This Is North Preston is a spinning top. One moment, you’ll have your mind made up about what the documentary is presenting only to have your opinion changed a few more times. I was so gobsmacked by the end that I was almost inclined to rewatch the film to see if my opinion would change again – I dare you to find a more riveting documentary than this.
Director Jaren Hayman returns to the same glossy style he exhibited in his previous doc, Bodyguards: Secret Lives from the Watchtower, and it works to the same degree in his latest feature. However, the choice in Bodyguards was to match the macho vibes being given by Hayman’s subjects as they delved into their own careers as protectors. And while Hayman may have gone a bit over-the-top with Bodyguards, it was a directorial choice that fit the bill. At first, This Is North Preston seemed to have the same intention. Resembling a reality show or a music video, Hayman drops the audience into North Preston, Nova Scotia, a ragged town with a hard-edged reputation. But then, the filmmaker cracks underneath that surface to expose several issues.
We learn North Preston remains loyal to its current community and former residents who have found success outside of its parameters (professional boxer Kirk Johnson was a proud member of North Preston). “Just Chase” is the latest success story, a hip hop artist who is celebrating the release of his latest project by revisiting North Preston. The musician, who was forced by his father to leave town, claims to have overcome personal obstacles to move on from dangerous behaviour in the past. But just as some people in the film have described living in North Preston as being a product of your environment, we watch “Just Chase” fuel the machismo of his old buds; enabling the decisions of others that he escaped.
For a film that barely crosses the 70-minute mark, This Is North Preston covers a lot of ground. However, Hayman never leaves his audience shortchanged. The idea of the documentary is to present how problematic North Preston is because it’s living by several vicious circles. Detrimental life choices are being made by impressionable residents because they’re desperate to survive their own existence. However, the decisions they make sink them deeper in despair. A movement labelled North Preston’s Finest, for instance, has been slammed for its connections to sex trafficking. The people who consider themselves members of North Preston’s Finest discuss this misrepresentation. “It’s not a gang, it’s a lifestyle,” they passionately explain to the camera as they try and disassociate themselves with any notable crimes linked to this label. On the other hand, an unapologetic Nova Scotian named Velly – in the heat of the moment – starts contradicting North Preston’s argument in order to explain why locals may resort to pimping.
Don’t worry: Hayman doesn’t excuse any of it. By choosing to feature these contradictions connected to North Preston’s glaring, deep-seated societal sores, Hayman not only develops a worthy and urgent thesis about North Preston, but he also proves his integrity and compassion as a filmmaker.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie