Water Street

A journey through four seasons as the filmmaker walks along a country road called Water Street. Reality has many perspectives, few of which we will ever see, this was his attempt to capture some over the course of one year.

Creative team

Director/producer: Rob Thompson

Director’s statement

Rob Thompson says:

“I am a city boy, and as someone who has always lived in the downtown core, I have a love/hate relationship with the urban lifestyle. I thrive on the critical mass that exists here. I am energized by the social interaction. I love the convenience and access to technology. Yet, I also find at times that the traffic, the monotonous architecture and social inequalities numb my spirit and create a sense of claustrophobia.

Like many Canadians, I have long thought of the countryside as an escape: wide-open spaces filled with freedom, nature and rejuvenation. I have harbored the pleasant, hippie-tinged dream that some day I would move to the countryside, build my own home, plant a garden and create a self-sustained lifestyle.

So, it was a twist of fate when I received a call in January 2011 for a six-month contract in a small town in northern Ontario. Finally, a chance to live in the countryside! Within a week I had packed up my apartment in Toronto and moved to Killaloe, population 700, which clung tenaciously to the Canadian Shield among the pine forests.

I was hired to teach video production to 12 youth-at-risk. I was quickly confronted with the fact that my views of country life had been slightly delusional. These youth, while great people individually, were a surly group. I was also confronted with the darker side of country life, one of poverty, drugs, crime and mind-numbing boredom. I had some dark days including an initial stay at a rather grim boarding house where on arrival I was promptly handed two pages of the house rules.

This was not how I had imagined things would be. Still, after poring over Google maps I discovered a country road called Water Street. It began in the centre of the village and headed out into the countryside. I knew this road would be my saving grace. I could go for long walks, escape to nature, frolic among the trees and commune with the animals.

Like most people, I had driven through the countryside numerous times. I had visited quaint country villages and stayed at friend’s farms. Somehow my idyllic view of the country had always been strengthened and never diminished by these experiences. When I finally did go for a walk along Water Street, my last illusions died a quick death.

The first thing I noticed were the endless miles of barbed wire on both sides of the road with ‘no trespassing’ signs nailed up at regular intervals. Nature had been bought and sold as far as I could walk. As a dedicated pedestrian, I could not get to the parks or explore crown land. No, this country village and environs were all I had. After half a mile I then came upon signs that stated the road itself was private property, owned by a snowmobile association. The loud, exhaust-spewing vehicles that raced past me at regular intervals punctuated this fact. I soon began to feel like I’d actually had more access to nature in the heart of Toronto. As for people, I was virtually alone when I was outdoors. Everyone in the countryside drove their trucks everywhere and gave me suspicious looks as they raced past.

I persevered though, did some trespassing and, while I was discovering a little more of the land, I also kept discovering strange incongruities. In the city I found the roar of traffic grated on me, so I was surprised to be standing out on Water Street, in the middle of nowhere, and I could hear the roar of traffic. I soon realized it was the roar of the wind through the bare branches of the trees. It was uncanny how much it sounded like the traffic of Toronto, minus the sirens. I was also used to birds, squirrels and raccoons in Toronto. Out in the countryside, despite complaints of deer overpopulation, I rarely saw any creatures. In fact the countryside in winter seemed completely devoid of life. I had found a lifelessness I usually only associated with the concrete structures of the city.

Yet the emptiness did have a certain aesthetic. By the time my contract ended I decided to stay on for a while and started shooting a video of my walks along Water Street.

As spring thawed the surrounding fields and woods, some wildlife did begin to emerge, I saw a beaver here, an otter there. Yet overall, cities still seemed more alive with wildlife. When I talked about my experience in Killaloe with my new found country friends, they often laughed at my naïveté about country life but I in turn could only smile at their somewhat warped view of city life.

This experience reinforced a recurring theme in my work: the idea that ‘reality’ is not one thing but is made up of a variety of perspectives. We will only ever experience a fraction of the world around us and so our perception of life is more often than not compiled from hearsay, mediated images and idealized or demonized tales of other people’s experiences. Indeed, two people can experience the exact same thing yet come away with completely different perspectives.

In this video I tried to capture a few of the perspectives that confronted me over the course of one year as I walked along Water Street.”

About Rob Thompson

Rob-Thompson

Rob’s career in the arts began at the age of 15 when, much to his mother’s dismay, he tore out the wall between two cupboards to create a darkroom. In his late teens he bought a guitar and joined a band and began composing music for theatre.

In his twenties, he went to film school and soon after wrote and directed a number of films including the feature film Undercurrents. It was not long before Rob developed a passion for video and has since worked on hundreds of productions and won a variety of awards in his various roles as writer, director, composer and director of photography.

Some of his productions include Collateral Damages, a multi-media performance on violence at the National Arts Centre Atelier, Caged, a live event at SAW Gallery on the egg production industry where he paid two people $5,000 to live in a chicken cage for a week, and Journey To Little Rock, a documentary on civil rights activist Minnijean Brown Trickey.

Rob’s work has been screened at a number of galleries across North America and Europe, including the British Film Institute, the Irish Film Centre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. His productions have also been broadcast both here and in the US, as well as receiving theatrical distribution in the US.

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