I will give director Eve Ash this: the actual story of the Man on the Bus is grippingly compelling. This can most likely be attributed to the true crime style of the film. In essence, Ash replicates a Dateline style of investigative documentary into her own past. The results therefore feel less unethical than most true crime documentaries do, but there are still some strange sequences that make this somewhat peculiar.
After her mother’s death, Ash begins an investigation into the possibility that her birth father may actually be a mysterious man that she finds on an old 8mm home video. There’s a full decade worth of discovery and research which go into figuring out who the Man on the Bus is, and what his relationship to the director is. Interspliced into this journey, is Ash’s reconciliations of her “father” Feliks, a Holocaust survivor who successfully broke out and escaped from the Janowska Concentration Camp in 1943. The archival footage of Feliks’ story is fascinating and harrowing, and could probably provide the basis for an incredible documentary all on its own.
But that isn’t the documentary that Man on the Bus is. Instead, Ash focuses on the possibility of her mother having a deep secret, and starts to piece together the truth behind her past. This is where the film’s investigative impetus kicks into overdrive. I particularly liked a sequence where Ash begins to piece together potential clues left in the street names of her potential biological father Dixie, a former city surveyor.
With this comes a bit of strange sensation. On one hand, this is clearly Ash’s story to tell. On the other, it is not solely hers, and this leads to some awakward scenes. Ultimately, this is a gripping narrative, but your mileage will undoubtedly vary.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (online) is running from May 30th through June 7th, for more info you can visit the TJFF right here.