Feature

City On Fire: New Documentary Aims to Show a New Saint John

A shot from City On Fire depicting James Mullinger on stage at Harbour Station. Image: Submitted

SAINT JOHN – A new documentary is aiming to show Canada’s oldest city in a new light.

City on Fire, produced by Saint John-based Hemmings House Pictures, premieres this weekend on CBC. The film follows London expat and adopted New Brunswick comedian James Mullinger on his journey to sell out Saint John’s Harbour Station. Leading up to the big show, he uses his “outsider” perspective to explore what many see as Saint John’s revival and hunt for a new identity.

“The aim of film is to show the Saint John that I know and love. To show the amazing views and beautiful architecture and everything else which I don’t see represented in national media elsewhere,” Mullinger says. “Too often New Brunswick is ignored by the national press and I don’t think many people across Canada are aware of how beautiful it is here. Now they will be.”

Though the film will feature some great shots of the city, Mullinger says it will be far from an extended tourism video. Throughout the documentary he speaks with different Saint Johners, from poets and journalists to architects and urban planners, about why they choose to live and work in Saint John and where they see the city going. He says the film won’t ignore the city’s issues either.

“The ideal thing is that it’s a piece of entertainment, but also it’s an accurate depiction of what the first two years of my life living here have been,” Mullinger says. “Equally, we have not glossed over reality. There is poverty here, there is unemployment here.”

City on Fire is directed by Lauchlan Ough and is his first full-length documentary feature. He handpicked the people interviewed in the film and says though they all brought different perspectives, they all have one thing in common.

A behind the scenes shot from City on Fire. Image: Submitted

A behind the scenes shot from City on Fire.
Image: Submitted

“I think what was revealed was though Saint John and New Brunswick may have this outdated image of [themselves] … there are people here, actively here every day who don’t even consider that or even think in those terms anymore,” Ough says. “They are so far past that and I think it’s people like the Acre [architects] in the movie, they don’t see working on the fringe as a challenge, they believe ideas don’t have constraints due to geographical locations.”

He hopes that when Saint Johners watch the film, they start viewing their city in a different light.

“People have been down on this place for so long and the number one offenders are Saint Johners,” Ough says. “When they watch it, I hope they’re like ‘holy, I can’t believe all this stuff is going on right here. I need to be more active in my city. I need to be more active in making my community better.'”

But the film isn’t just for Saint Johners, otherwise it would fall flat on its face. Mullinger says a lot of the issues Saint John is facing are shared by other mid-sized cities across North America. He says people shouldn’t let geography stop them from doing what they want to do and that theme makes the film relatable.

“It’s also about having a dream and following through with it. It’s about the beauty of small cities and communities,” Mullinger says. “Even though it’s based here and talks about [Saint John], having visited lots of small towns across Canada, this story could apply to almost any small city.”

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Ough says they want the national audience to leave feeling inspired too.

“We often think these are Saint John problems, but they are a lot of cities’ problems, cities who are mid-sized like us trying to figure out who they are going to be moving forward. They had a past that was a certain way and now they are trying to figure out who they are. They are in transition,” he says.

“What I hope they take away is that they will think differently about their own communities and the potential within them.”

City on Fire premiers this Saturday at 8 p.m. AST on CBC.