CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008
Feroz Mehdi, who wrote and directed this NFB documentary, left the hopelessness of poverty in India only to find it again in an east end of Montreal. Inspired by his brother-in-law, I.G. Kahn, an activist and defender of social justice for rickshaw drivers in India, Mehdi compares the poverty of Kanpur, India and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Canada. In order to document the lives of the residents, Mehdi becomes a delivery boy for Point d'Aide convenience store using a three-wheeler bike similar to the rickshaws used by the outcasts he championed in India.
Hochelaga-Maissonneuve began as a working class neighbourhood of Irish, Scottish and Italian immigrants who found work in the factories and sawmills, but, with technological advancements, the factories closed and now poverty prevails. Feroz describes the neighbourhood as socially and geographically at the "bottom of hell" with a 60% unemployment rate in a population of 80,000. Residents do what they must to get by. Some buy lottery tickets or sing karaoke at the local bar, and some survive by begging, prostitution or theft.
Feroz compares the poverty in a third world county with that in a developed nation by cutting back and forth between images of the marginalized in Kanpur and Montreal. He interviews several disillusioned social activists who still reside in Hochelaga- Maissonneuve. One despairs about the bourgeois apathy over the redistribution of wealth. Another acknowledges that the levels of poverty are different. In India, for example, one tap provides water for 500 people, but the abandonment of the faceless poor by the wealthy is more disturbing in a first world country. He notes "it is more frustrating to be thirsty in the middle of the ocean than in the desert." Change, the activists believe, will come not through revolution but through community action. In the end, Feroz finds futility, frustration and hopelessness and moves "up the hill." One can only manage poverty, not end it. This sensitive film will spark debates on how to revitalize communities and find solutions to end poverty.
Jane Bridle is a Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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