When you think about leaving a lasting legacy, does it include advocacy? Putting others health and welfare before your own or using your wealth from a privileged position to finance programs or fund community activities that give children and parents a better environment in which to develop in. Maybe your legacy will be more personal and on a smaller scale, after all it’s your legacy and we all have different priorities.
Mr. Jane and Finch is a feature documentary that focuses on one very compassionate and caring individual by the name of Winston LaRose, a.k.a. Mr. Jane and Finch. After he retired he made it his mission to pay it forward and come to the rescue of a community who’s residence were in desperate peril from rising crime and poverty. If you don’t believe one person can make a difference then you need to be inspired by this film. It’s written and directed by co-producers Ngardy Conteh George and her producing partner Alison Duke of Oya Media Group.
The producers also added iconic music composer, Juno Award winner and Platinum selling record producer, Orin Isaacs. The film takes up the journey of 80-year-old community activist, Winston LaRose, affectionately known as Mr. Jane and Finch. It gives an insider look into the controversial 2018 Toronto municipal elections and the man that ran with his heart. LaRose fears politicians wish to push out long-standing residents and change the makeup of the Jane and Finch landscape. The community activist believes he can upset the status quo by throwing his hat into the political ring and help empower the people of his beloved Jane and Finch community.
I caught up with Ngardy Conteh George in Toronto during a deep freeze. Luckily she was warm enough to discuss the film and how it all came to be.
“The documentary focuses on community activist Winston LaRose. Why is he affectionately known as Mr. Jane and Finch?”
“Because for the past 25 years he’s been a community activist in the neighbourhood. A lot of people have grown up knowing him and he’s been a fixture in a neighbourhood where he stood up for people considered to be the backbone of the community. Jane and Finch is an intersection in a neighbourhood that has had a very negative stigma. People have said it’s the most dangerous place in Canada. It has high crime rate, poverty and a large population on social assistance but at the same time it is also one of the most diverse communities in Canada. It’s a place where a lot of immigrants and newcomers come to. It’s an area that started off as middle-class/suburbanish area in the 50’s and 60’s before having a massive wave of development of high-rises and townhouses. The population went from 1300 to 33,000 in a short 10 years. During that explosion the city was badly planned. There were no community centers, there were no social services, there weren’t enough daycares or enough schools. There was no place for kids to go, there was no playgrounds so they’d hang out at the mall and get arrested. From the 70’s, it had a lot of drugs and unemployment because the population never matched the infrastructure. Since that time the area has always had a bad reputation and a negative stigma that the media hasn’t tried to change. Winston tried to change that stigma and give the community back their pride.”
“Did he grow up in the area?”
“He’s actually not from Jane and Finch, he’s from the suburbs of Toronto in Burlington. He chose to go to Jane and Finch after retirement. He felt a need to do community work and now runs the Jane and Finch Concerned Citizen Organization. They are organizing trips for youth to go back to Guyana to get a cultural experience. He thought it would be fascinating and wanted to film it. He was drawn to Jane and Finch because he wanted to make a change.”
“In the documentary, there is some focus on dirty politics. Can you tell me about that?”
“Winston decided to run for city councilor last fall. During that election process Doug Ford decided to reduce the size of city council, which changed everything. Instead of running against 3 candidates, which would’ve been quite reasonable, he was now up against seven other people including two incumbents, all because his ward had to join two more wards. He had to cover neighbourhoods that he wasn’t familiar with and the people weren’t familiar with him. At the same time, Giorgio Mammoliti, one of the incumbents were known to liken the Jane and Finch neighbourhood residents to cockroaches and stoked hostility toward the black community to fuel his campaign. It sparked a lot of debate.”
“How did you get involved in this story?”
“I was introduced to Winston two years ago through a mutual friend. I had just finished a documentary on the legacy of another black community activist that was very prominent in the early 90’s fighting against police brutality, especially against people of colour. There were a lot of black men killed by police in the 80’s and 90’s. Having made a film about him, my friend suggested I meet Mr. LaRose. She said he’s been on his own filming the black community as well as the activist I had made the documentary about. He had so much footage in his archive of approx. 5000 hours. He started filming in the 60’s with his family and when they started getting involved in the community. He has a really big interest in African music and has traveled to different countries like Guyana. He’s travelled across the Caribbean and met/filmed different leaders, events and cultural celebrations. I was initially interested in meeting him because of his amazing archive and I started developing the documentary around exploring the archives that he’s never shown publically. As I started getting to know him I realized he’s worn all these different hats and had done so many amazing things. I discovered how incredible a person he is. Every birthday, since he turned 65 he runs a 100-meter dash. Winston is all about bringing people together and making connections to make things happen.”
“As you were documenting his life, did you see how much he helps his community?”
“His presence in the community is needed. He’s much like the super hero without the cape. A lot of the good work he does goes unnoticed because it’s done on an individual basis. He does help on a larger scale but the people that come to him are having problems with their landlord/getting evicted or having issues with being expelled from school or their kids are in jail and need mentorship. Those are the kinds of things I got to see on a daily basis. The people who have come to see him have had their lives changed.”
“What type of work did Winston do before his activism work?”
“He was a nurse; in the operating room and a psychiatric nurse.”
“It seems to be quite a jump from nursing to community activism. What’s the connection?”
“At the end of his career he got into real-estate development and bought a nursing home. I think the real-estate development ties into the community preservation and one of things he’s concerned about is the community getting left behind as the neighbourhood gets revitalized.”
“Did you have immediate support when you began developing this film?”
“Not initially, we developed it on our own. I was on maternity leave when I met him so I wasn’t moving to quickly. We then took it to CBC and they came on board to help develop it. It wasn’t a real long time to get the support.”
“What size of a crew would you have used when following Winston around?”
“We kept it quite small, probably an average of 4-5 people. The bigger the crew the more you take it out of reality.”
“How long did you follow him around?”
“It was about two years but the bulk of the filming was done in the last six months.”
“Were you able to utilize any of the 5000 hrs. of archived footage?”
“We did, more specifically to show more his point of view.”
“What is at the heart of the story? Is it the man or the community?”
“Definitely the man.”
“Has the film been seen yet?”
“The film is having its world premiere in Toronto at the Black Film Festival on Feb. 17 and its broadcast premiere on CBC Feb. 22nd.”
“Is this your first documentary covering politics and advocacy?”
“No, my first feature length documentary was about an amputee soccer team in Sierra Leone that were victims of the civil war. I think this film is a bit lighter.”
In closing Ngardy says she had an incredible team. She and her producing partner, Alison Duke had joined forces last year to create their own production company, Oya Media Group and this is their first official production together. They want to continue telling important stories to help make the world a better place.
If you’d like to see the film online or learn more about the documentary, please follow these links.
Twitter: @ mrjaneandfinch