reviews & PresS
GLOBE & MAIL | 24 Nov 2017
Taking Theatrical Distribution into your own hands, literally.
"Who knows how audiences will react in India. It varies by location. In Argentina: shock. South Korea: surprise. In Baltimore, some found it quaint (remarked one viewer, "Nice how the Canadians have due process"). A common thread has been empathy toward the subjects – admiration for their strength, resilience and striving to help each other."
TIMES COLONIST VICTORIA | 28 SEP 2017
When Toronto filmmaker Hugh Gibson was asked to make a short educational video about programs for street-entrenched people in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, he learned firsthand how harm reduction works.
“I entered this milieu knowing nothing at all, even though I’m from Toronto,” said Gibson, 36. “But what I saw very quickly was this community dedicated to one another, remarkable individuals who defied stereotypes of being street-involved. And they opened up to me.”
CARBON ARC | Atlantic Film Festival, 16 SEP 2017
It's a breathtakingly effective way of truly humanizing what we see, and making us do the work ensures that everything in the film will have a life beyond the screen. The Stairs is the kind of experience that you take home with you. When you get there, you'll be a little more aware of what that word actually means.
OTTAWA CITIZEN | 17 June 2017
"A Hard Climb" Documentary gives (remarkably) clear-eyed, non-judgmental view of tough life.
"Gibson wisely keep his focus narrow - there are no police spokespeople and no addictions experts, except those whose expertise comes from experience. Trying to help one woman get off drugs, Roxanne notes that there will always be temptation: "I still have those days.""
CBC News | 5 June 2017
A film that wants to change how we understand life on the streets is screening this week in Waterloo. The Stairs is a documentary by Hugh Gibson, which received awards and accolades after its release at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016.
Roxanne Smith grew up in Waterloo region and will be in Waterloo for a screening this week at the Princess Twin theatre.
Vancouver sun | 18 April 2017
Hugh Gibson realizes that addiction and recovery are oft-covered subjects, whether in documentaries or in the news. But, the Toronto filmmaker wondered, why hadn’t he seen people like Marty, Roxanne and Greg before?
For The Stairs, Gibson spent five years following habitual drug users help other addicts through harm-reduction methods while also battling their own addiction issues. Specifically, the documentary looks at the trials and tribulations of three people, including Marty, a former crack user and budding poet.
Georgia straight | 19 April 2017
When Hugh Gibson began shooting The Stairs in 2011, he didn’t know how his documentary about a group of past and present drug users living in Toronto’s Regent Park was going to end. Through five years of filming, that’s what kept him going: searching for a conclusion.
The award-winning documentary plays at Vancity Theatre beginning this Friday (April 21). It’s a simultaneously gritty but warm portrait of people addicted to drugs.
Vancouver observer | 21 April 2017
The title takes on a symbolic meaning here. Drug users and homeless types often spend their nights in stairwells. They have lingering memories of sleeping there. One man remembers the stairs as “my home” in this film that lets us hear from people few of us ever listen to.
VIFF Blog | 12 April 2017
Hugh Gibson’s award-winning documentary The Stairs deservedly joins the ranks of Canada’s finest documentaries. A humanist portrait of drug users in a harm reduction program in Regent Park in Toronto, Gibson avoids sensationalist tendencies and focuses on the people, their personalities, and relies on their insights into a lifestyle often portrayed, but really with such authenticity of insider knowledge.
The result is a rare sort of documentary that doesn’t feel like it’s “on” its subject, but “of” it.
CINEMA SCOPE | 24 MARCH 2017
Gibson has called The Stairs a “harm-reduction film,” referring to an intervention strategy that aims not at a total cessation of drug use, but something more dynamic and nuanced: a forgoing of short-term solutions by recognizing that addicts are in it for the long haul, rather aiming to minimize harm for both users and their communities.... But The Stairs isn’t a social worker’s manifesto or a recruitment ad; rather, it’s a serious effort to reckon with harm reduction as a storytelling strategy—a way of thinking about addicts, whether currently using or sober, as people with still-evolving narrative trajectories and voices worth hearing, regardless of where they’re standing on the staircase at any given time.
