Arts Review, Movies

Porch Stories

Porch Stories featured image

Sarah Goodman, director and writer
Starring: Laura Barrett (Emma), Jose Miguel Contreras (Gabriel), Alex Tindal (Stefan), Brad Hart (Todd), Reid McMaster (Zack), Hallie Switzer (Brianna), Sergio Sarmento (Antonio), Uerania Silveira (Maria)

Much of downtown Toronto is made up of houses with porches and small gardens on leafy narrow streets. In a lively local neighbourhood, you can get to know who lives near you pretty easily. People walk by chatting to each other, oblivious to people sitting on their porches taking in the scene. Some people—usually older ones—turn their viewing into an informal street cinema: they watch the drama of their community unfold before their eyes.

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Sarah Goodman has trained her cinematic eye and Toronto heart on a slightly down-on-the-heels ‘hood in Porch Stories, her first narrative feature film. There’s not much concern about gentrification yet in this feisty neighbourhood, which houses hipsters and older European immigrants—although in a cameo, Toronto “street walk” expert Shawn Micallef is heard telling a group that “most of the buildings will eventually be demolished for condos.”

Goodman concentrates on three porches: one where a young hip couple Emma and Stefan dwell; next door, on which a brother and sister—Zack and Brianna, squabble and sing folk songs while across the street an aging Portuguese couple watch the goings on and bicker about their lives. The only home we enter is Emma and Stefan’s—and they’re preparing to move out and get married.

Goodman has directed documentary features including one, When We Were Boys, set at the Royal St. George’s Academy in Toronto’s Annex. Her experience shows in Porch Stories: the details of the neighbourhood are ever present, from the local characters to the not-very-fancy architecture. The protagonists in the film—Emma, Stefan, Gabriel, Brianna, Zack, Antonio and Maria—are portrayed as regular people, not stars.

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Daringly, Goodman’s leads Laura Barrett (Emma) and Jose Miguel Contreras (Gabriel) aren’t actors. They’re musicians most famous for being part of local bands The Hidden Cameras (Barrett) and By Divine Right (Contreras). Goodman’s main storyline concerns the unexpected arrival of Gabriel at Emma and Stefan’s home (and porch). Gabriel and Emma are ex-bandmates and former lovers. What will his arrival do to her relationship with Stefan?

Happily, Barrett and Contreras rise to the occasion and do reasonably well with their roles. In fact, Porch Stories has a nice, verité feel to it until a surprising ending shows that the film was scripted to have an impact. Porch Stories has many good things going for it; it’s a debut fiction feature with a lot of soul.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

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