by Eric Lam
A smattering of rain and a dreary sky weren’t going to stop Adam Reid from making his return to Ryerson — but it did excuse him for being a little late.
“We’re still working on the second film,” the 1995 Image Arts grad explained. “But when the dust settles, I’m sure we’ll have a good event.”
Seated comfortably in the campus Tim Hortons, Reid talked excitedly about his career as a director and actor, his time at university and finishing tomorrow’s Street Reels event.
The event features short films written by and starring homeless youth — all mentored by Reid.
Having already completed the first film, One Dollar One Day, Reid and the crew of the still-incomplete short film Sheltered Life aren’t about to slow down.
“We’ve only got a week, but when you’re working with charities, you realize that you can’t throw money at your problems,” Reid said. “It means work.”
Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Reid sipped from a warm tea while he recalled how he founded the mentorship program.
“I decided I needed to contribute where I lived, which was the west end. There’s a youth shelter there called Eva’s Phoenix.”
After the discovery, Reid approached management with an idea for a program where “the youth could write and act in films, all independently produced.”
Reid’s idea, the first of its kind in Canada, was well-received. “(These youth) need life skills as much as food and shelter. Once they’re on their feet, their experiences here will help them through the transition to their new lives.”
Those life skills were learned on the job, with two groups of street youth being mentored under industry professionals during production. Eventually they worked completely on their own with minimal guidance.
Producer Cheryl Zalamada and cinematographer Luc Montpellier, both Gemini Award winners and Image Arts grads, were also happy to help as youth mentors. “They’re the best in the business,” Reid said.
Reid credits his time in Image Arts as a large part of his success. Graduating almost 10 years ago, at a time when there was no digital film or Final Cut Pro, the filmmaker had to make do with temperamental equipment.
“My first camera was a World War II Bell and Howell 16-millimetre wind-up camera,” said Reid. Still, it was the best thing for him.
“Two weeks we were out on the streets. It was pretty much, ‘Here’s a camera, go make movies.’ Some crazy stuff happened on the way.”
The insanity was not limited to the classroom. Reid revealed that in his first year at Ryerson, someone began shooting a gun outside his residence. But Reid said his experiences paled in comparison to what the youth he met had to go through.
“The star of the second film disappeared a week before production.” They had no choice but to continue prep and hope for the best. “I finally heard from him, at 3 a.m., the night before the shoot. It was stressful.”
Reid, who has also been the recipient of the Norman Jewison Award for Filmmakers, believes it is important for Ryerson students to attend Street Reels and see these films for a simple reason.
“I think for inspiration. If you’ve ever felt you had obstacles, if your life was challenging, if you wanted to give up, it might be inspiring.”
Leaning forward, Reid’s eyes lit up as he recalled his student’s successes.
“It’s inspiring to watch them accomplish something so great, exciting, raw and honest. It’s not just students of Ryerson, but the youth out there, who are the future.”
Reid is less idealistic about his own future.
“I think I just need a vacation.”
Reid firmly believes that “the future is in a school like Ryerson,” and is currently working on a proposal with the school to develop a partnership with Eva’s Phoenix to allow his program to continue.
“Ryerson is in the middle of all this. Exposing sociology or film students to this would be incredible. (We need) a place where somebody will believe in them, give them a chance. Just believing in them helps them to believe in themselves.”
Street Reels takes place tomorrow in the the Distillery Historic District (55 Mill St.).