Review: Farewell Regent
Farewell Regent shares a moving, emotional story of community evolution – a local history with lessons for all.
Toronto filmmaker Christene Browne’s Farewell Regent explores the storied history of Regent Park, Canada’s oldest social housing project, through its residents both old and new, as the community grapples with the revitalization project determined to transform Regent into a mixed-income community.
Christene Browne grew up in Regent Park her affection for its history, and its diverse mix of residents, is palpable. Primarily inhabited by Irish and British immigrants initially, immigration eventually made Regent Park one of Canada’s most diverse neighbourhoods. Regent Park was designed to be a distinct community, with facing inwards away from the rest of the city. Social and physical isolation certainly succeeded in creating community but also created a host of other challenges underscored by limited access to transit and recreational facilities.
Browne doesn’t ignore the challenges or dismiss the impact of crime and violence on residents, but is much more interested in the resilience of this community and the many small acts of humanity that contribute to its existence. By using a people and story-centred approach, Browne immediately undercuts stigma and stereotype and wastes no time getting into the lived experiences that shape Regent Park’s history.
Gentrification, immigration, revitalization, crime, living conditions and social interaction are just some of the topics at play here. Character after character, from various points in Regent Park’s past, are invited to share their story and interpretation of community. The quality of the interviews and the openness of residents significantly elevate what could have been a fairly rigid concept.
The film also, once again through its subjects, reveals the human impact of community evolution and of revitalization. Though individual connection to the revitalization project varies, it is clear that the physical and social loss of community is a form of underrecognized trauma. The loss of community, coupled with displacement and a (sometimes vague) promise of return, make for a significant emotional burden with very real social implications.
Browne has at once made a loving tribute to a lost, or at least changing, community and also a valuable anthropological contribution, which should be as important to city-builders and policymakers as it is to Regent Park residents.
Farewell Regent debuts at the Reelworld Film Festival on Thursday October 17th in Toronto. Visit the official website for details.