Dallas International Film Festival

Highway to Heaven

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Synopsis

A place utterly unique in British Columbia and the world, Richmond’s No. 5 Road, also known as the “Highway to Heaven,” hosts a multitude of faiths. Side by side are numerous houses of worship, including Buddhist temples, a Sikh gurdwara, Hindu and Swami temples, Shia and Sunni mosques, Christian churches, and Jewish, Islamic and Christian schools. Filmmaker Sandra Ignagni merges beautiful, carefully framed images with a symphonic soundscape that illuminates the intimate lives of the faithful. An evocative documentary that is both a meditation on multiculturalism and a subtle critique of the tensions that underlie cultural diversity in Canada today.

 

Director Biography – Sandra Ignagni

Sandra Ignagni trained in film production at Maine Media and is an alumnus of the Summer Intensive program at the UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art. She holds a PhD in Political Science (York University) and a Master of Arts in Indigenous & Canadian Studies (Trent University). Her previous short films have screened at festivals around the world. Ranger was acquired by CBC Canadian Reflections and won the Matrix Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 2017 Vancouver International Women in Film Festival. Sandra works at the International Documentary Association and is a regular contributor to Documentary Magazine.

Director Statement:
We share a world grappling with ethnic and racial injustice, religious xenophobia, and violence. Such realities are not limited to the world’s conflict zones—they are a part of everyday life, even in the most advanced democracies such as Canada. It was in this context that I was drawn to the unique landscape of No. 5 Road where, because of peculiar zoning by-laws, dozens of cultural and religious communities now share a very short stretch of suburban road. I was curious about how groups pitted against each other in so many corners of the world appeared to be living relatively peacefully with one another, and in very close proximity, in an ordinary Canadian suburb.

In developing this film, I discovered the beauty and cultural vibrancy that characterize what the locals call “the highway to heaven,” but also many subtle tensions. For example, the active and visible national police presence on the road is a stark reminder of the unfortunate precariousness still associated with living a spiritual life. I learned that, for more than one decade, the Richmond Jewish Day School did not have an exterior sign for fear of anti-Semitic attacks against its schoolchildren. And, in recent years, the secular residential community that surrounds No. 5 Road launched a major campaign opposing the proposed expansion of a Buddhist temple, using the pejorative moniker “Buddha Disneyland” to describe the proposed building in local media and public debates. The mere fact that zoning by-laws ordered these communities—the majority of which play a critical role in new immigrant and refugee resettlement—to vacant land on the fringes of a suburb is also ripe for reflection.

Moving into the film’s production, it was important for me to avoid reducing No. 5 Road’s delicate ecosystem to words and/or arguments—to me, doing so would be an exercise in public relations, reducing complex issues to soundbites and polemics. Instead, I wanted to make a film that would at once capture the remarkable—because it is truly remarkable—diversity on No. 5 Road, as it actually exists, while inviting audiences to meditate on the issues that pervade our troubled world. The film is therefore constructed as a “mosaic,” defined by writer and activist Terry Williams as “a conversation between what is broken.”

My film invites viewers to sit with what is unknown, different, raw, or only partially visible. To me, a mosaic captures perfectly the daily life one finds on No. 5 Road, where custom and ritual, language and cultural diversity are practised under surveillance cameras. In making this film, I am asking audiences to look with open eyes and hearts—with a spirit of curiosity—at themselves and their neighbours, and simply reflect on multiculturalism as an unfinished project in need of attention in Canada and around the world.

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Category

Director

Sandra Ignagni

Writer

Sandra Ignagni

Producer

Shirley Vercruysse

Runtime

17 min

Dallas International Film Festival

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