By Diana Camacho*
I was first interested in volunteering for the Regent Park Film Festival mainly for two reasons: an essay and free movies. When Elvis (CCP coordinator) told me about the opportunity, I was excited because I was writing a paper on Regent Park for one of my architecture courses. We both agreed that it was a good idea to write this paper after participating in a community event, as opposed to writing the essay as a passive bystander. I am not originally from Toronto (I was raised in Mexico City), so it was a nice exercise to learn and write about a neighbourhood that is so embedded in the urban imaginary of Torontonians – but from an outsider’s perspective. I did some research on the history of Regent Park prior to the volunteering week, mostly to have some context of the site. Prior and during my volunteering shift, I had one thing in mind. Regent Park is an existing community that will be completely demolished to give way to a new ‘mixed-use’ and ‘mixed-income’ neighbourhood. The kind of utopian ideal that developers and architects love to talk about…
The experience of volunteering felt strange and comfortable at the same time. Strange because the Film Festival took place at the Daniels Spectrum, the new ‘culture and arts centre’ built as the artistic enclave of the revitalization project. The Daniels Spectrum is a brand new glass, steel and concrete building; a sharp contrast against the original Regent Park brick-and-mortar neighbourhood. So that’s the strange part. But my experience was also comfortable thanks to the people that I met at the festival. I was lucky to volunteer at the reception desk, and then as an usher during the “Emerging Directors” screening and awards night. During the reception, I talked to a very friendly girl in her early twenties; she was rehearsing some kind of speech and seemed very nervous. None of us knew that later on that night, her documentary would win the Emerging Directors award, along with a big cash prize to develop more cool projects. During that night I watched beautiful and provocative stories of race, immigration, sexuality and girlhood. Being a new immigrant and a girl of colour, some of these stories resonated with me and made me think about my own identity and experience in Canada. I really love when documentaries have the power to generate that kind of inner conversation.
Would I say that this experience helped me write my essay? In a way, yes, since my thesis was related to the ideas of gentrification and racialization. But more important than that, I would say that this experience was introspective, rather than related to my marks or academic life. And this is why I would encourage other students to volunteer in this kind of events. The people you are going to meet, the things that you are going to see, or the feelings that these experiences will generate cannot be replicated inside the classroom or within the university walls. Plus, they had really great food for the volunteers. (feel free to omit this last sentence)
Lastly, I highly recommend you watch these two videos on YouTube. The first belongs to my heroine and friend that won the main award at the Regent Park Film Festival “Emerging Directors” screening: https://youtu.be/SbPFV4WbBps
The second is a spoken word masterpiece written by two young Somali poets (also heroines) that was performed live during the awards night: https://youtu.be/lEaq3c-zRXU
So glad to know that the city of Toronto is promoting these forms of self-expression and inspiration!
*Architecture student at U of T