Hugh and I talk about his new film The Stairs, “harm reduction care”, addictions, empathy and compassion and “Toronto: The Not So Good.”
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Hugh Gibson’s compassionate and profoundly affecting The Stairs takes us inside Toronto’s Regent Park Community Health Centre, whose staff of social workers includes both former and current drug users. These workers understand all too well what their clients are going through.
Shot over five years, Gibson’s film focuses on three staff members: the loquacious, seemingly tireless Marty, who was so addicted at one point that, after being shot in a deal that went south, he stopped for a hit before going to the hospital; Roxanne, a former sex worker whose tales of life in the trade are beyond harrowing; and Greg, a biracial child of the 1960s consumed with a long-delayed legal case hinging on a police officer’s use of excessive force.
As it draws us closer to Gibson’s subjects, The Stairs challenges prejudices and preconceived notions. It also underlines how tentative sobriety and stability can be for people who have lived in addiction for years. In one of the film’s rawest moments, Marty, when asked what kind of future he sees for himself, explains that “When you wake up and you’re at that next day, you’re very happy because it’s another day you didn’t smoke crack … I didn’t do it yesterday, I’m not gonna do it today either. That’s our happy ending. Cuz it never ends.”
As the film progresses, Gibson subtly builds a wide-ranging portrait of the conditions that can nurture addiction, most notably poverty and homelessness. In its nuance, social conscience, and moving affection for its subjects, The Stairs is a worthy continuation of the tradition set by the NFB’s legendary Unit B.
A graduate of York University (BFA: Film), Gibson participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus, TIFF’ s Talent Lab and TIFF STUDIO. Selected credits include writing/directing the acclaimed short drama, Hogtown Blues: TIFF, Bilbao: Audience Award), and producing short doc A Tomb with a View: TIFF, VIFF).
He produced A Place Called Los Pereyra (IDFA, RIDM, BAFICI), which screened extensively in Latin America and Canada. The Stairs is his feature debut as director. He lives in Toronto.