Guelph Film Fest Preview-Change Now for the Future

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Written by Adam A. Donaldson

Amongst the myriad of issues being discussed in the Municipal election, you’d be hard pressed to hear any talk about homelessness and other obstacles facing displaced youth in Guelph. Countering this oversight, perhaps in some small way, is the inclusion of the documentary Change Now For the Future into the Guelph International Film Festival. In a scant forty minutes, director Scott McGovern opens up the downtown and reveals a whole new side to kids that often get the most rotten looks from passersby.

For those of you who don’t know, Change Now is a youth drop in centre located in the basement of the Norfolk Street United Church in Guelph. At Change Now, young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 find a place to take shelter, get a hot meal, get job and skills training or just hang out. It’s a refuge for those that have runaway, been kicked out or otherwise have no place else to go. But despite all the good work the staff of Change Now do, their charges are often looked on in town as the popular stereotype of street youth: troublemaking and menacing ne’er-do-wells that pollute our otherwise pristine streets with their drugs and surly demeanor.

McGovern turns the tables by talking with the Change Now staff and some of the young people that use the drop-in’s services for help. McGovern goes a step further though by giving the kids a few cameras of their own in order to capture their thoughts and feelings; just them, their friends and the camera with no adult supervision. Edited together, Change Now paints a portrait of a group of misunderstood youth who are funny, intelligent and occasionally insightful. Their personal stories are sometimes heart breaking, but their outlook is surprisingly optimistic and uplifting; these kids aren’t looking for a hand out, they just want to live with dignity and respect.

Often it’s their own segments that yield the greatest insight into the Change Now youth. One enterprising camera man and his friends decide to do their own mini-documentary in a documentary by talking to people on the street about decriminalizing marijuana. Little did he know that his investigations would coincide with a visit to Guelph by then Prime Minister Paul Martin during January’s Federal election. The team awaited the Prime Minister outside the local pub he was dropping in to and while they didn’t get a chance to quiz him, they nonetheless caught his arrival on film along with the network news crews.

When not walking the streets trying to corner the PM with a question about pot or otherwise just documenting a normal day, the film talks to Change Now’s patrons about where they were and where they’re hopefully going. The drop-in centre is host to a great many characters and I use that term not as a disparagement but as way of collectively describing how deeply invested I was in these kids and their stories. The simple message of the film comes through load and clear: when you engage youth and give them the means and the encouragement they need, then with the right attitude from them there’s no reason that can’t achieve their goals. These aren’t kids bucking to get rich or famous, they just want to work, be independent and not be looked upon as a pox on the community, but rather a thriving part of it.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a documentary like Change Now; it’s no frills filmmaking with no agenda beyond capturing the little moments. These are good kids with hopes and dreams just like anyone else and I think McGovern and his team does an admirable job of capturing this. Even the folks over on “Park Place” would have to agree that there are now “booger men” amongst these youth. (The preceding sentence to be read with a Mr. Burns like sneer.) Change Now For the Future will screen Saturday at 3:30 in the Ed Video Screening Room in Olde Quebec Street.

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