Hot Docs

This new doc is a tender tribute to a group of Quebecois seniors living it up in Florida

Cut to the feeling of "Canada's southernmost city" with Joannie Lafrenière's film Snowbirds, on now at Hot Docs.

Cut to the feeling of 'Canada's southernmost city' with Joannie Lafrenière's film Snowbirds

Snowbirds. (Hot Docs)

Hallandale Beach, Florida is nicknamed "Canada's southernmost city." Just north of Miami, the beachside city of 37,113 has been known for its specifically Quebecois winter residents for more than 50 years. And now there's a documentary to show us all what exactly that looks like, and what we can learn from the youthful joie de vivre these seniors bring to Florida from Quebec each year.

In Joannie Lafrenière's tender and often quite hilarious Snowbirds — currently screening at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival — we meet a community of characters living in Hallandale Beach. There's Agathe, a miraculously pill-free 88-year-old who worships the sun and eats chocolate bars and drinks Pepsi for lunch. There's 82-year-old Yvette, who loves showing off the English she's learning in her twilight years. They're all inspiring in their own way, and the film does an exceptional job at bringing us into their little winter wonderland.

"Through Snowbirds, we meet beautiful elders who make us want to find our place in the sun regardless of our age and our social class, leaving the miserabilism normally associated with old age," Lafrenière says of her film. "I worked on this film for three years because I really wanted to leave the cliché associated with the phenomenon of 'snowbirds' and really meet the humans behind the phenomenon."

Lafrenière — a photographer and filmmaker based in Montreal herself first discovered the community in 2010 when she was travelling across the United States.

"I found that the fact that there was this French Canadian society [in Florida] absolutely fascinating," she says. "So I thought about making a film about this phenomenon."

How the brassy aesthetics of their community would look on camera didn't hurt, either.

"I found the whole kitsch side of these mobile home parks very attractive," she says.

Snowbirds. (Hot Docs)

In making the film, Lafrenière decided to move down Hallandale Beach for a few months and live with the characters in her film in that same mobile home park. She played bingo with them, did some line dancing, played some cards...

"It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from them because a lot of people judge them for living that kind of life, and I was very touched by these people who are looking for happiness," she says. "Who are we to judge that?"

Ultimately, Lafrenière's hope is that the audience will leave with the theatre with some of the Snowbirds spirit.

"That beyond our prejudices, individual stories can touch us and allow us to go beyond our judgments while laughing heartily."

After all, who doesn't need a little more of that in their lives?

Snowbirds. (CBC Arts)

Snowbirds. Directed by Joannie Lafrenière. Screens May 4 at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. www.hotdocs.ca

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