After tackling controversy with a documentary about South Asian gangsters and following it up with a fictional film about the same subject, South Surrey filmmaker Mani Amar was ready for a change of pace.
So the former Port Alberni resident shot a documentary about the drug addicts who live on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and posted it online.
The Decrepit was made for less than $5,000, a fraction of the budget Amar had for his award-winning documentary A Warrior’s Religion or his follow-up fictional film Footsteps into gangland.
Going online, Amar says, allowed him to make a movie quickly, without the time-consuming process of lining up funding, crews and performers.
And he was irritated by the way drug addicts in Vancouver’s skid road neighbourhood are often portrayed and wanted to do something that would show the human face of addiction.
Amar describes his first-ever Internet movie as a “complete passion project.”
The 30-year-old shot The Decrepit last summer, but didn’t find the time to finish editing the raw footage until a few months ago.
In the 23-minute micro-budget film – viewable at http://vimeo.com/38814733 – addicts tell their stories to Amar, who acted as his own cinematographer and can be heard off-camera asking the questions.
The interviews take place in the alleys of the run-down area of downtown Vancouver, often described as Canada’s poorest neighbourhood.
“I’m not bad, I’m just crazy,” one subject tells Amar.
“You don’t want to be where am I am now,” another interviewee says.
Amar views his Internet experiment as a success on a number of different levels.
For one thing, it is far easier to find funding for a $5,000 web documentary than a $75,000 independent feature film.
For another, the feedback for The Decrepit has been almost universally positive, unlike the outrage generated in some quarters by his previous productions.
“Probably because no specific community was at the forefront of the subject matter (this time),” Amar says.
When A Warriors’ Religion first came out in 2009, there were even threats on his life and police warned Amar some South Asian gangsters had put a price on his head.
“It has come down, I heard,” Amar says.
“It was $25,000, now it’s $10,000.”
A Warrior’s Religion featured the first on-camera interview ever granted by notorious former gangster Bal Buttar.
Buttar, a self-described hit man, was left blind and unable to move from the neck down in 2001 after he was shot twice in the head.
In the film, Amar confronts Buttar.
“Have you killed people?” he demands.
“Yes,” Buttar whispers.
“And you’re okay with that?”
“No, I’m not okay, now. But I was.”
Among other plaudits, the completed film won Best Documentary honours at the Sikh International Film Festival in New York.
Amar based his follow-up film, a work of fiction, on his research for the documentary.
Footsteps into Gangland also raised hackles among some over its portrayal of sexual abuse within a South Asian family.
But the film has also inspired imitators, with other movie makers setting films in the South Asian underworld of B.C.
There have been at least five in what amounts to a new genre of crime films since Footsteps came out.
Amar is not a fan.
He says the imitators are glossing over the uglier aspects of the gang lifestyle, effectively glamourizing it.
The Decrepit, Amar’s newest work, has succeeded in making a measurable difference to at least one person, the filmmaker says.
One man was so shocked at seeing himself in the footage that he entered a recovery program,
“Is this what I look like?” he said to Amar.
The man has been clean for about a year and has developed an interest in the online media that played a part in his current sobriety.
“That’s my proudest accomplishment, that I helped someone,” Amar says.
Amar is now preparing for his next film project, a documentary about “the beauty of human movement.”