Film Reviews

Review: ‘Motel’ and ‘Babe, ‘I Hate to Go’

Hot Docs 2017

Motel
Courtesy of Hot Docs


Motel
(Canada, 57 min.)
Dir. Jesse McCracken
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

Jesse McCracken strips away the postcard perfect image of Niagara Falls in Motel. This compassionate and restrained observation doc takes a glimpse at the impoverished but very neighbourly residents of the popular tourist town. McCracken, who also shot and edited the film, goes inside the rooms of The Continental motel to reveal a side of the city that is overshadowed by the waterfalls. Beyond this stunning backdrop for selfies, Niagara Falls resembles desolate Detroit more than the swinging Las Vegas the tourist town once aspired to be.

McCracken includes some eye-catching touristic views from a distance, most notably shots of a carnival at nighttime, but _Mote_l favours raw, no frills verité cinematography, which gives a frank depiction of this supportive community. The aural tracks of the film somewhat compromise the subjects’ stories, though, as poor audio and an intrusive score often muffle the interviews.

Motel takes a verité-style tour with the Continental’s night manager, Brian, the central guide to the residence, which serves as a transitional housing unit for people who have fallen on hard times. Brian tells of difficult stories of strength and survival, as well as the tough choices a caregiver has to make to ensure the proper recovery of the tenants who dwell at the Continental. There’s also Linda, his fellow manager, who works tirelessly to support this community within a community. The film shows that everyone has his or her own story, and one can never fairly judge a person who wants to reset his or her life along a straight path.

Motel screens with:

Babe, I Hate to Go
Courtesy of Hot Docs


Babe, I Hate to Go
(Canada, 18 min.)
Dir. Andrew Moir
Programme: Shorts (World Premiere)

“How long can you keep this up?” asks director Andrew Moir (Just As I Remember) to Delroy at the end of Babe, I Hate to Go. In a life-altering sigh that says everything though one dogged breath, Delroy accepts the finality of his illness. The action is a jarring and powerful turn in this poignant film about a life in transit.

Delroy is one of those characters who just shines with life. It’s immediately upsetting when the first encounter with this Jamaican migrant worker shows that he’s close to death. As Delroy prepares to leave home to go work on a farm in Ontario, a family member draws the camera’s attention to Delroy’s chest. A massive tumour has overtaken it. One sees the lump, larger than a grown man’s fist, protrude from his shirt at the base of his neck. This man doesn’t have much time left.

Moir accompanies Delroy from Jamaica to the family farm where he works. (Delroy’s employer is Moir’s uncle.) Moir observes Delroy at work in the fields as his body begins to struggle with the effects of his illness. Delroy, ever loyal, keeps on working despite the frequent expressions of concern from his colleagues. A trip to the hospital reveals that he has melanoma, and while the doctor doesn’t give a clear prognosis, it’s evident from the expression on her face that the outlook isn’t good.

The title of the film comes from the folk song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’, which Delroy sings to his daughter in Jamaica before flying off to work in Canada for presumably the last time. Moir’s doc captures the uncertainty with which migrant workers like Delroy live day by day. Faced with terminal illness, Delroy depends on the support of his employer, but he luckily has a boss who ensures that he receives care. More significantly, the man spends the last months of his life shuttling back and forth from place to place. He’s separated from his family and uses the little time he has left to provide for them. Being able to work and enjoy the comfort of family is a luxury we take for granted. Delroy’s stubbornness isn’t so much his refusal to accept fate, but rather his love and devotion to the family back home.

Babe, I Hate to Go is an effective and emotional point of view doc that subtly uses one character’s experience to situate his plight within a larger struggle. The film is precursor to a feature that Moir has in development and while the there is a greater story that demands a feature-length canvas, it stands on its own as a self-contained work. This intimately observed character study invites a larger and much needed conversation.

Motel and Babe, I Hate to Go screen:
-Sautrday, May 6 at Innis Town Hall at 8:30 PM