Guest Blogger | Hope Heights Director - Marc Magnusson
Hope Heights is a documentary short set in Lawrence Heights, one of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. The documentary challenges pervasive media narratives that frame the community as one plagued by violence and dysfunction. Consistently at the center of these stigmatizing narratives are the young men of Lawrence Heights. These men are portrayed as violent, gang-involved, drug-dealing dropouts.
Hope Heights shares experiences that are not privileged in the media. It represents not only Lawrence Heights but many neighbourhoods that are stigmatized and misrepresented in the media by stories that focus on sensational violence and ignore the diversity within these complex communities. Hope Heights tells a different story. Through the voices and lives of youth, community leaders and educators, the film highlights the beauty and strength of the neighbourhood and the character, sensitivity and ambition of its young men.
In autumn of 2012 I was visiting my childhood friend, Robin Phillips, who updated me on the events in Lawrence Heights, the Toronto neighbourhood she had taught in for nearly a decade since moving east from Calgary. We came up with the idea to tell Lawrence Heights' story from the inside out highlighting the stories and experiences of locals who had grown up there. For years, Lawrence Heights (or 'Jungle' as some Torontonians know it) has had the reputation of being an area with frequent gun violence, poverty and drug problems. While that is true in part, the flip side of the coin is the stories of success coming out of there. We wanted to tell those stories and give a voice to the voiceless.
Shortly afterwards, we set out with camera in hand and began collecting interviews and footage. It quickly became clear to me that the residents of Lawrence Heights are fiercely proud of their community and there is so much hope in the air. I learned about initiatives like Pathways to Education that are helping young Lawrence Heights locals look towards their futures.
Hope Heights is one small initiative attempting to inspire the youth and it will take more initiatives of hope to inspire further change. We are hopeful and honoured to play a part in the story of a neighbourhood on the rise.
Watch Hope Heights on TV1!