CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007
Like a sophisticated version of Sesame Streets “who are the people in your neighborhood,” and just as its title suggests, 9 Months 6 Blocks: An Inner City Trilogy follows three inner city residents over the course of nine months and within a six-block radius. The setting is Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood, a once-affluent suburb that experienced economic decline with the construction of the Gardiner Expressway which effectively rerouted traffic away from the nearby lake and beaches (“Parkdale, Toronto,” Wikipedia). Commissioned by TV Ontario, this documentary reflects TVO’s mandate to “provide insight into” and “raise awareness about” the complexities and challenges facing “citizens of Ontario” (http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?support), although its content is relevant to audiences beyond Toronto or Ontario.
The film alternates clips of Jade, Peter, and Tsering, real people going about their everyday lives doing everyday things. This trio is perfectly suited to serve as a representative sample of the Parkdale population given its diversity in terms of age, sex, race, education, culture, and family unit. All three appear to live by very modest standards. Viewers are first introduced to 18-year-old Jade, a young man enrolled in S.P.E.S. (Support Program for Expelled Students), a program that, as he explains, “gives violent kids a second chance.” He intends to make up three years of high school so that he can enter university and ultimately become a lawyer.
At 68 years of age, Peter is a Canada Post retiree and an amateur historian. He confides that he has lived in Parkdale ever since he first moved from the east end of the city in his 20s and that he never had any interest in attending college or university. Peter’s retirement has brought with it a welcome increase in leisure time which he fills by going for lunch with a friend, watching old movies, listening to records (on an LP player), and singing in the church choir.
The third Parkdale resident is a widow and mother of three named Tsering, of an unspecified age somewhere in-between that of the other two. Political unrest in Nepal prompted Tsering’s husband to sponsor his family’s emigration to Canada, although it seems that he, himself, did not emigrate. Tsering notes that despite being apart for five years, she and her husband loved each other until his recent death. Since her Nepalese education degree and teaching experience are qualifications not recognized in Canada, Tsering supports herself and her children by looking for a better job and saving wherever she can. Participation in the local Tibetan community affords Tsering and her children a measure of reprieve from grief and isolation.
Director and cinematographer Chris Romeike flirts with multiples of three as he narrows his scope to nine months, six blocks, and three individuals. By focusing on a specific neighborhood, and in offering up intimate portraits of its residents, the documentary renders Toronto a little less large and impersonal. For example, Romeike establishes intimacy with his subjects through close-ups and by shooting in small spaces (apartments) as well as social, public places (community centre, church, school, nursing home). Additionally, Romeike films his subjects engaged in day-to-day activities, such as Jade upholstering a chair or speaking to a guidance counselor, Peter receiving a phone call or discussing screwball comedies, and Tsering playing basketball with her children or teaching Tibetan school. Consequently, the viewer develops affection for these characters but also begins to care about the larger community of which they are a part.
Original music by Jeff Siberry and Romeike plays a subtle yet significant role. In conjunction with the opening image of a droplet of rain falling into a puddle and sending ripples outward, as well as with other images, such as the wide-angle shot of the CN tower in a hazy sky, the music effects a reflective, contemplative pace. The notes manage to convey the vulnerability that we see in the film’s subjects, and simultaneously the resiliency of the human spirit as all three adapt to make or find meaning in community — however loosely “community” is defined or shaped.
The organization of 9 Months 6 Blocks makes it easy for viewers to compare and contrast segments. That is, the film alternates clips of Jade, Peter, and Tsering about five times over the span of 28 minutes, a technique which allows viewers to extract similarities and differences from, and recognize parallels in, the subjects’ situations. Given its relevance to many disciplines, 9 Months 6 Blocks might be used in classrooms (social studies, film studies, literature, sociology, women’s studies, and urban planning) to spark discussions, projects, or writing and research assignments, as well as for general interest viewing.
At the end of the day, Peter, Tsering, and Jade are the kind of people that one would meet each day in their neighborhood – and very memorable characters they are. Taken together side-by-side, they provide viewers with a sense of Parkdale as it was in its glory days, as it is now in its disheveled state, and as it could potentially be if bright young residents re-invest their energy in it.
Julie Chychota works for the Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba and is in the process of relocating to Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.