CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 7 . . . . December 1, 2000
East Side Showdown.
Robin Benger (Director). Peter Starr (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1998.
46 min., 5 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9198 125.
Social action-Ontario-Toronto-Case studies.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Ian Stewart.
The taut urban drama grittily realized in Peter Benger's story of life in Toronto's Dundas and
Sherbourne neighborhood is being played out in the inner cities across Canada today. In the tragic
confrontation of rich and poor, haves and have-nots, Berger sees an example of modern economic
and political class warfare. The video is remarkable in its brutal honesty and, although it offers no
solutions, it propels the viewer into the crux of our ever-deepening social crisis.
The older decaying urban neighborhoods were the only place of refuge for society's outcasts: the
homeless, the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill, and the sex-traders. There, they were looked
after by society's caring agencies, they supported each other as best they could, and they eked out
a harsh meager existence. However, today in the name of urban renewal, the economically mobile
classes, as well as businesses, are remaking many impoverished older areas into gentrified
enclaves and see no place for society's losers. The downtrodden are being cast out, but, with the
help of activist churches and other socially conscious friends, they are not going softly into that
dark night of social oblivion.
The antagonists in the film are all in-your-face characters: the tenacious bed and breakfast owner
who marshals police and politicians against the "undesirables;" the Anglican priest who runs the
local food bank and sees beauty and character in the poor; the anti-poverty organizer who
believes in direct action to make political points; and the crack-addicted prostitute who carries a
bible and a switchblade knife to help get her through the day and night. Where are the politicians,
civic officials and police? Confused and bewildered at what positive action to take.
The recommended audience for the film is ages 15 and up because of its scenes of drug use,
explicit language, and sexual solicitation. It is an important film for students to see, however
controversial it may seem.
Ian Stewart is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free
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