Victoria documentary on homeless hits the road for national tour

A homegrown social-justice documentary that explores homelessness and addiction is heading to the nation’s capital, its filmmaker Krista Loughton has confirmed.

A groundswell of support from filmgoers, politicians and the business community since Us and Them had its world première at Victoria City Hall on Dec. 3 has inspired Loughton to take her labour of love on the road.

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The Green Party of Canada is helping to organize a screening for MPs in Ottawa, the film’s final destination on a cross-country tour tentatively set to begin in late April, she said.

After some more local fundraising events, including showings at the Vic Theatre on March 11, and in Galiano South Hall on Galiano Island April 10, the film that took Loughton more than 10 years to make will head eastward. It is scheduled to travel to Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Brandon, Winnipeg, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Toronto, Montreal and other Canadian cities.

Plans for a national tour escalated when Victoria philanthropists Ruth and Don James, after being moved by the film when it recently screened at Star Cinema, pledged to donate hundreds of thousands of frequent-flyer points.

“Ruth and I were fortunate to meet Krista Loughton at Woodwynn Farm and subsequently view a trailer for her film at a fundraiser for the Creating Homefulness Society at Woodwynn Farm,” says Don James, the North Saanich-based horse breeder and retired CEO of Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada. “We strongly support Krista’s efforts to bring a face to the homeless and recognize it in Us and Them. We are all one.”

The couple’s offer was in response to Loughton’s announcement that she and her collaborators wanted to show the film to as many audiences as possible in regions facing similar social challenges.

The film Loughton co-directed with Jennifer Abbott (The Corporation) documents her friendship with four members of Victoria’s street community. They are Dawnellda Gauthier, a feisty and articulate recovering heroin addict; Stan Hunter, a charismatic former heroin addict; Eddie Golko, a recovering addict who had a spiritual awakening; and Karen Montgrand, a quick-witted Métis woman whose horrific childhood sparked her alcoholism.

Their stories parallel the healing journey that continues for Loughton, who has lived with depression. Their interwoven tales are complemented by input from Vancouver author and addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté; Phil Lane Jr., a hereditary chief who uses a sacred First Nations medicine wheel as a healing tool; and Rev. Al Tysick, a street minister.

Loughton says she has been heartened by “how engaged” audiences have been at local screenings. “It was almost like the audience was stopped in their tracks [at the Star],” she said. “It makes them stop and reconsider everything around what chronically homeless people go through. Their perception is shifted.”

A screening at Stelly’s Secondary School, where Grade 11 students “asked incredibly insightful questions,” was also deeply moving, Loughton says.

“One young guy said: ‘When I heard about your film I thought it was going to be some biased liberal we-should-do-this lecture,’ ” she says. He then revealed that he was in foster care and had suicidal thoughts and that the film had given him hope.

“It’s a dual trajectory,” Loughton says. “We’re encouraging kids to have more compassion for the homeless, but also, if they’re struggling with emotional issues, to get them the help they need. We’re cheering them on.”

Loughton applauds Montgrand, who has since been housed, for her willingness to appear at screenings and answer questions despite the difficulty of having to relive her past trauma. “From now on, she doesn’t need to watch the movie,” Loughton says. “We’ll go for a coffee or something and then come back for the Q&A sessions.”

 

Montgrand, who is Dene/Chipewyan, “likes dressing up and getting her hair done,” however, says Loughton, who plans to take her “star” home to La Loche, the village in northwest Saskatchewan where Montgrand grew up.

While Golko, now in the Streets to Homes program here, has also been supportive, Loughton says he has only been able to watch 17 minutes of the film.

“He wants to, but it’s hard for him to see himself and other people suffering,” she says. “He’s a sensitive, beautiful person, but this whole process has been a test in emotional endurance.”

Other stops on the tour include Brandon, Man., where Loughton grew up, and Medicine Hat, where they will meet Mayor Ted Clugston, credited with putting an end to homelessness in the Alberta city.

Loughton says Clugston, a fiscal conservative who, despite initial reluctance, embraced the Housing First model, is one of her heroes.

“I don’t think you can make a film about chronic homelessness without getting political,” she says. “That’s why I had my own mayor and city council behind me.”

Sam Tsemberis, founder of the Housing First movement in the U.S., conducted workshops at city hall after he introduced the film here. “As much as this film is about raising awareness, it’s also about pinpointing decision-makers,” adds Loughton. “We need policy changes and the finances and resources that need to go in. All the Band-Aid solutions and temporary shelters are good, and so is having the tent city make the provincial government step up and do something, but it’s still not a permanent solution. I think that’s why Housing First works.”

Before Us and Them begins its cross-Canada tour, shadowed by a camera crew for a web series, Loughton has another Vancouver Island stop to make.

Campbell River’s Grassroots Kind Hearts is presenting a fundraising screening, dinner and silent auction, on March 1 at Thunderbird Hall.

On their way back to Victoria, they will stop at Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society’s Healing House in Lantzville. “We really want to engage aboriginal communities wherever we go,” Loughton says.

The launch of a crowdfunding campaign to help defray tour costs and augment sponsorship will take place at the Vic Theatre screening March 11. Admission to the 8:30 p.m. screening is $10, and donations are welcome. For more information, go to usandthemthefilm.ca or visit the film’s Facebook page.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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