Hot Docs: When We Were Boys

Editor: Hot Docs is on and Spacing will be reviewing documentary films during the festival that are urban or city related.

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Sarah Goodman’s first Hot Docs entry, Army of One, received the Hot Docs Best Documentary Award of 2004. This time around, the army wears crested blazers. In the unremittingly charming and wholly empathetic When We Were Boys, we follow Noah and Colin, two dreamboats-in-the-making, as they transition from eighth grade to high school at Toronto’s Royal Saint George’s College.The boys of RSGC bear all the hallmarks of privilege: they are dropped off in luxury cars, use MacBooks in class, have sisters at Branksome, and own Bernese Mountain Dogs. But what Goodman captures best is not what sets them apart, but their ordinary angst and excitement. Her ability to intertwine the awkwardness of peer grouping and the intimacy of teenage friendship without interfering through narration, voice overs, or a back story is delightful.

Goodman spent several weeks filming in the school before choosing her main subjects, and she chose well. The film’s star, Noah, is heartbreaking as he negotiates what it means to be a good citizen, a leader, and a future graduate of RSGC, where “Manners Maketh Men,” when your immediate interests involve having a place to sit at lunch, and Call of Duty 3. The rules of school are unwritten; they cannot be explained, only (usually painfully) experienced. In one of several scenes that illustrate this point quietly, Noah is labeled an idiot for wondering about the relationship between Toronto field poppies and opium, although the accusers are unable to explain how opium relates to heroin. What makes an alpha male and what makes an idiot is intangible, and the indescribability of ostracization, loneliness, and social anxiety is allowed to unfold at its own pace, in lots of small moments. The soundtrack includes several Jim Guthrie tracks, and one by Rock Plaza Central.

When We Were Boys plays Sunday, May 10 at 4 PM at the Bloor. More information is available here.