Q

Catherine Hernandez's literary ode to Scarborough premieres at TIFF

‘It’s a love letter to this community that is resilient, hardworking — that refuses to back down despite being an afterthought to the powers that be,’ the author says.

‘It’s a love letter to this community that is resilient, hardworking,’ the author says.

Catherine Hernandez (Noor Khan)

Award-winning author Catherine Hernandez's love letter to Toronto's east end began with her debut novel, Scarborough. 

The critically acclaimed book has since made the 2018 long list for Canada Reads and is now a film adaptation — centring on the everyday lives of three kids and their families as they navigate childhood, parenthood, their community and poverty — premiering at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. 

"This is something very, very personal," Hernandez told Q's host, Tom Power. 

It's a love letter to this community that is resilient, hardworking — that refuses to back down despite being an afterthought to the powers that be.- Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is an afterthought in a city that is constantly moving and changing in "terrifying ways," said Hernandez, adding that it's because of race and class that the area is often forgotten when it comes to transit, housing and quality of life.

"And yet, we refuse to back down. We refuse to forget each other as a community," she said. "This film is about being proud of this particular part of the city."

A film that feels like a documentary

When the book came out and was "blessed with critical acclaim," filmmakers approached Hernandez with links to their reels. "[But] the reels were polished, and that's not my community," she said, laughing. 

"We're not polished. And so in order to capture the grit of the people here, I knew that we had to approach this differently."

Hernandez wanted to make a low-key documentary-style film, which is why she sought out the Oscar-shortlisted team of Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.

For her, it was about simplicity, realism and working with documentarians who "softly step into a space trying to figure out, like, 'Well, how can we capture what we see in front of us?'" rather than elaborately staging shots like it's often done on big productions or having actors pretend to act "Scarborough." 

But it was also about capturing the landscape, said the author: "These sort of patches of apartments and townhomes that are more like lighthouses because they occupy such a small footprint of space [and] are sort of more vertical than they are horizontal." 

Additionally, she wanted to portray people on their way to a grocery store, "joyously gossiping with one another about what's happening in the neighborhood.… 

"And so ... if I was to capture that energy of me walking, for example, to the mailbox and having seven different conversations between here and, like, you know, the 10 metres to my mailbox, I needed it to be a multi-narrative — a novel and definitely multi-narrative film."


Hear more of Tom Power's interview with Catherine Hernandez near the top of this page.

Written by Vanja Mutabdzija Jaksic. Interview produced by Tyrone Callender.

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