Michael Del Monte followed Toronto based panhandler Ray originally from PEI but now a panhandler on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto. He goes from car to car hoping for handouts to fund his heroin addiction.
Del Monte noticed him on his drive home and he was invited by Ray to follow him for 8 months single-handedly. Apparently, Ray worked for the Coast Guard but what ill fate brought him to his beggarly drug addicted status in Toronto is unexplained.
Mostly incoherent he professes many times he will be back on the water and it will just take him some concentration to do that. Dream on fantasy.
Sadly it seems but an impossible dream as he suffers overdoses, robbery and intimidation by a drug dealer he owed money to.
We are introduced to his social circle of alcoholics and drug addicts but to say there are “friends” in this world may be a stretch. “Friends” rob each other. It is always for the next hit. Day after day of drudgery to numb the pain.
Drug overdose deaths are common and one reaches a sense of alarm when Ray starts on fentanyl where we watch him shooting up it is like waiting for his demise.
What a dark and oppressive world Del Monte exposes in my hometown which makes it all the more real for me.
Del Monte says, “It’s a hard story to watch, but it’s a much harder story to live. It’s a film that begs the audience to have the courage to look Ray in the eye and have empathy.” I agree with Del Monte here on the understanding that empathy means doing something to make Ray’s life better as opposed to sympathy which is pity.
At one point in this film I think Ray is beyond help and deluded about his return to the sea. I doubt he will return to the sea but will perish with a fentanyl overdose. By the way the leading cause of death for Canadians 55 and under is a drug overdose and drug rehabs have an initial success rate of 10%. The obsession with COVID in the health care system seems to leave few resources or empathy to deal with people like Ray.
I am ready to give up on Ray until near the end of the doc he is invited for a sail on a sailboat on Lake Ontario and for a brief moment the viewer might feel there is hope. Ray becomes an involved and becomes an engaged human but returns to a mundane and dangerous career of panhandling to feed his deadly drug habit.
But for an instant I think if there was a custom rehab programme for Ray that involved some sailing there might be some hope. But given the resource hog of COVID in the health system and the lack of a meaningful rehab system Ray and many others will be doomed.
A hard watch indeed for those with empathy and even an angry watch as the opioid epidemic takes a backseat to the COVID pandemic. A bit of a paradox if the opioid death rate exceeds COVID deaths. Well let the politico-medico elite deal with this problem. Postpone cancer surgeries and ignore the opioid death rate for the glossy headlines of the crusaders against the evil COVID. Who is getting screwed?
Digital access will be available for Canadians from 22April until 27 May at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. This is one film I would have loved to interview theatre goers about their reaction to the film. My thoughts on this that there might be a sense of hopelessness, disgust or “he got what he deserved”. However being imprisoned by a COVID holy commandment of social distancing this will not be possible.
This doc will be available for Canadians from April 22 until May 27. For others depending on international distribution rights you may the opportunity to see this film. But wherever you live Ray will be on a street corner near you.