A documentary about Winston LaRose, an 80-year-old community activist, inspires a Toronto community surrounding the intersection of Jane St. and Finch Ave. to challenge the traditional powers and run for political office for the first time.
Director: Ngardy Conteh George
Writers: Ngardy Conteh George and Alison Duke
Producers: Alison Duke and Ngardy Conteh George
Cinematographer: Mark Valino
Editor: Sonia Godding Togobo
Composer: Orin Isaacs
Graphics: Ramon Charles
Running Time: 44:06
Production: OYA Media Group/ CBC Docs POV
Distribution: McIntyre Media Education and Curriculum Content
Awards: Two 2020 Canadian Screen Award – The Donald Brittain Award for Best Social Political Documentary and the Best Documentary Writing. Nominated for Yorkton Multicultural Program Award
We got lucky. The project kinda fell into our lap after Ngardy directed, ‘Dudley Speaks for Me,’ (one of the six films in the Akua Benjamin Legacy Project that I produced about Black activist in Toronto who were no longer alive). A personal friend of Winston LaRose approached her him and his tremendous archive that nobody had seen. Winston was an amatuer documentarian. He had filmed over 5000 hour of footage throughout the Diaspora over the past 50 years and in particular had captured the underground activist scene in Toronto, Canada and never showed it in public. Mr. LaRose was interested in meeting Ngardy because he was a big fan of Dudley Laws and loved what she did with the archives in that film and was wondering what could she come up with regarding his archives.
I remember that Ngardy was nursing her son Zakai at the time but made the time to meet with Mr. LaRose. She then invited me along to one of their meetings at York University. He was 80 at the time and struck me as such a dignified man. He had this old school way about him that would be great to capture on camera. And he remembered everything. We would meet with him regularly just to hear all his stories. Eventually, he would bring some of his archives on DVD and we would watch hours of footage on our computer in his presence as it never left his possession.
We came up with strategy. If we could find 10-12 stories in his archives that could be supported by other folks then we could make a tv hour doc.
We probably met with him for a period of 10 months before deciding what those stories could be before drawing up the agreement for his life rights. CBC Docs POV came on board quickly with development which allowed us to film a few interviews and start the process of documenting and transcoding his archives.
But first we had to come up with a strategy. He had over 5000 hours in different formats from VHS, super 8 and 8 mm film, miniDV and DVD. His apartment had two floods so a lot of the film footage was scattered around in unusual places and judging from the boxes there was a possibility that some of it was damaged and needed to be restored. Because of that, we decided to start with the super 8 and 8 mm film and enlisted a super 8 processing and transfer house called Frame Discreet. It’s one of the few places in Toronto you can process super 8 to 2k and 4K and get a colour grade and a bit of restoration all under one roof.
Also, I knew Justin Lovell the owner from back in my music video days and because of our connection, he would allow us to film there. Turned out that Justin is of Guyanese heritage like Mr. LaRose so we had a fascinating visit. We were able to produce a short digital extra from our visit there.
We were giving the green light to film in May 2018 and with a scheduled delivery date for January 1st, 2019. The broadcaster wanted the film for Black History Month. We were up to the challenge but shortly after we started production, Mr. LaRose decided to through his hat into the ring for the 2018 provincial elections. We were only commissioned to make one documentary but literally had two stories to contend with and Ngardy had already spent an enormous time with the archives. We decided to follow the campaign story but had to be pragmatic about our approach to the narrative arc storytelling structure because we didn’t have the luxury of time to experiment. Our tight delivery schedule meant we had to write, shoot and edit at the same time.
In terms of structure, we knew that the active story was the election and listed all the events that would possibly tell the story. First of all, Mr. LaRose had to submit his application by a certain date, so that meant he had to collect at least 20 signature from constituent in the Jane and Finch corridor (otherwise known as Ward 7) and hand it in on time to qualify. Second, if he got his application in before the deadline that would trigger three other narrative pathways. We then organized our story arcs around each possibility — he could quit, he could win or he could lose.
Until we past the point, where we knew that dropping out was not an option, Ngardy had to film with the three possible outcomes in mind. But what really complicated the process was that election was in October and our editor Sonia Godding Togobo had already started working on a assembly in August. She had to assembly the footage with two possible vibes, either he would win the election or lose the election.
For most of post, until we had that ending it was like playing tetris. Putting this film together was frustrating and fun at the same time. Winston’s archive was used to bring to light his perspective and represented how he saw the world.
I give Ngardy a lot of credit for keeping her eyes on the prize. She worked really hard. The film Mr. Jane and Finch can be found on CBC Doc POV.
For Educational Distribution inquiries: McIntyre Media Education and Curriculum Content