May 2017 Project
I met this group of seniors last year around the fall. They had been calling me all summer to make a video about their group that has been meeting for over 40 years in a community center in Flemingdon Park. Flemo (that’s what we called it back in the day) was home to a large West Indian community in Toronto.
(Note: Click on above photos for Vimeo link)
The area was also known for hosting epic cricket and soccer matches on the weekends. The Seniors Guyanese Friendship Association started meeting here in 1972. When I finally got a chance to speak to their treasurer, Jim Bovell, he happily said they just received a Canada 150 grant to make a video about their group.
Before we met I couldn’t see myself doing this all. Not that I didn’t want to. I could hear my Guyanese ancestors cussing me out if I didn’t step up to the plate. At the time, I had way too much on my plate… a few educational films in post…that nagging thesis film still needed to be finished. And I knew that anything that includes any kind of historical element just takes time.
And what was their plan? Was it even feasible?
Initially they wanted me to document all of their trips and events during the following year which could have been super fun but I could only do 3 days of shooting. What would you do with all that footage anyway, their story was much deeper and important that watching them go on trips. The more I spoke to them the more I fell in love with them telling stories, the type of stories you hear from your grandparents and also the type of stories that really provides context for the Caribbean immigrant experience in Canada. As I looked through their photo archives I noticed how the weathered look told a story of its own. Then I thought, why don’t I just pitch to them a photo shoot where they could be interviewed while getting their portraits taken. They went for it. It was a great creative strategy that helped on all levels,
I approached Toronto-based photographer Jalani Morgan to take the portraits. We decided to shoot with an old school Polaroid camera and also show the behind the scenes footage of the seniors getting their portraits taken. I really wanted to create a visual tension of the seniors in a space with old and modern technology. I wanted the film to hint, how these seniors, like this old camera (that’s been around the block a few times), were still able to produce beautiful images. And that’s exactly what happened Their stories were vibrant and funny and it really felt like sitting with your grandparents and listening to them tell stories. But getting those stories wasn’t that easy. I didn’t know any of them. It takes time for people to open up to a strangers, so I asked their group to work on the questions and then approached visual artist/animator Sandra Brewster to interview them since she volunteered with the group on a regular basis and was the one that introduced the idea of doing this video to me.
The video was shot in 2 days. I hired the amazing Robin Bain to be the director of cinematographer on the portrait shoot. I shot most of the b/roll of the behind the scenes of seniors coming into the shooting space as well as the footage in their homes. We shot with DSLRs to help keep the filming vibe intimate. We wanted the documentary to feel like a series of portraits that came alive through story rather than film about portraits.
I edited this piece myself largely because the budget didn’t really allow for any more hands on it. After the first pass, I decided to call it Changing Seasons, largely inspired by the letters I was given by the group about their experiences coming to Canada during different times of the year and how they felt about the group over time. Some of those letters made it into the film as well.
The group also supplied me with over 300 photographs (and video shot on cell phones and iPads) from their personal archives. Many of their photos from this archive were distressed. I left them “as is” because they felt authentic and once again worn but still beautiful like our theme. A few of the group photos had been damaged by a scanner and I decided to Photoshop those ones because it was a bit too distracting.
This 1/2 hour piece actually took a few weeks to edit. It was fun, but I am glad its done mostly because I’m used to collaborating with “full-time” editors. LOL!
Overall the experience was a extremely positive, personally and creatively. These seniors are truly amazing. They are professional, passionate about what they do for seniors (regardless of what Island they come from) and they embrace the arts. I’m so humbled and grateful for the opportunity to produce this work. This project taught me a lot about aging in Canada and how being a part of a group as you age could be one of the bests things you can do. The good news is that the group says that they love the film and I heard there are a few screenings already planned.
So far I’ve heard of one screening in the community and one hosted by the Guyana High Commission and Consulate of Guyana in Ottawa to celebrate the Canada 150. I have to say that the whole Canada 150 celebration is bitter-sweet.
As an immigrant, as its been 150 years of the oppression of First Nations and Metis people and many of us came to their land knowing very little about their culture and struggle for their human rights, civil rights and treaty rights. That is a film in itself.
Keep checking back with me. I will post a link to the video when the Senior Guyanese Friendship Association uploads it to their site.