Cities change in two ways – the first way being gentrification. As we already know, it’s when yuppies move in to displace their working class neighbors. Then there’s the softer version of gentrification that we call revitalization. That’s when the city replaces the working class’ rundown housing with something shinier. We saw this process in Charles Officer’s documentary Unarmed Verses. Then there’s a second movie to tackle the phenomenon that’s changing Toronto’s neighborhoods. In this film, My Piece of the City, director Moze Mossanen shows how the city is changing Regent Park.
Unarmed Verses only had the one subject, the shy Francine. On the other hand, My Piece of the City has many of them. It follows the cast and crew who are mounting a musical, The Journey in the neighborhood’s community centre. This makes the film both a rehearsal doc, a talking head doc, and a chronicle of missed history. Having all of these strands seems like a juggling act, but when it works it works. This is especially true when it hints on Mossanen’s subtle visuals.
Capturing raw talent in youth is in Mossanen’s wheelhouse, as he has directing credits in teen shows. He shows the same deft touch in letting the younger members of the cast walk around the new Regent Park. While doing this, they tell us stories about the old version where they lived. There’s something prompted in these narrations. What makes me like these segments is that it reminded me of Alexander Sokurov’s film but more digestible and mainstream.
The young peoples’ stories spoke of how dangerous Regent Park was. They mostly sound happy while reminiscing though. Coming home, to anyone, makes the returnee see their home differently, sometimes smaller. Yes, there are promises of the neighborhood still including its old tenants. However, there’s the worry that comes with seeing machines tear their old buildings down. Sure their structures aren’t good enough for the new city. That might also mean that the old residents aren’t good enough neither.
That psychological wiring comes with the residents’ history, one that they’re trying to preserve and correct. One that they think others aren’t good enough to keep. The documentary shows how early urban planners closed off Regent Park from the other downtown neighborhoods. Somehow, drugs seeped in, as they did in most urban, working class neighborhood during the late 20th century. Torontonians outside Regent Park still brand the latter’s residents with a bad reputation. And of course the residents’ race factors in to this prejudice.
The racial dynamic also comes in during the rehearsal scenes showing the occasional but nonetheless tense discussions. One one side is a mixed older crowd in a sense that the elders have different roles and races. The mostly black young cast members comprise the other side. This section of the film is unavoidably trope-y, as the elders’ patients wax and wane on their younger counterparts. And of course, most parties reconcile in the spirit of collaboration, which is necessary if the community wants new blood.
Being an example the musical documentary, it has its share of interludes. These always don’t fit seamlessly into the rest of the film. They never do in other movies of the sub genre. However, it’s nice to hear the different music genres that these young people are into, from ethereal ballads to R&B. There’s also an underlying message within these songs, reflecting their performers’ dreams. Both the subject and their audience wishing for the former’s success.
Perhaps I’m using the words youth and young incorrectly when describing half of the documentary’s subjects. Sure, they’re younger than the people they’re working with getting directions from, but they’re almost adults. One of the movie’s best aspects is capturing these young people’s intelligence. And of course, they still have a lot to learn from the elders who care about them very much. But these young people have things to say, proving themselves to be the keepers of this city’s real history.
- Release Date: 2/23/2018