September 22, 2021

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‘Scarborough’ gives ground-breaking voice to neglected Toronto community

4 min read

A few years ago, Katherine Hernandez attended the Toronto International Film Festival with ticket holders at the Elgin and Winter Garden theaters for more than 8 an hour. This year, the author returns to TIFF as a celebrity, with the worldwide debut of the film “Scarborough”.

When the independent movie premieres Sept. 10, it gives voice to members of the racist and disadvantaged community in the infamous Toronto suburbs, holding their spirits as they try to put themselves together under the thumb of a system designed to make them fail. . Hernandez wrote the script adaptation from his naming 2017 award-winning book, based on his experience managing a home day care in Scarborough.

Although the novel introduces several character perspectives, the film – for which Levelfilm has acquired Canadian distribution rights – follows three children a school year. There’s Bing (Liam Diaz), a gay Filipino boy whose mother has just escaped his abusive and mentally ill father; Sylvie (Essence Fox), an aboriginal girl whose family struggles to find housing or to help her autistic younger brother; And Laura (Anna Claire Beetle), a neglected and abused child, who is left in the care of her ailing father.

Hernandez, a strange woman of color, began working on the script after several filmmakers approached her about her novel options. When it came to imagining this community, he wanted to show how much he cared for it, and he didn’t believe in a big production to capture its true consciousness. Instead of filming the project with a glamorous dramatic lens, he worked with them in the past and approached Sasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, directors of Compi Films, to make the film in a documentary style.

“When I looked [other company’s] Reels, their reels were very polished, ”Hernandez recalls. “And I thought, ‘This is not my community.’ I don’t think I’ll feel really good about a large production unit [being] Very aggressive in my community and for people. So I thought, ‘Well, what if I wrote it?’ “

In order to highlight Hernandez’s reality in the book, Nakhai and Williamson shot many scenes from the film from the waist up to evoke a child’s vision. There’s also a snapshot for the overall camerawork, which came in handy during scenes where the-250,000 micro-budget (and the overall nature of working with child actors) meant they had to capture some unique content.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in the Canadian independent film scene,” Nakhai said. “Personally, being Filipino and working in film for 10 years and never seeing anything like it, I wanted to be part of helping to do it.”

Throughout the film, there are several sketches that capture the beauty of the community. The art was created by a character named Onscreen Victor (Joshua Obra) but sketched offscreen by Williamson. In addition to depicting the beauty of the community, the work is meant to represent the hotbed of artists who have emerged from Scarborough over the years. Now, it is being used as one of the movie marketing tools on social media.

“It’s just that the Scarborough artists are spending some time together. But to me, [the character of] Victor was so important in capturing that there have been artists for a long time who have been observing the magic of this community, ”Hernandez said.

The care with which those details are addressed, combined with the triptych, leads to a haunting tale that deals with issues of trauma, grief, abuse, and social injustice, all hope, resilience, even a call action.

To accommodate younger, first-time actors, the production created a safe place where kids knew the overall aspects of their filming. This allows them to have fun with the magic of the movie during difficult scenes, such as when a pot of hot pasta is thrown near a child’s head, or another child’s hand is forced into a frying pan.

“We had a close relationship with the parents of each of these kids, because we had to make sure they could explain these things to their kids, and they were comfortable with some things, like a funny character,” Nakhai says. We had to talk in advance. “

Shooting for “Scarborough” began in early 2020, with only five days left before the epidemic forced production to stop for five months. As any parent can prove, the amount of growth a child can go through is shocking. Fortunately, Nakhai and Williamson decided to shoot the film in sequence, and the story was supposed to take some time to move forward.

Another blow to fortune was Hernandez’s decision to record Diaz’s voice by performing an original song in the film in February, which was paid for when the actor’s voice changed and filming resumed in August. The final cut, which begins at TIFF, features that recording.

To that end, there will be a big, full-circle moment for Premier Hernandez. One of the most meaningful parts of this journey is being able to bring its community to an international audience since the low-paying debut of “Monkey Suite”.

“When you’re running up and down the stairs, bringing people to their seats and paying the minimum wage, no one cares about you. They just think about seeing what the celebrity has, ”he says.” Then the movie starts and you really feel like it’s not for you. You’re like, ‘Oh, it’s for fancy people.’ So I’m fascinated. I can’t believe it’s happening. And I am grateful because there were 300 people here who really helped us do this project.

“Scarborough” premiered on September 10 as part of TIFF Discovery and Next Wave.

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