TIFF 2021: Scarborough

Image Courtesy of TIFF

A neighbourhood in Toronto is the center of the universe for three young kids in Scarborough.

Bing (Liam Diaz), Sylvie (Essence Fox), and Laura (Anna Claire Beitel) are three kids growing up in a low-income neighbourhood in Scarborough, an east-end area in Toronto. Their situations are all different: Bing, a Filipino boy and his mother, Edna (Ellie Posadas), have to leave an unfortunate situation, Sylvie (Essence Fox), an Indigenous girl and her mom Marie (Cherish Violet Blood) live in a motel with Sylvie’s autistic younger brother Johnny (Felix Jedi Ingram Issac) and their sick dad (Warren Greene). Laura is shuttled between her angry father, Cory (Conor Casey) and her drug addict mother, Jessica (Kristen MacCulloch). They all meet at a literacy center run by Ms. Hina (Aliya Kanani), a caring teacher who looks out for the wellbeing of all the drop-in families. Each child has their own set of challenges, and as the seasons come and go, they learn about the joys and hardships of life.

Scarborough is a beautiful slice of life specifically based on this storied Toronto area, but as Catherine Hernandez, the author of the original book and screenwriter, said in the film’s intro, there are Scarboroughs all over the world to make this a universal story of families trying to get by the best way they can. The film really nails the multicultural aspect of Toronto, which isn’t always the global Utopia our government makes it out to be.

What I loved most about the film besides the adorable kids (and that musical number guaranteed to make you cry) was the focus on how systems in place that are supposed to help families in need only push them deeper into the realm of bureaucratic red tape. Social services mean well, but until proper access is available, it’s just lip service to people who need immediate help. The environment Ms. Hina creates for the kids is proof that when people care about each other, they go the extra mile, but the giving also has to be received. The heartbreak of neglect and loss within the little group is a lesson in not opening up to kindness.

I could write for hours about the child actors and how they’ll steal your heart with their innocence. I truly hope Diaz and Fox are actually BFFs, or else I won’t sleep at night. The directing team of Shasha Nakai and Rich Williamson pulled realism from the cast, and the colourful neighbours in the area made the film. My only critique is that the film could easily be a series instead of a 2-hour movie, giving us more time to digest each story.

Everyone in Toronto needs to see Scarborough right away, but regardless of where you come from, you’ll find beauty in the families that make up this little community.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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