As the nightlife and real estate worlds continue to go gaga over the so-called “Griffintown Renaissance,” plucky Montréal filmmaker Nadine Gomez shows us the eerily retro world of a stable owner and the carriage drivers living and working in the vestiges of a bygone era. Gomez talked to NIGHTLIFE.CA about her documentary The Horse Palace, a sensitive meditation on colourful characters, urban history, and Old Port road apples.

The Horse Palace: a documentary tribute to all Griffintown entertainers standing in the way of big condo developers

They Built this City
From the moment Nadine Gomez visited the Horse Palace stables in Griffintown, she knew that there were layers of stories that she needed to tell: both for the men and women who drive the carriages in the Old Port, and the Belgian steeds they look after. “They built this city!” she exclaims, recalling that most of the buildings that make up Montréal’s architectural heritage were built using equine labour. Over three years shooting at the stables, “the textures started to show through, the empty spaces, the silence. The whole area was very outside of the city, very much ‘on hold’ – it spoke to me,” she says, still transfixed by the cracked sidewalks and empty lots that make Griffintown so tasty to condo developers.

Gomez began to see the horsey habitat of this new “It District” as a manifestation of all the urban planning and social history she had been reading about with a critical, post-journalism-school eye. “Not a lot of people were aware that public spaces are political spaces! Really, in Québec, we don’t have many public spaces where people can gather because it’s a type of architecture that English [colonial] people took away so that French people couldn’t gather,” she contends. As Montréal’s urban development becomes defined by consumer spaces like the Quartier des Spectacles and resolutely individualistic condo developments, Gomez, like many urban planners, argues that the quintessential spaces that have sustained and defined The City begin to fade away. Or worse, they could be deliberately erased.

Much More Than “Ruin Porn”
Social critique aside, the first-time documentarian insists that her film is not all about gentrification and its impact on these beautiful horses. Watching the film in preview, I can say that anyone looking for mere “ruin porn” will learn so much more from this film. Overcoming her allergy to the beasts of burden, Gomez made The Horse Palace as an homage to the entertainers and tour guides who stand in the way of the big, mean developers and fast-paced world of people too busy for carriage rides. “They’re storytellers rather than entertainers,” she explains. Like when you buy a piece of art from a street vendor, “what you’re buying is not their art, but the story behind it.” Watch out for Nadine Gomez: this may be her first time at the documentary rodeo, but The Horse Palace is a sure bet.

The Horse Palace
Now playing at Excentris | 3536 St-Laurent (Director Q&As on March 26 & 27)
Special screening at the PHI Centre on Saturday, March 23 at 7pm | 407 Saint-Pierre

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