In Juan Baquero’s Listen to This, which makes its Toronto premiere at this year’s Hot Docs, students at Firgrove Public School near the intersection of Jane and Finch) are encouraged to write songs as part of an after-school initiative called “Arts in the Hood.”
The program, founded by pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo and staffed by a dedicated group of local musicians, is designed as an exercise in personal expression, but it takes on an exciting new dimension as several of the children demonstrate an unexpected aptitude for their new craft.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to follow my interest in music and to make new friends who also liked to sing” says nine-year-old Jasmine Jacobs, one of the film’s featured subjects and a talented songwriter.
“I wrote my first song when I was five,” she says.
Baquero says the key was making sure that the children — and their families — felt comfortable with the set-up. “The issue was that the Jane and Finch area has traditionally been mistreated by the media,” he says.”
“I’m originally from Colombia,” adds the filmmaker, “and the same thing happens there. You only ever hear about the country in the context of violence, or drugs, and it’s frustrating, because reality is so much richer.”