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Hot Docs 2017 Review: Unarmed Verses

What will surely end up as one of the most moving and necessary documentaries at this year’s festival, Unarmed Versus tells the story of Francine Valentine, a remarkable 12-year-old girl.

Francine lives with her family in Villaways, a small public housing complex near Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street. The neighbourhood consists of only a few streets and is home to mostly black, low-income residents. Even at her age, Francine is fully aware of how communities like hers are regarded and what barriers exist for people from her world. Villaways is set to be torn down in favour of a new condo and townhouse development and residents will be relocated during construction. The uncertainty regarding her family’s future creates a tension that permeates most of Francine’s life, and in turn, most of the film. Growing up in Villaways was always a struggle but it was a familiar struggle; relocation presents a whole new set of challenges.

Without any meaningful access to community resources, Villaways established its own community centre (a townhouse like any other from the outside) complete with an Arts Starts music program. Despite her obvious brilliance and strong sense of self, Francine struggles with shyness and expression, and the program offers her the opportunity to overcome personal barriers and express herself honestly, through a medium she loves.

Like many neighbourhoods in the amalgamated megacity, Villaways is isolated from Toronto proper, and for many downtown viewers, the locale will look downright foreign. Charles Officer, through Francine and the Villaways neighbourhood, questions what it means to invest in the future, and addresses issues of class, race, and the untapped potential of youth, which are all often overlooked in the age of rapid development.

Dani Saad

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. Unless you're Harry Potter in which case you'll lose... everything.