanne currently works with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), an ad hoc overdose prevention site that started as a single tent in Toronto’s Moss Park.
“[Toronto OPS] was not something that was sanctioned, but a bunch of the more enterprising healthcare workers in the city decided that they could no longer stand by and acquiesce to the laws as they currently exist,” Gibson says. “The needs of the overdose crisis were such that they just set up a tent and they sort of dared the police and politicians to shut them down and low and behold the powers that be said, ‘Okay, go ahead, we’re not gonna shut you down’ and they’ve been open for [awhile].”
Screenings of The Stairs at the Plaza Theatre start at 7 p.m. on Jan. 19. Speakers for the talkback panels will be announced soon. Stay up to date on Facebook event page and check out the trailer below.