Habitual Toronto drug users dish up the straight dope in The Stairs

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      A documentary by Hugh Gibson. Rating unavailable

      The stairs of the title here, while also literal, refer to both the aspirations and the virtual Mt. Sisyphus facing all addicts once they lock into the use-rinse-repeat cycle.

      The 90-minute doc, shot in several formats over at least five years, centres on three Torontonians who have survived well enough to describe their journeys with some clarity. In his feature debut, actor turned director Hugh Gibson is heard cajoling, querying, and driving the three around as they pursue chores, court appointments, and rendezvous with other users—even though they all do conscientious work for the Regent Park Community Health Centre.

      “Once you start, you never stop using,” admits Greg, who also goes to college. A big, biracial guy, he was abandoned as a baby and bears the literal scars of his life ever since—most recently from a run-in with police. The talkative Marty, with a Caribbean lilt to his rapid speech, has done somewhat better, having moved on to an addiction to running shoes and Bob Marley T-shirts. (“Because I can see where the money went,” he explains.) But he’s not immune to street-level hassles that interfere with his progress.

      The most complex subject is Roxanne, who was adopted as a child by a Mennonite family and then “escaped” into urban sex work she describes sometimes with horror and in some moments with humour. When confronted on the subway for wearing a full-length mink coat, she recalls answering, “Do you know how many animals I had to fuck to get this coat?” She describes her cumulative experience as a kind of PTSD that self-medication still hasn’t quite addressed.

      The movie’s best in those candid moments. When Gibson gets more interpretive, with wide-angle lenses and pounding music, the effects are strained. In any case, it’s clear that for those at the bottom, the road to recovery takes far more than 12 steps.

      Watch the trailer for The Stairs.