Published May 04, 2009In today's documentaries, photography is usually the first factor to be sacrificed in favour of drama and immediacy. Last year's shakier-than-thou Trouble the Water being the most high-profile example. So while Invisible City's cinematographer, Christopher Romelke, takes time to frame beautiful and stark images in the drab surroundings of Toronto's Regent Park housing project, director Hubert Davis misses out on the key drama in the lives of the two boys he chooses to check in with over the course of three years approaching the end of high school.
They have trouble with classes, there's a shooting in the neighbourhood and they have various run-ins with the law that threaten to mark them for the rest of their lives. Much of this, of course, happens off-camera and Davis follows up later. Fortunately for both boys, they have adult figures who care enough to try and set them straight: their long-suffering single mothers and former football player Ainsworth Morgan, now a teacher and social worker with Toronto's successful Pathways to Education program, which helps at-risk youth.
Watchers of The Wire might be surprised to discover that the boys are not nihilist thugs with no vision of escape or betterment; they're truly worried about disappointing the adults who care about them, as well as themselves. And yet they continue to make bad decisions, most of which are alluded to rather than dealt with explicitly.
While their story is compelling enough, culminating in one candid and emotional mother-son moment, Davis's film often drags and becomes dependent on the stunning photography. It's worth seeing for that alone.
Hopefully you already knew that public housing residents are multi-dimensional, though it never hurts to have a sympathetic, non-condescending filmmaker remind you. (Seventh Rule)