The Cinematic Cities series at Christie Pits Film Festival kicks off on June 24th with a high camp celebration of life and love on the closing night of Pride Toronto! Paired with John Waters’ Hairspray is local writer/director Lisa Rideout’s documentary short film Take a Walk on the Wildside, a charming profile of one of Toronto's oldest cross-dressing shops and its compassionate owner, Paddy. For the first time in CPFF history, we've invited two films by the same filmmaker to screen during the same festival programme - Lisa Rideout’s What Remains, co-directed by Corinne Dunphy, will screen alongside Waste Land (Lucy Walker, 2010) on July 29th. Christie Pits Film Festival is the signature project of Toronto Outdoor Picture Show (TOPS), which presents its Cinematic Cities programme all summer long at parks across the city.
Below we discuss the energy of Toronto, captivating documentaries, and larger than life characters, with Lisa Rideout and Corinne Dunphy. Editor’s note: the following interviews have been edited for length.
TOPS : This year's film programme is titled Cinematic Cities, a theme that draws bridges between vibrant and complex cities around the world while highlighting the people who make each of these cities unique. Do you have a favourite movie that captures the spirit of a city? Is there a city that you dream of capturing on camera?
Lisa Rideout: Not specifically city focused, but two documentaries within that theme that have been inspirations are Baraka and North of Superior. Baraka I first saw in high school and I remember being blown away. It challenged what I thought a documentary film could be. North of Superior I feel the same about. For me, both are beautiful examples of how you can capture the essence of places or themes in a visually captivating way. My mom and grandma grew up in Kolkata, India. I’ve never visited but would love to film there one day. But I’m also quite happy to continue to capture slices of life in Toronto. I love this city and think there are so many important and interesting stories to be told.
Corinne Dunphy: I have been living in Iqaluit, Nunavut, for close to two years now, and every day I am motivated by this city. Iqaluit is full of paradoxes, struggle, and resilience. As a southerner, my knowledge of the vast landmass of Northern Canada was null. I was ignorant to the brutal history of colonialism in the north. It has been fascinating to live and learn from the locals, watch a growing city develop at a rapid-fire pace and face the challenges of modernizing in a way that is cultivated from a traditional not so far off past. Angry Inuk by Alethea Anaquq Baril is a favourite of mine, and a great example of a cinematic city. The film in all its beauty illustrates a community’s strength, and has the power to change minds through the power of storytelling. For me, her narrative voice makes the film stay vividly in my mind and has taught me so much on Inuit life from an Inuit perspective. Iqaluit’s magnificence and beauty is a city that I am so wanting to capture on film. I am working on a personal project alongside my friend Rachel entitled Rachel and the Iglu. Despite living in Iqaluit all her life, Rachel Seepola Michael never built an igloo - well not yet. With the help of an elder, the two women are re-imagining a city that has had its share of past demons through the effects of colonization and a rapidly growing population. Infuriated by the situations of people close to her, knocking on her door with no place to go, Rachel looks back to tradition, her ancestors and wonders if solving the problems of the future could be through Inuit’s traditional past.
TOPS: Lisa, your film Take a Walk on the Wildside is paired with John Waters' Hairspray on the opening night of Christie Pits Film Festival's summer season, a celebratory screening on June 24th, the closing night of Pride Toronto. What do you think of this pairing?
LR: We’re really excited to be screening alongside Hairspray and during Pride. The characters in Hairspray are trailblazers and we feel the same about our main film subject, Paddy. Paddy has run Take a Walk on the Wildside, a cross-dressing store for the past three decades in Toronto. She has worked hard to carve out a safe space for cross-dressers. While both films tackle such important topics, I also just think it's going to be a fun and colourful screening.
TOPS: You make such great short docs about local characters, one of the interesting things about both of your subjects - Paddy and John - is how their stories bridge several different historical moments. How has Toronto changed or stayed the same in the time you've been living and making films here?
LR: I’ve lived here off and on for almost fifteen years. I think what has changed drastically over that time is our everyday use of technology and also the price of real estate in the city. What interests me about these two things is how they’ve changed what a community is. One of my motivations for pursuing Take a Walk on the Wildside was my curiosity about why people would go to a store when buying cross-dressing items online might be easier and perhaps more discreet. For John (What Remains), it was an exploration of how the changing costs of living in Toronto affected his livelihood and in some ways his sense of community.
TOPS: Where did you first meet Paddy, the shop owner and matriarch of the Village's cross-dressing boutique Take a Walk on the Wildside? And John Letnick of the historic Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant? When did you know you wanted to document each of their stories?
LR: I met Paddy at her store when I was there scouting for another film shoot. I knew almost instantly that I wanted to help tell her story. Paddy is larger than life, I knew she would be great on camera and I thought in combination with the customer’s stories and the visuals inside the store, it had the elements for an engaging and heartfelt film. As for John, my co-director Corinne Dunphy saw a poster on the street that John had put up asking for help. Corinne and I had just finished our film degrees at Ryerson and were wanting to collaborate. Corinne called him and we went from there.
CD: Lisa and I met John Letnik on a planned visit to his ship one Saturday morning. Not being a native of Toronto, I had only passed by the boat and wondered what the story was behind what some people considered an eye-sore, but what I saw was character and charm in a sea full of grey and glossy high rises.
LR: I think the moment we knew we wanted to film with him was when he brought us into the boat [his restaurant]. Going into the boat was like stepping back in time. There was so much to take in visually. And the contrast between the boat now vs. when it was operational was striking.
CD: John gave us a tour of his decrepit boat, and showed us many photos of its rich and lavish looking history. We knew that there was a special story to be told here. A story of ageing. A story of loss. A story of the human condition.
LR: I think too what was interesting was that the boat was unique but Captain John’s story was universal in a way- nostalgia for the good old days and if or how someone should let that go.
TOPS: For you, what makes Toronto a cinematic city? Is there something special about Toronto that you draw inspiration from?
LR: I think the something special is the diversity of this city. There are so many different people, doing so many different things with their lives. I have also found people are quite warm and open, contrary to popular belief, ha. I think I could probably make Toronto-based films for a long time.
CD: The effervescent energy of the city is revitalizing. Toronto, a city of neighbourhoods, diverse cultures, a pile of green space and fare from around the globe at your fingertips, what’s not to love! A maritime native, I fell in love with the city as soon as I arrived in my mid-twenties, despite the bad mouthing it often gets from the east coast. To me, I felt it was a city full of heart and endless stories, as long as you were open to the serendipitous nature of it all. That is what I fell in love with. During my time at Ryerson in the documentary media program, I began using film as a tool to finding little nooks of Toronto where I connected with. Reflecting on those spaces, many instances reeled me towards the water. This new-to-me medium of film introduced me to Jimmy Jones, a timeless relic and inhabitant of Toronto Island, to John Letnik, a man who refused to go down with his ship. The beautiful thing about documentary film is getting opportunities that lead you into other people’s lives different from your own. I am so lucky to have been able to have met and learned from the subjects of my little films.
Take a Walk on the Wildside screens alongside Hairspray at Christie Pits Park on June 24th, 2018.
What Remains screens with Waste Land and the short film Bird at Christie Pits Park on July 29th, 2018.