REVIEW: Carts of Darkness

During transit strikes, commuters are forced to think of alternate modes of transportation. As the title of British Columbia filmmaker Murray Siple’s documentary Carts of Darkness suggests, his main characters have found an odd way to get around — via shopping cart.

Big Al is an unemployed North Vancouverite who had his driver’s license taken away, preventing him from operating a motor vehicle. Just before rolling down a hilly highway at 60 kilometers-per-hour on the back of a shopping cart he says he still gets pulled over by the cops while riding his cart even though, he points out, the vehicle is technically motorless.

Carts of Darkness is as much about the sport of shopping cart racing as it is about traversing major cities using various modes of transport, from the shopping carts of the main characters to the wheelchair of the film’s director. Siple spends the film dealing with access issues while getting to know these men who have also fallen on hard times in their lives. By day they make money collecting and returning bottles and cans, while their afternoons are spent racing carts down steep highways. Though life has been rough on these men, Big Al thinks Siple’s life is harder than his own. “If I were in your state I’d be a full fledged alcoholic,” says Big Al.

It turns out there’s a lot more to cart racing than standing at the top of a hill and pushing off. As Big Al explains in detail, there’s finding the perfect cart (one without a coin return mechanism on the handle is best, so it doesn’t dig into the stomach of the driver), weighing down the front of the cart properly so it doesn’t flip during the descent, and wearing a good pair of shoes so the asphalt doesn’t wear away the sole while steering the cart around corners.

If you have friends or family in the Vancouver area they have two chances to see the film at the Vancity Theatre tonight and May 1st. For the rest of us, scenes from the film and extra interviews are available on the NFB’s website and you can check Siple’s website for future screening opportunities.

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