a film by hugh gibson
The Stairs tells the story of Marty, Greg and Roxanne, each of whom survived decades of street-involvement. Using their experiences to ease the paths of others, each performs social work in their old neighbourhood, while struggling to maintain their newly-found stability. Told over five years, The Stairs is a non-judgemental character study of life on society’s margins. Defying stereotypes through intimate portraits, its remarkable subjects are by turns surprising, funny, shocking and moving.
Winner: Toronto Film Critics Association
Best Canadian Film of 2016
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Meet The Filmmakers
Hugh gibson | DIRECTOR
A graduate of York University (BFA: Film), Gibson participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus (’05), TIFF’ s Talent Lab (’06) and TIFF STUDIO (’12). Selected credits include writing/directing the acclaimed short drama, Hogtown Blues (’04: TIFF, Bilbao: Audience Award), and producing short doc A Tomb with a View (’14: TIFF, VIFF). He produced A Place Called Los Pereyra (’09, IDFA, RIDM, BAFICI), which screened extensively in Latin America and Canada. The Stairs is his feature debut as director. He lives in Toronto.
ALAN ZWEIG | EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Alan Zweig is among the most respected directors in Canada. His most recent film, Hurt (’15), premiered atTIFF, winning the Platform Prize, and later a Canadian Screen Award for Best Documentary. His previous film, When Jews Were Funny, won Best Canadian film at TIFF (’13). Among his many laurels are a Genie Award for A Hard Name (’09), and career retrospectives at Hot Docs and the Winnipeg Film Group. Other films include 15 Reasons to Live, Unlovable, I. Curmudgeon, and Vinyl.
RYAN J. NOTH | EDITOR
Multi-platform filmmaker, editor, and producer, whose work has screened at Berlinale, SXSW, Rotterdam and Hot Docs, as well as winning both Genie and Gemini Awards. As director, his most recent doc short, The Road to Webequie premiered at TIFF 2016 and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award; his short docs, Beyond The Horizon (’15) and A Tomb With A View (’14) also premiered at TIFF. Credits include The National Parks Project, No Heart Feelings and Gros Morne. As a documentary editor, credits include A Place Called Los Pereyra and Tess Girard’s forthcoming As The Crow Flies.
ANDRES LANDAU | EDITOR
With over 15 years experience, Argentina-native Andres Landau is an award-winning editor and post-supervisor. In 2011, he oversaw post-production for The National Parks Project, and edited Sirmilik, the 2012 Genie Award winning short documentary by director Zacharias Kunuk. Selected credits include Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses and Geoff Morrison's The Missing Tourist, Cree Code Talker, Mission Asteroid, A Tomb with a View, Warm Man, Dead of Winter, A Simple Rhythm, A Place Called Los Pereyra.
CAM WOYKIN | CAMERA
Born in Calgary, graduate of University of Lethbridge, and York University (MFA: film production). His films, installations, and photography have been exhibited at festivals (including TIFF), galleries, and alternative spaces across Canada and internationally. He maintains an active practice as a media arts instructor, encouraging experimental and hybrid approaches to narrative filmmaking. He previously taught at OCAD, and currently teaches film and video production at the University of New Brunswick.
reviews & PresS
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.POV | Fall issue 2016
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.
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