Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘Unarmed Verses’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2017, Movies by - April 27, 2017
Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘Unarmed Verses’

I try to keep tabs with issues both local and national. But I didn’t know about the ‘revitalization’ project in the Villaways, a local Toronto neighborhood. Less than an hour away from my own home is a community being demolished. The developers promise property for the diverse, working class people living there. But questions still burn in minds like 12-year-old Francine Valentine’s. She is central figure in Charles Officer’s new documentary Unarmed Verses.

Francine doesn’t just spend her time attending community meetings about housing with her family. She also secretly writes poetry. The film deftly handles these two aspects of her life. It reminds us that yes, she’s young, but she’s capable of having opinions about housing and poetry. She has entered a workshop in the Villawayz Art Studio, a studio with encouraging adult leaders. However, the other outgoing children in the studio intimidate her, inadvertently stopping her from recording her verses.

Francine doesn’t belong to a group that most people consider ‘Canadian’ but her story is essential to this country. And it’s a story that I’m more familiar with than the ones I normally see in the media. Admittedly my attachment to this film is partly because of this familiarity. Officer captures what it is like to be under the mercy of politicians and developers. She grows up faster than more privileged children her age.

Officer closes up on Francine’s face instead of showing how comparatively small she is to the world. There’s also composer Menalon subtle score. This highlights Francine’s soft-spoken essence. Officer observes surprisingly difficult and complex characters. What we see here is a cinematic manifestation of empathy. And empathy is what young people like Francine need. We also see the adults who understand these young people. And the presence of these subjects gives us hope.

  • Release Date: 5/1/2017
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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