We’ll throw our hands up and be honest – This is Torontoist’s first Allan King movie. We’ve seen bits of Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company when it’s been shown on TVO, but nothing else. Which, based on the high regard he is held to in Canada seems rather shocking. Of course, his Wikipedia page is incredibly slight, and if that isn’t the symbol of global importance, what is? (We’re joking, we promise.)
So this is our first Allan King, in his 76th year on Earth and his 50th year as a film maker, and we’ll make the most obvious comment first. This film absolutely looks like it was made by a 76 year-old man. The colour balance is terrible and the sound muffled; it looks and sounds like it was filmed on a home video camera from the 80’s.
Despite this, it is brilliant. This is a documentary in the purest sense; a document of real life events with no interference or influence. In this case the events are those that surround Brian Henry, a volunteer who works in the “Emps” community of Toronto, trying to help young, at-risk males escape from gun and gang culture and succeed in school with the help of John Mighton, a maths teacher with an extra-curricular math program.
This isn’t a groundbreaking film, nor does it particularly look at a new problem; but what it does is display the situation well. The maths class reveals the kids to be more than merely competent students, even while they struggle with their own misguided urges and others’ prejudices. King doesn’t try and spin this into a feel good conclusion; in the end, the reality of life in “Emps” prevails. 4/5