Quiet on the set

Moviemaking has residents of scenic Kensington Market living under virtual house arrest


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Capturing a picture-perfect Kensington Market on the silver screen isn’t easy. The colourful, trendy and eclectic neighbourhood has come to expect minor inconveniences when film crews descend. But the scene can get ugly when crew and locals clash. During the filming of indie director Bruce McDonald’s latest flick, a long-time Kensington resident was arrested for refusing to comply with police and film crew calls for silence.

On October 16 at around 5 pm, Mary Fish was whistling her way along Kensington Avenue when she wandered into the filming of Claire’s Hat. The crew had set itself up in various parts of the Market for two weeks in October.

Fish says she didn’t realize that passersby had been directed to be silent. She was asked to be quiet, and refused.

Then came the police.

“I started screaming my brains out. I was furious,” recalls Fish. “The police (officer) could have waited two minutes for me to get inside the cafe I was going to. If they hadn’t made such a fuss, I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself.

“I looked at him and said, “You’re not really going to arrest me.’ I thought it was pretty funny at first,” says Fish. “It really irritated me that they thought they could stop me whistling in my own neighbourhood.”

She was arrested and charged with causing a disturbance. The paid-duty cops handcuffed her and drove her to 14 Division. She was then held overnight at 54 Division, where she was given a psychiatric assessment.

After a strip-search revealed that she was carrying less than a gram of pot, Fish was also charged with possession of marijuana.

The Toronto Film and Television Office, along with three major Kensington Market community groups, gave the film crew explicit permission to shoot in the neighbourhood. Paid-duty police presence is required at film shoots everywhere in Toronto.

Helga Stephenson of Serendipity Point Films (the producers of Claire’s Hat) was aghast to learn of the October 16 incident.

“I said, “What the hell is this?'” says Stephenson. “But this kind of stuff must happen a lot on sets across the city.

“If someone comes into the middle of a site and causes a ruckus, they have to be taken away,” she says. “From what I understand, she was screaming obscenities. Police are trained to act cautiously when dealing with crazy people.

“Bruce McDonald is a sensitive and caring guy. He was very keen to have Kensington Market as Kensington Market (in the film). Everyone went out of their way to make nice in Toronto. I swear to you that this was done with a lot of care.”

The company, she says, shelled out about $50,000 as compensation to local businesses, and $9,000 of that went to three major community coalitions. Neighbourhood residents were canvassed, and the majority agreed to the film crew presence.

“All was done according to the book and more,” says Stephenson. “I think if you go to another location downtown, it, too, will have its quirks. It’s all part of the rich tapestry of life.”

Some Kensington businesses, however, are peeved.

Diane Tran is the manager and sole employee of Kara’s Cafe, a quaint restaurant and bar at the corner of Kensington and St. Andrews, one short block away from where the film was shooting. Tran says she was repeatedly asked by the crew to keep her clientele quiet.

“These big people with a lot of money and power come and run right over the small people like me,” says Tran. “I lost business and didn’t get anything in return. If people want to do their filming here, that’s fine. Just give me some money to let me shut down for a night.”

Tran didn’t get compensation, says Stephenson, because the cafe wasn’t captured in any of the shots.

“There have to be limits,” Stephenson says, adding that some businesses filed for compensation two weeks after the film crew left. “You’ve got to give them credit for trying.”

Global Cheese was paid compensation. Says manager David Terry, “We have no complaints. The last crew was pretty nice. They had everything organized so that nothing would be upset.”

According to the Film and Television Office guidelines, a production company is under no obligation to provide compensation for disruption unless it voluntarily agrees to do so with residents/occupants/businesses.

Paul Oberst, a board member of the Kensington Market Working Group, notes that the main source of frustration lay in the amount of street parking that was taken up during the film crew’s activities.

“It wasn’t like they showed up in the morning and disappeared at night,” says Oberst. “The neighbourhood was totally disrupted.”

He, like many other Kensington residents, has resigned himself to moviemaking nuisances. “There’s no way to stop them, even if you wanted to,” says Oberst, noting that the Film and Television Office has full jurisdiction over where and when film crews can operate.

Kensington Market Action Committee member and film liaison Gordon Shipley understands filmmakers’ attraction to the neighbourhood. “They’re here for the backdrop, the atmosphere,” he says. Shipley himself says he was prevented from leaving his building for 15 minutes because of a shoot.

But he says the film companies’ payoff to the neighbourhood makes the inconvenience worthwhile.

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