Surrey co-stars in Canadian Dream, a movie about a young man’s descent into organized crime that marks the feature film debut of a local filmmaker.
With a plot straight out of the headlines, Canadian Dream tells the story of Armar, an immigrant who arrives with hopes of a better life, but when he loses his job, his path takes a dark detour into B.C.’s underworld of drugs, guns and gangs.
It’s a contemporary look at one facet of the immigrant experience in Surrey – from the inside.
Writer and director Manmord Sidhu, a Cloverdale resident and Vancouver Film School graduate who came to Canada from India in 2003, says it’s based on a true story.
He was still in film school when he began searching for a subject for his first feature-length film.
“I was looking for a reality-based script, something real,” Sidhu told the Reporter. “I got a chance to see a guy who had done all this stuff [in the film], and his partner.”
Much of the action is set in Surrey, with scenes shot in Cloverdale, Whalley, North Delta and Vancouver.
The story doesn’t shy away from the brutal realities of gang activity and its impact on the Indo-Canadian community.
Between 1991 and 2004, there were dozens of shootings in greater Vancouver – a region Sidhu says remains a magnet for gang activity, drugs and violence for “unscrupulous young Indian men.”
In casting a group of mostly unknown actors – many have never appeared on camera before – Sidhu hoped to capture a gritty realism in portraying the culture.
“All the actors are new,” he said, adding auditions took 20 days. “They’re from Surrey. There’s only two or three who have never acted before.”
Staying true to his cinematic vision meant financing and distributing the film himself.
“I wanted to cast new people and nobody was interested. They wanted known actors. I was looking for something real. Something close to the culture.”
While that meant a modest budget, Sidhu says the result is unique in Canadian and international cinema.
His resume boasts both B.C. and Bollywood credits, and he founded Surrey-based White Hill Production, which specializes in crossover cinema designed to appeal to audiences in the east and the west.
Canadian Dream was filmed in Punjabi with English subtitles.
Sidhu hopes the film will speak to domestic and international audiences.
“I think especially new immigrants will learn that when they come to a new culture, sometimes you make wrong decisions and circumstances can push you into bad things,” he says. “They’ll learn that people can have good dreams about Canada, but when they come over here, it could be different.”
In the film, things quickly sour for Armar (Vic Parmar) after he loses his job, his family and winds up in jail, sending him on an inexorable slide into desperation.
But when he meets Sunny, an operator in the drug trade, his fortunes seem to be on the rise. When the gang leader suddenly dies, Armar seizes an opportunity to quickly ascend up the ranks, pursuing his own version of the Canadian dream.
“I wanted to illustrate through Armar’s life the decisions that immigrants make and the importance of getting connected with the right people,” Sidhu says. “Armar’s participation in the drug trade attests to how difficult it is to leave that type of lifestyle.”
Canadian Dream also stars award-winning actress Balinder Johal, who’s appeared in a number of TV shows and films, along with Poonam Sandhu, Preet Cheema, Devinder Dillon, and Dashmesh Gill.
Sidhu, 29, lives in Cloverdale with his wife. Although his father has passed away, his mother will be in the audience when the film has its B.C. premiere Sunday, April 3 at Surrey’s Hollywood 3 cinema at 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
“She’s excited to see this,” says Sidhu, who is currently in Toronto for this weekend’s premiere March 26 and 27 at the Albion cinemas in Etobicoke.
Edmonton and Calgary are next.
After that, Sidhu hopes to distribute the film in India.