My Piece of the City
(Canada, 60 min.)
Dir. Moze Mossanen
Earlier this year, Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses wowed audiences at Hot Docs and other festivals with its story of youths in Toronto’s Villaways housing community. Officer’s doc centred on one young woman, Francine, and saw through her eyes the transformation and redevelopment of her neighbourhood. Francine watched her community and life transform before her eyes as developers changed the character of Villaways. At the same time, the film featured Francine pursuing music lessons and finding her voiced while the city stripped Villaways of its own.
A complementary verse in this all-to prevalent song of gentrification comes in Moze Mossanen’s My Piece of the City. This featured length doc adapts a web series Mossanen previously tackled on the subject (read more about that experience here) and takes audiences to another corner of the 6ix to show how young residents in Regent Park experience their neighbourhood’s transformation. My Piece of the City, like Unarmed Verses, sings confidently about the life and character of a community through ballads, musical numbers, and verité-style tours of the streets.
The musical in My Piece of the City is The Journey, a production that deals with Regent Park’s development through an accessible and inclusive look at a community in transition. The songs deal with questions of roots, ownership, and belonging—all feelings with which the young performers struggle as they wonder what lies ahead for the place they call home.
Mossanen provides the backstory to the songs and stories of The Journey by touring Regent Park with the young members of the cast. They show him a community that doesn’t fit the frequent characterizations of Regent Park as one of the city’s tougher ‘hoods. (See The Stairs, for example, as an excellent doc portrait of residents in the area and their experiences with drugs, violence, and street life.) While Mossanen doesn’t hide the poverty in the area, he focuses on the everyday experiences of young people who grew up and had a normal life in the neighbourhood. The Journey, after all, is about the humanity of Regent Park that doesn’t make the headlines.
Their perspectives cast Regent Park as a place of growth and togetherness, which they feel is changing with the gentrification of the community, the mix of condominiums and affordable housing, and the displacement of long-time residents. “Your history is not good enough for us to want to keep,” says one cast member as she and her friend take in the buildings being demolished as aspects of the neighbourhood are stripped away. This history resonates in the experiences of the diverse cast of My Piece of the City as the doc illustrates Regent Park’s significance as an intersection of cultures as new Canadians landed in Toronto and made the neighbourhood their home. One can’t overlook the ignorance and opportunism inherent in the redevelopment project. These building aren’t for the long-time residents.
The musical scenes in Mossanen’s film are a bit more produced than those of Officer’s doc are since the tunes in this film hail from a theatrical production and there’s an upbeat Broadway feel to both the soundtrack and the story. Both films show how music bridges diverse experiences and gives voice to Toronto’s youths, but more significantly, these two films show how the heart and spirit of a community doesn’t reside in its buildings, manicured lawns, artisanal coffee shops, and revamped public squares. A community exists only when people come together.
My Piece of the City screens Saturday, Nov. 18 at Regent Park Film Festival.
My Piece Of The City – Trailer from 100 Dragons on Vimeo.