PEACE PARK DOCUMENTARY | DIRECTORS STATEMENT
It was my love of skateboarding that brought me to Peace Park where I’ve been sucker-punched, had 40oz bottles of beer and garbage cans thrown at me, been chased by people with mallets and avoided being stabbed. I’ve been singled out by the police, handcuffed and was given over $8 000 in tickets.When I was 21, a taxi hit me while I was on my way to skate at Peace Park. The accident left me with an injured ankle that would eventually need surgery, but I was determined not to let the accident get in the way of my dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder. To achieve that dream, I needed to put together a demo video but I didn’t have a video camera.In 2001, six months after the accident, I stole a video camera from a man on a voyager bus. The fear that I would not achieve my dream drove me to that decision. I promised myself I would never steal from someone again and I kept that promise. In essence, the Peace Park documentary arose out of my fear of failure and my willingness to do what I thought necessary in order to go pro.Over the next four years, I spent almost everyday in the park skating as much as my ankle would permit and filming everything that was going on around me. During that time certain events changed the focus of my promo video, eventually leading me to make a full-length documentary. In 2003, over a year and half after the accident, I finally got the surgery for my ankle. As I was recovering I could only skate for short periods of time. When the other skaters left the park to go skate elsewhere, I stayed and skated at Peace Park.Because I was spending so much time there, I got to know the drug dealers, addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, and homeless – the park’s permanent fixtures. Over the years they got to know and trust me, which enabled me to film things an outsider could not. The footage I captured is raw and often disturbing but it represents the reality of street life and is one of the strongest aspects of the film.
What I did not realize at the time was that along with the street life I was documenting, the footage I was capturing of the police ticketing and kicking people out of the park was a consequence of a broader attempt by the city to clean up the image of the park for condo development and gentrify the area.
Before long, I had captured more gnarly street footage than skateboarding so I figured that instead of making a promo video I could make a movie about the park as a skate spot and all the crazy things we had to put up with just to skate. To accomplish this I started collecting all the skateboard tricks that have ever been filmed at Peace Park. While I was obsessively looking for footage, the focus of the film changed again. In 2004, the Society of Arts and Technology (SAT) put together a plan to legalize skateboarding in the park.
By this time I had formed relationships with almost everyone in the neighborhood so the SAT asked me to be a consultant on their project. As a skateboarder, I was able to help them with the design; they wanted to make sure it would be safe and appealing for kids to skate. I started to do a bit of research about the park and the area and found out that the construction of Peace Park was a part of the city’s original gentrification plans.
The research I did for the SAT made me realize that there was potential to make more than a skate video. The history of the area combined with the problems in the park and the city’s plans to clean up the area were enough to make a full length Peace Park Documentary, the people in it, and the way both were affected by the city’s urban planning projects in the area.
The film explores the way the city and corporate interests view the people in the park. It also looks at the way the two communities, the lifers and the skateboarders, manage to share the space through tolerance and respect and how each group claims the public space. One of my intentions is for the viewer to understand why individuals find a sense of community and belonging there.
As a skateboarder and a graffiti artist, I wanted the film to serve as a platform to showcase Montréal graffiti, local skateboard talent and local music. The movie has the look and feel of a skateboard video because most of the movie was shot with a Sony VX1000. The Century Precision Optics 3x Ultra fisheye lens, which was the skateboard industry standard for a long time, captures a wider and deeper image that allows subjects to be filmed up close. This gives the viewer the feeling that they are part of the action as opposed to viewing it from afar.Although some people may find the graphic nature of the film questionable, I neither condone nor glorify the violence. It simply illustrates a reality that exists in most big cities.Within the park there exists a delicate equilibrium that relies on co-existence. By promoting tolerance and respect of the diverse groups that frequent Peace Park, we can celebrate the spot for what it is and what is has always been: a place of diversity and an essential part of Montreal’s historic red light district. My hope is that the documentary will help create awareness about the situation at Peace Park so that park locals can better understood. Due to the complexity of the issues the documentary explores, the viewer may find that it raises more questions than answers.