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#HotDocs21 Review: Grey Roads

April 28, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

Documentary filmmaker Jesse McCracken returns to his hometown of Markdale, Ontario in Grey Roads, to explore how the town has changed since he grew up and moved away. The town is home to roughly 1,200 people, a population that is aging as many of the young people have left for Toronto, and the industries that used to be its lifeblood have long since moved to China. The only thing that remains is the Chapman’s ice cream plant.

McCracken’s mother left the town when she divorced his father, and McCracken is returning now with his camera to reexamine his relationships with the two male influences in his life; his gruff father, a member of a local motorcycle club called the Red Neck Riders, and his maternal grandfather, who has sort of taken on the role of town historian. McCracken’s entire approach is one of simple observation, and the film finds him spending time with his father and grandfather, interviewing locals, and going to Rotary Club meetings. What emerges is a quietly engaging glimpse into working class, small town life, that becomes a study of masculinity as well.

The film morphs into a deeper exploration of how the town is changing as it diversifies, with new people, including immigrants, moving into the townhouses that are being built. In this vein, McCracken also follows the political ascendency of Aakash Desai, a young man from India who is running for deputy mayor of the town in a local municipal election. Through evocative black and white cinematography that helps amplify the nostalgic feel of the piece, McCracken has crafted a poignant portrait of this small town and a changing way of life.

Grey Roads will be available from April 29th at 10:00 AM until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Tickets and more information can be found right here.

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