The town of North Preston, Nova Scotia is significant for several reasons. Established circa the American Revolution, the town of 4000 has a rich history as a haven for Africans who escaped from slavery on the island of Jamaica and Black refugees from the War of 1812. “This is Preston,” a new film from director Jaren Hayman, presents a contemporary warts-and-all portrait of a place scarred by systemic racism and violence.
Acting as tour guide is R&B singer, rapper and North Preston-ite (he now lives in Los Angeles) Just Chase. He pops in and out of the film—occasionally in music video style sequences—to ground the film in present day, a community sometimes known as the Pimp Capitol of Canada. It’s not exactly something you want on the Expedia.ca listing for the town but the film’s subjects, some residents of the town who call themselves North Preston’s Finest, suggest the town’s current state of affairs is the result of profiling and decades of oppression from a predominantly white police force. North Preston’s Finest are not, they stress, a gang but rather a loose knit group who celebrate what they call the North Preston lifestyle. Reinforcing the stories of police harassment is Olympian and former champion boxer Kirk Johnson who tells a chilling story of being targeted by police.
It’s here the film is at its most interesting. Hayman does not back away from addressing issues of human trafficking and gun violence but he also doesn’t condescend to the viewer or the film’s subjects by attempting to mine easy answers for the town’s social ills. Instead he is a fly on the wall, presenting a raw look at the community’s economic reality. It’s a dire situation ripe with hypocrisy but it’s also a complex one that provides the film’s most interesting food for thought.
“This is North Preston” raises interesting points but feels stretched to its modest 70-minute running time. Hayman assembles an interesting and provocative collection of residents, public officials, pimps and victims of sexual violence but the film feels padded, as though a shorter version, perhaps a TV hour, might have made the film sharper and more effective.