This Regent Park project helps young people find their voice in the world of cinema

Growing up in the community of Regent Park in Toronto, making a living from movies was a dream that seemed beyond Abduallahi Ali’s reach.

Pursuing a career in all things creative was not in the cards as it was not seen as a serious way to make a living, the 26-year-old recalls.

“My family was very busy with studies, you know – going to school, getting a degree, getting a job,” Ali told CBC News.

But two years ago that changed when he learned through a friend of the existence of a film initiative called The Regent Park Project which brings together young people between the ages of 15 and 26 and offers them training. in acting, writing and directing.

“Something like that didn’t exist when I was growing up,” Ali said.

“This idea has kind of been blown away to me for the last couple of years where I see that you can actually make money, you can actually make a living, you can actually be successful.”

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“Everyone is at the same level”

The program is run by Kick Start Arts, a Toronto-based organization that uses the arts to help empower young people and provide opportunities to thrive in creative fields.

Ali describes the program as “a community project that helps the community, especially the younger ones in the community, to see art as a means of expression, as a form of talking about their problems, of talking about problems”.

Since arriving he has been fortunate enough to star in a series of monologues which came out over the summer and is also working on a play.

In 2018, the initiative launched a two-season, 16-episode web series based on characters and stories that connect to Regent Park.

People involved in the project were able to introduce themselves to media companies like Netflix and CBC, and some, like Mandeq Hassan, even went on to find careers in the industry.

Hassan, 23, has been part of the project for almost eight years. She is now represented by an agent and has worked on shows for various production houses.

Mandeq Hassan, 23, has been part of the Regent Park project for almost 8 years. She is now represented by an agent and has worked on shows for various production houses. (Paul Borkwood / CBC)

One of the important aspects of the project, she says, is how it changes the way cinema is made.

“When you look at the industry standard, a lot of it… has a strong hierarchy,” Hassan said. “We are talking about a decolonized approach to cinema.”

“We have this method called story circles, where everyone will have their real-life experiences. From there, we’ll extract the themes we want to explore, then improvise characters or improvise plots. And from there, we’re actually going to get down to writing, ”she said.

For a young newbie to filmmaking, the process can be “overwhelming,” she said.

“[This] actually a very smooth process, “she said.” Everyone is on the same level. “

An opportunity to be “vulnerable”

Sheena Robertson, artistic director of Kick Start Arts which oversees the Regent Park project, says the program provides a safe space for young people to have the freedom to be themselves.

“The freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to be vulnerable … the importance of asking people if they don’t know something and being able to stand up for yourself that way – for me it’s really like that that we are changing everything for young people. “

When the project started, Robertson says, the plan was to run it like an acting program. Very quickly, the organizers realized that there were not enough scripts reflecting the experiences of the participants. From there, she said, the focus shifted to writing.

Abdullahi Ali, 26, says he reconnected to the Regent Park community after working on the project. He sees the initiative as a way to help young people express themselves and tell their authentic stories. (Paul Borkwood / CBC)

“I think maybe we’re starting to hear stories that are more diverse stories. But are they really written by the young people whose stories they are? I think that’s one of the places where we really succeed. … “said Robertson.

For Ali, the program not only allows young people in Regent Park to see themselves working in film, but it also means those in the industry are more likely to notice Regent Park’s talent.

“There are great actors, musicians, producers, directors, photographers, people who are already making their own living who are known around the world at this point, coming out of Regent Park,” he said.

“There is so much talent, there is so much courage and heart, and there is so much strength in this community. And through that, we will be able to show it.”

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