Film Reviews

Review: ‘Snowbirds’ and ‘Eviction Notice’

Hot Docs 2018

Courtesy Hot Docs


Snowbirds
(Canada, 47 min.)
Dir. Joannie Lafrenière
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (Toronto Premiere)

Canada geese are famous for their migration patterns. The big honking birds fly south in groups that mark the sky in flapping V formations. They depart every fall and return every spring, fully aware that Canada is the land they call home.

Joannie Lafrenière offers a nature documentary of sorts on the other great Canadian migration, the one that occurs each winter. These animals, known colloquially as “snowbirds,” are Canada’s other resident geese: retirees. Best known for 4 pm dinners, knee high sweat socks, and bad tans, the Canadian snowbird is a peculiarly quaint sight.

Snowbirds observes the migratory patterns of one unique V of birds. Lafrenière focuses on the aging goose population of Hallandale Beach in Florida, where a flock of Québécois snowbirds sets up camp each year. The film watches their seasonal behaviour with a droll and affectionate eye as they learn English, play shuffleboard, mingle by the pool, and visit the local hot dog stand where the resident grill master makes sauerkraut with care.

Lafrenière observes members of the flock in offbeat vignettes that reveal the reasons they fly south each winter. There’s chirpy Yvette, who loves to talk about the sun and show off the English she’s learning at 82. Monique and Julien stay a bit closer to their nest and prefer to watch TV while avoiding the sun. 88-year-old Agathe, on the other hand, is a young girl at heart living on a diet of Pepsi and chocolate as she tans poolside with youngsters who respectfully call her “aunty.” The snowbirds laugh about their failing bodies, but their minds are sharp and their personalities ring with youthful joie de vivre. They escape the frigidly unforgiving Canadian winter precisely because they want to live their remaining days to their fullest and brightest.

Birds of a feather flock together and Lafrenière captures a collective force among these geriatric Quebecois who command a small pocket of Florida’s mobile home community each winter. Snowbirds finds quaint humour in seeing this rookery of geese who band together through sunshine and La Survivance. A strong collective cultural consciousness unites them with their un-Americanness, for the snowbirds all assert to Lafrenière that they’re very much Quebecois even if they spend half the year in Trump’s ’merica. Moreover, several of the retirees feel weary about the change in the political air and wonder if the sun is setting on their southern slice of paradise. It might be time to find another nest.

Lafrenière shoots Snowbirds in quirky wide shots that find humour in the incongruities between the snowbirds and their settings. Wrinkly tanned flesh contrasts with the muted palettes of the mobile homes, while expansive shots of the snowbirds flocking on beach and low angles of Agathe strutting her stuff en route to la piscine show the retirees as masters of their domains. The film conveys how aging is all a state of mind and one must do whatever keeps one young and healthy. The film also finds a special affinity for golden years as these snowbirds enjoy their final acts without giving a hoot for the life they leave behind every winter.

Screens with:

{image_2} *_Eviction Notice_
(Canada, 22 min.
Dir. Laura O’Grady

Developers are no friends of communities. The story of Eviction Notice is familiar as it tells of a community of Calgary mobile home owners forcibly uprooted from their neighborhood in the name of development. This incident is not the first episode of erasure to make room for cheap generic condos and golf courses. Sadly, it won’t be the last as cities change and become prohibitively expensive for most residents.

This familiarity makes Eviction Notice so compelling because its tale is all too relevant. Director Laura O’Grady takes audiences inside the homes of the residents as they fight their notice to vacate and try to keep the community they have built over the years. O’Grady does some fine investigating and outlines the facts of the case as residents seek fair compensation and the right to stay, yet their pleas fall on deaf ears as the courts inevitably favour developers.

The residents of Midfield Mobile Home Park tell compelling stories of the fight to keep their homes. O’Grady finds a range of perspective to illustrate the impersonal bad business of land development that fails to see a home beyond its mere property value. These people have lives rooted in the mobile home community, and few, if any of them, can truly afford to leave. Picking up a life isn’t easy, particularly if, say, a resident is undergoing cancer treatment or has kids in school and a job near the home. The compelling and intimate perspectives of Eviction Notice put a human face on a problem that is far too rampant in our cities.

Snowbirds and Eviction Notice_ screens:
-Fri, Apr. 27 at 3:30 PM at Scotiabank
-Sat, Apr. 28 at 12:45 PM at Scotiabank
-Fri, May 4 at 12:30 PM at TIFF Lightbox

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!


SNOWBIRDS bande annonce from joannie lafreniere on Vimeo.

Pat Mullen is POV’s Associate Online Editor, etc. He covers film at Cinemablographer.com, and has contributed to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, BeatRoute, Modern Times Review, and Documentary magazine and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

View all articles by Pat Mullen »