Director Hubert Davis, Oscar and Emmy nominee for his first film, Hardwood, just released his latest doc project about a community in transition and its effect on a couple of young men growing up in its midst. Invisible City just won the award for Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs, and realscreen spoke with Davis about following these boys and representing them, and their community, fairly.
How did you think the story of young men growing up in Regent Park [a low income housing neighborhood in Toronto which is currently in a state of flux] was going to be told when you started work on the film, and did that change while you were filming?
I think that when I started I knew it was going to be a process documentary and that I wasn’t, therefore, necessarily going to know what the story would be. That always is a hard thing making a film because that’s easily a thing you fall back on: ‘How am I going to tell the story best?’ And then when you’re out there just following things it becomes, ‘Is this the right thing to follow? Should I be following this other thing that’s happening? Should I follow this other person?’ It becomes very schizophrenic in a way. But we had worked on a treatment, which was basically things that I wanted to explore and the idea of perception. What is the perception of the community from outside the community and what’s the truth of that, and also what’s the outside perception of [Mikey and Kendell], what’s their perception of themselves and how does that affect them? I just kept going back to that, and it changed as we went. The mothers became a bigger role in this film because they represented this conflict between the boys and themselves and their moms. It took a couple of different directions, but in essence what I originally wanted to explore when I went in remained the same.
You followed them for three years. When you started was it always your intention to stay with them for so long?
It was going to be a shorter period of time; with the budget we had we figured we had enough shoot days in this budget for a year. That changed, obviously, once we got in there and we were shooting and realizing that wasn’t going to be enough time. I wanted more time to be there and talk to them and get trust both ways. I was getting to know them and they were getting to know me at the same time and that’s when we decided to take it to the end of their grade 12.
When did Mikey and Kendell see the film and what do they think of it?
They’ve all seen it first, because I think for me it was the first hurdle; that they bought into it and they felt that it represented them and it wasn’t exploiting them. It was still an honest portrayal of them and their lives. It almost worked in stages. That was a relief once I heard back. I spoke to Kendell and his mom and had heard back from Ainsworth [Morgan, teacher and mentor for the boys in the film] about Sharon and Mikey, so the next thing was doing a screening for the community [so they could see it] and sign off and then be ready to take it to a public audience.
I see there is an education package that goes along with this film. What are your plans for distribution and outreach with this film?
The NFB is the distributor, and I think one thing they do well is tap into institutional markets and schools. I have had a lot of interest from teachers, in particular, coming up to me or emailing me about wanting to get the film into schools to help to teach lessons. I think they see a lot of different messages in the film. It’s [also] about identity and manhood and it’s a good teaching tool to get some of those issues out there. I’m excited about that aspect of it. It was the same thing with my first film Hardwood. I still get invited to different schools and different areas and come to present and then talk to kids about it, about the filmmaking and the story, and I’m always surprised about how many different kids there are who relate to those issues.