Filming Regent Park's heart - Festival offers new perspective

By: Nicholas Keung

While most people look at movies as an escape, Chandra Siddan wants filmgoers to face up to the realities of life in Regent Park.

That doesn't mean images of drugs and violence that most outsiders associate with the Dundas-Parliament Sts. housing complex, but instead a slice of real life for the 7,500 people who call it home.

They are the cab drivers who have university degrees from other countries and talk about world politics in their spare time; they are the children who dare to dream about things their immigrant parents shrug off, and the newcomers to Canada who battle classism, racism and poverty in their everyday lives.

Their stories will be told in their own voices at the second annual Regent Park Film Festival, which starts today at Nelson Mandela Park Public School on Shuter St.

"It is bizarre that people from Pakistan watch more Pakistani movies, and Indians watch more Indian movies after they come to Canada. But movies from Bombay don't really deal with Bombay. Bollywood movies are all concoctions, showing people a fantasy world that doesn't exist," said Siddan, the film festival's director and a native of Bangalore.

"We hope these movies will give the people in Regent Park a voice, so they feel empowered. Immigrant cultures define the city and the whole festival is really about immigrant experiences," Siddan said.

The three-day, free-admission event will feature 29 documentaries, dramas and Super 8 films, including international productions and some produced by the youth of Regent Park.

"This is a lot different from any other film festival. We put a lot of heart into it. Our stuff is full of feelings and emotions," said Vinh Duong, 21, who has lived in Regent Park since his family moved to Canada from Vietnam 15 years ago.

"We want to tell our stories and express the hardships that we go through here. People (outside) think that we are a violent, drug-filled community, but we are not. We are like (people in) Rosedale, we have a strong community here."

Adonis Huggins, a youth worker at Regent Park Focus, said the community centre's media program started in 1995 out of a local desire to find a voice in the media. From there, participants started their own quarterly paper, weekly radio show, photography and video production workshops.

Huggins was hesitant when Siddan brought the idea to the agency because he wasn't sure if the community would support it.

"But we know the community would like to see themselves reflected through the media because all the (other) media only mirror what their reality is not (about)."

Thaseepan Mariyanayagam, 14, will have his 10-minute documentary Moving Out (about youth leaving Regent Park) screened at the film festival. "The whole thing about the festival is exciting," said the teen, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka seven years ago. "I'm so proud of it."

Among other films are Myths About Regent Park, a 12-minute feature by the youth from Regent Park Focus and In Good Forum: A Taxi Cab Driver's Take on Democracy, a short documentary by English director Peter Janes.

Dawn Wilkinson, a film producer who has two short movies screened, said the festival gives the community an opportunity to celebrate the positive aspects of their lives.

"I really believe in that representation. It really gives people the sense of power when they can represent themselves and their own experiences," noted the 31-year-old woman, who grew up in Brampton.

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