REVIEW: This Is North Preston an engaging documentary with mixed messaging

The troubles of small, predominantly African-Nova Scotian community North Preston are put on full display in this new documentary.

This Is North Preston, directed and written by Jaren Hayman, follows hip hop artist Just Chase, who returns from Toronto to his home to visit old friends and talk about the place as a whole.

If you’ve picked up any newspaper or watched any television report in the last five years, you’ve seen the stories about North Preston’s Finest, a gang sprung from the small area known for human trafficking and the drug trade. In recent years, the stories have become more prevalent.

Chase makes the case in this film that yes, bad things do happen in North Preston, but the soulful community — full of churchgoing people and strong bonds — is more than its worst residents.

As a former reporter in the city, I’d tend to agree with this assertion. My issue is not with Chase — or director Haymen — trying to shine a more positive light on North Preston.

My main issue is that, while it’s true many of these young men turn to a life of crime because the government — and many others in the surrounding community — have left them behind, that’s not the whole story.

To say these young men and women who become pimps and escorts, killers and dealers, are a product of their environment is a sad truth, but it’s when Chase and the interviewees become apologists for this abhorrent behaviour that my sympathy was lost.

There is a concerted, and admirable, effort to interview so many different people, from Mayor Mike Savage to community leaders, police, those committing crimes, women in the community, sex workers both former and current, as well as a man currently charged with human trafficking offences.

But as the scales of an unbiased view at this community tip toward trying to backpedal all the horrible things that have happened there, one loses sight of what the filmmaker wanted to highlight in the first place.

North Preston is an area that needs support, finances, growth and economic stability. Youth need a way out and a leg up, and we need to help this community if we expect our young men and women to succeed like Chase has.

But that doesn’t mean we can just push the troubling things happening there under the rug. North Preston’s Finest exists, and we can’t ignore that, despite the grand, incredible number of North Preston residents who are fine — nay, incredible — community members.

2.5/5 Stars

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