Editor’s Notes: Porch Stories opens in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox next Friday, June 19th.
There are endless stories to be found in any neighborhood if you sit around and listen to the conversations for a while. In her first dramatic narrative film, Porch Stories, Sarah Goodman transitions easily from documentary filmmaking to verite narrative filmmaking, crafting a universe from a Toronto neighborhood in a state of flux as it becomes increasingly gentrified and older Portuguese immigrants sit on their porches and observe the strange ways of young white hipsters. Despite the changing landscape of the neighborhood it is still a place where love can be found in its many different phases; from teenagers trying to figure out how to establish that first romantic connection to old couples hiding secret resentments for sins committed in bygone eras, proving that the dynamics of love and relationships are mysterious and complicated at every age.
In her first dramatic narrative film, Porch Stories, Sarah Goodman transitions easily from documentary filmmaking to verite narrative filmmaking.
We follow the story of Emma, a young woman at a crossroads where she must choose between the trappings of conventional adulthood by marrying her conservative fiancé (Stefan) or a life of creative fulfillment that she had tried to tuck away like a forgotten love letter. An old boyfriend (Gabriel) shows up in the neighborhood, perhaps with an agenda or perhaps by pure coincidence, inadvertently opening Emma’s eyes to the compromises she has made and the impact of her decision to marry someone without the same creative impulses that have driven Emma in the past. Gabriel acts as a third wheel as Stefan can sense the connection he shares Emma but his assertions that Gabriel lacks maturity can do nothing to break that connection. It is Gabriel’s inability or unwillingness to fall into the trappings of conventional adulthood that make him desirable. He’s a world away from the adult dinners, wedding plans, and mundane responsibilities that a life of marriage to Stefan would bring. Stefan will never share the same level of connection with Emma as Gabriel, will never share the primal communicative power of music, and will never understand the charms of yumberry tea.
The use of non-professional actors grants the film a sense of naturalism, but Goodman’s creative flexibility and the use of musicians in the lead roles helped mold the film into its final shape. Professional musicians Laura Barrett as Emma and Jose Miguel Contreras help to elevate the film through powerful duets and a score that adds meta-contextual elements as Laura’s kalimba softly underscores the plight of Emma and the crossroads she has reached as it intertwines with Jose’s guitar that gently calls her back to a life of creative fulfillment. Music connects the two on a deeper level than their awkward verbal exchanges ever could, revealing the sensitivity and synchronicity of their souls in a way that superfluous dialogue would only serve to betray.
Porch Stories is a film that understands the types of changes a person undergoes when entering a relationship and the sacrifices we make for a person that we think we love.
We also find stories of love at its infancy and stories of love lost after decades of comfortable complacency in Porch Stories, but as the film weaves through these stories it captures a neighborhood in flux that acts as a microcosm of Western culture. We overhear the banal conversations of passers-by, and through the syncopations of their speech and the topics of their conversations we see a shifting culture that is as socially conscious as it is image conscious. These overheard conversations are reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, both films capturing the idiosyncrasies of a generation and subculture with affable deprecation. Goodman’s work as a documentarian grant a sense of naturalism and spontaneity to these passing moments and we see her sensitivity to the world for all its virtues and failings.
Porch Stories is a film that understands the types of changes a person undergoes when entering a relationship and the sacrifices we make for a person that we think we love. We make clandestine efforts to hide our true selves in the hopes of becoming someone better in service to the idea of love, but eventually those contrived illusions fall away and we are forced to contend with who we really are. It never gets any easier and we don’t always realize the extent of the self-sacrifices we have made until it is too late and we have become too invested in all of the baggage of the relationship to accept the harsh realities. We are no longer servicing our love to another but remain indebted to the planning, contracts, and responsibilities that come with making it “official”. It’s hard to gauge the extent of these sacrifices and impossible to know if we are making them for the right person as the extent of these compromises are often not fully realized or understood for decades. Sometimes escape from a bad decision means abandoning the identity we have forged for ourselves over the course of years, but if we catch it at the right moment we can have a life altering epiphany during something as simple as a bike ride in the sun.
Despite the changing landscape of the neighborhood it is still a place where love can be found in its many different phases; from teenagers trying to figure out how to establish that first romantic connection to old couples hiding secret resentments for sins committed in bygone eras, proving that the dynamics of love and relationships are mysterious and complicated at every age.