Documentaries should never feel like they duped the audience. There’s an initial premise that says “this is the subject of our film,” and audiences usually buy into that. From that point on, the filmmaker can weave mystery and tension, or illuminate with facts; it’s all a matter of finding what there is to say, and whether that thing is important enough to provide at the beginning, or save it for later. This Is North Preston is a documentary that focuses on a community and its misrepresentation in the media — until it realizes its central protagonist is slightly famous, and becomes an atrocious biography built on the back of far more serious issues.
Just Chase was born and raised in North Preston, Nova Scotia, the largest black community in the country. The area has also become labelled as a massive hub for pimping and human trafficking. North Preston’s Finest is the ‘gang’ operating out of the town, and has a reach throughout Canada. This Is North Preston feels like it is attempting to mount a campaign against the stigma that North Preston’s Finest is in fact a gang, and if that is the point — to de-stigmatize a misconception with the town and the ‘gang’ — then the movie fails utterly and completely. If the point is to show a town filled with disillusioned individuals not recognizing that the gang that is under their nose, it still somehow also fails to do that.
Again, Just Chase was born and raised in North Preston, Nova Scotia. It’s worth repeating because the documentary introduces us to him and his family, then ditches him for a trip through the history of the community and the subsequent rise of North Preston’s Finest. However, he then appears again to tell us North Preston’s Finest isn’t what the media says (i.e., there are a lot of reports of cases of people committing crimes and being “affiliated” with this gang). He appears to tell us that before the movie takes a hard right and becomes about the launch of his new album, diving into the history of Just Chase and how important it is to represent the place you grew up in.
Doing a biography film is fine, but don’t pretend you’re trying to show us North Preston in all its light. It highlights a boxer and Chase as two famous people from the small town; it highlights racism from cops; it talks to people who believe that “it’s just a few bad eggs” who just happen to be from North Preston. But the movie doesn’t feel reflexive enough to make any salient point about the town’s criminal activities. No one is held accountable for anything. A couple gang members say “we’re not a gang” after headlines show up saying “this is a gang.” For the audience, there is nothing to explore because the film gives up on exploring it. There may not be a gang, and it may all be a product of the media needing an easy way to label things, but the film is not preoccupied enough with that notion. Instead, This Is North Preston ends talking about Just Chase, who is from North Preston, Nova Scotia.