Hot Docs 2011: ‘St-Henri, the 26th of August’

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St-Henri, the 26th of August

Directed by Shannon Walsh

2011, Canada, 86 mins.

The people behind St-Henri, the 26th of August seem to be of the mind that even the ordinary can be extraordinary – a noble sentiment, to be sure, but unfortunately not a terribly engaging one. St-Henri is a neighborhood in Montreal subject to a host of struggles familiar to many Canadian towns. Gentrification, disappearing jobs, and a fractured community often unaware of each other challenge the continuity of St-Henri. As for the other half of the title, the twenty-sixth of August is just an average day of no extra-special significance, aside from being the first day of school. Put the two together, and what we have is a twenty-four hour portrait of a neighborhood. I have no doubt that this sort of film appeals to someone out there – but alas, I am not one of them.

If anything, St-Henri, the 26th of August is thorough. Director Shannon Walsh’s execution of such an expansive project is impressive. Sixteen other filmmakers shot footage in St-Henri, like a cadre of cinéma-vérité mercenaries seeking out anything remotely resembling a story. To be sure, they meet some interesting people. At times, what we see and hear is moving, funny, and insightful. However, it does not add up to anything substantial enough to be engaging.

This is a film for those of us who want risky documentaries, who are dedicated urbanists, and especially for those of us who are extremely patient. If you are the sort of person who wants to know what it’s like to live in St-Henri, especially at the end of the summer, then you’re in luck. Otherwise, move along.

Dave Robson

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