Bunz documentary reveals a Toronto 'full of community and full of heart'

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens and Compassion gathers stories from Toronto's online trading platform.

Short doc is an ode to kindness in the trading zone — and a look at its future

Thierry Levesque (right) used Bunz to arrange for hairdresser Amber Thomas (left) to come to her home to give haircuts to her son, who is on the autism spectrum. (Justin Lee )

Bunz Trading Zone, the Toronto-founded cash-free Facebook group and app, has reached a new milestone: it's now the subject of a documentary.

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens and Compassion, a documentary short, will screen for the first time next week after more than a year spent in production.

The poster for the Bunz documentary, showing items often traded on Bunz platforms. (Justin Lee)

The film's co-producer and director of photography, Larissa Primeau, remembers the moment she fell in love with the online community, which allows users to trade anything and everything so long as no cash is involved.

"A girl posted on Bunz, it was about 10 o'clock on a Friday night. She said, 'I've got a dresser, I've got to move tomorrow morning, and my dresser is stuck in my stairwell. I can't get it out.' And this one guy was like, 'I'm around the corner ... I will come and help you move your dresser,'" Primeau told CBC Toronto.

"And I thought, that is so cool. There's something about this community that brings out the best in people."

The film is not associated with Bunz, though its founder Emily Frances is interviewed.

"It's just another example of the community doing what it wants," said Bunz community manager Eli Klein, adding that he's excited to see it.

The people of Bunz

It was Justin Lee, the director, writer and co-producer of the film, who first hatched the idea of gathering Bunz's stories into one place.

A member of the trading zone since 2015, he "didn't do a whole lot of trading," he said.

Instead, he found himself drawn to "just kind of reading people's posts and reading these really interesting stories."

Larissa Primeau and Justin Lee collaborated to make ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens and Compassion. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Among the people interviewed for the film are Ken Ferguson, a prolific trader who Lee describes as a "poster boy" for Bunz, known for biking long distances in bad weather to make exchanges possible.

Lee and Primeau also spoke with Thierry Levesque, a Toronto mother whose son is on the autism spectrum and had difficulty tolerating going to the barber to get his hair cut. Levesque used Bunz to connect with another woman who was happy to come to their home to give him a hair cut — something that's now a regular tradition. 

"I mean, I know there are good people out there but to see the tangible results of that is pretty amazing," Lee said.

The film, edited by Eric Allin, also used Bunz connections to source talent for illustration, animation, and colour correction.

Ken Ferguson, who Lee described as the "poster boy" for Bunz, is known for doing several trades a week and travelling long distances to make them happen. (Justin Lee)

Tracking the rise of the trading zone

Another aspect of the film, said Lee and Primeau, is keeping an eye out for what's next for the platform.

Since beginning four years ago, Bunz groups have sprung up in cities around Canada, in the United States and attracted an angel investor.

"As big as it is now — they're at 120,000 members across the world — that's just the tip of the iceberg I feel like," said Lee, adding that in an interview, the team that runs Bunz told him they want to "reach one million members before they even think of actually monetizing."

Bunz founder Emily Frances was interviewed for the film on how the trading zone got its start. (Justin Lee )

In the meantime, Primeau said, Bunz is a Toronto export to be proud of.

"I think it's a really good advertisement for our city. Sure it's the biggest city in our country, but it's full of community and full of heart," she said.

The documentary will screen on March 23 at Dundas Video.