THE TORONTO STAR | 11 JANUARY 2017
"Toronto film critics gave Hugh Gibson’s The Stairs, about habitual drug users in the city’s Regent Park community, the award for best homegrown feature on Tuesday night."
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sarah Polley, who announced the winner, called The Stairs “a huge contribution to the country and to everybody.”
“Because it’s shining a light on something we don’t see and that’s so shockingly inspiring, what these subjects of the documentary are doing, in terms of giving back to their community while facing their own struggles,” she said in an interview.
FILMMAKER MAGAZINE | 4 JANUARY 2017
One of the best documentaries of the year, The Stairs, directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Hugh Gibson, is a profoundly empathetic look at three drug addicts cooperating with a harm reduction program at Toronto’s Regent Park Community Health Centre.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL | 6 OCTOBER 2016
It’s tempting to call The Stairs “a hard look at the epidemic of drug abuse and violence.” But that feels a bit cheap. While Gibson doesn’t shy away from the realities of the local drug and sex trade, his camera lingering as users huff crack in sunken stairwells, The Stairs rarely feels exploitative, gawking or self-consciously gritty. “To me, it was more about showing an honest depiction of what their lives were like,” Gibson says. “It was important to have the community embrace it. And to have the community involved in the filmmaking process, to take ownership of their own storytelling.”
National Post | 7 October 2016
‘It had to be honest’: How Hugh Gibson captured life in a community of drug users and sex workers
CBC Radio | 7 October 2016
"This poignant documentary will change how you look at addiction and street life" - Tina Hassannia
now Toronto | 6 October 2016
The Stairs is a work with deep compassion for those who’ve made their way back from the depths of addiction, even if they’ve slid back a bit in the process.
As one of them points out, recovery is a struggle that never really ends – and Gibson shows us that isn’t just a cliché, but a day-to-day reality...
the globe and mail | August 2016
The documentary, which was shot over five years, provides an intimate look at three public-health workers in Toronto who have experienced and continue to experience the problems they help others with. Gibson is successful in illuminating the constant struggles of a user and the lasting impact drugs have on one’s life...
Blog TO | 19 SEPTEMBer 2016
What made this observational documentary one of the best I saw at TIFF was its complete lack of judgement or editorializing its subjects -- a group of addicts living near Regent Park -- or their plights...
ROGER EBERT.COM | 12 SEPTEMBER 2016
"With an attention to nuance worthy of Kartemquin standards, Gibson finds subtle ways of involving us within the lives of subjects, such as the engagingly talkative Marty."
POV | 11 SEPTEMBER 2016
As a work of journalism it’s quite effective, following stories too often ignored. But as cinema it’s equally effective, illustrating colourful characters with remarkable stories, none of whom easily conforms to a traditional heroic journey.
CINEMA SCOPE | 6 SEPTEMBER 2016
Roxanne, a former sex worker and user who seems to be doing very well, but who talks about the deep wounds past traumas have left on her; Greg, a fascinating, proud biracial man who struggles do deal with the aftermath of being beaten by police; and Marty, a charismatic user and counsellor to users who is a natural in front of Gibson’s sympathetic, perfectly distanced, humanely engaged camera.
TIFF REVIEW | AUG 29 2016
How an Iranian master influenced a Canadian filmmaker: Hugh Gibson curates The Review
Abbas Kiarostami's surprising effect on a TIFF '16 doc
"It is good fortune that... only human nature provides us with a refuge that has any depth to it.” - Abbas Kiarostami
POV | Fall issue 2016
The title of Hugh Gibson’s new documentary The Stairs refers to a stairwell that once served as a makeshift living space for Martin Thompson, a habitual drug user who’s diligently pulled himself back from the brink of oblivion. “Sit down in my living room,” he says with the same excitable cheerfulness that marks most of his pronouncements. Later in the film, Martin—Marty to his friends—will share a self-penned song about his one-time home.