Nathaniel Geary’s feature film debut is On the Corner, which tells the story of a brother and sister struggling to survive in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It’s a remarkable film that has an understated tone and subtle shooting style with an almost verité quality to it. While the subject matter is dark, it isn’t depressing. The cast is solid with Alex Rice as Angel and Simon Baker as Randy forming the brother and sister pair in performances that draw you in quickly. It’s the type of film that could easily fall into movie of the week territory or have a heavy-handed message, but Geary thankfully lets the story unfold and the characters live their lives as we watch them.
A great film gives you insight into a world that you haven’t seen before and On the Corner does that extremely well. While other films that deal with poverty and drug abuse tend toward melodrama or visual excess, what Geary does is focus on the relationships of the characters, how they fit into the community and the challenges of dealing with a broken family. A story - whether it is a documentary or drama - is about people and not issues and if the people are compelling we’ll think about them and understand a bit more about the choices that they make. There is no easy way out and the film provides a multidimensional and sensitive portrait of the characters so we can’t easily divide the characters between good and bad as everyone does what they need to do to survive.
Shot at the old Portland Hotel where Nathaniel Geary worked and on the streets of the Downtown Eastside the look of the film is dark. Brian Johnson’s subtle compositions and smooth movements contribute to the documentary and observational atmosphere of the production.
The sad reality of film distribution in Canada is that it’s hard for independent films to be screened in theatres, so most people will see the film on television. It recently premiered in Toronto at the festival and is screening on Monday, September 15th at 9:25pm at Park Lane 7 in Halifax as part of the Atlantic Film Festival.