Every great film begins with an idea – but the work really begins when you start turning that idea into a film, as Documentary Diploma alumni Javier Ojer discovered. A collaborative project between Javier, classmate Mik Turje, and the Pull Focus mentorship team, “Hands in the Dirt” explores issues around urban farming and agriculture.

“In the beginning there were a lot of points that Mik and I wanted to look at in relation to urban farming, like gentrification and colonialism. So we had to narrow it down. We began by writing down all our ideas, and then tried to figure out what the main issues were. What stood out is the disconnect between this image of urban farming and VertiCrops as solutions for food security, and what was actually happening to agricultural farmland in Richmond,” said Javier.

Mik’s ties to the farming community in Richmond allowed the team a firsthand look at the obstacles that farmers in the area face, including illegal dumping on Agricultural Land Reserves and sky­high land prices. A mere 20­minute drive from Vancouver, which proudly touts itself as a green city and actively encourages urban farming, the reality faced by local farmers in the Lower Mainland provided a stark contrast. Conveying all the issues involved on film however, turned out to be learning process.

“Mik and I both come from an academic background, so the initial cut was 35 or 40 minutes because we felt like wanted to explain everything. After getting a lot of feedback from our instructors, we managed to edit it down to ten minutes or so, while still keeping the relevant content intact.”

It was during the editing process that Javier realized the inherent responsibility of making a documentary film. “It’s very important to honestly represent the issues involved; as a filmmaker you have this power to show stories from a certain bias – it’s almost scary when you realize that this is possible. As a filmmaker you have a responsibility to tell a story as truthfully as you can.”

And after countless hours of filming and editing, Javier and Mik have managed to do just that – tell an untold story about urban farming that honestly represents the issues involved.

Based on a true story, Fruitvale Station has won numerous awards since it began the festival circuit at Sundance this year. The film tells the story of Oscar Grant III, a 22 year old from Hayward, California who was shot dead by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police (BART) on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Fruitvale_Station_posterDirector Ryan Coogler has said that he wanted to make a film about Grant’s last day: “I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean?”

Based on audience reaction in the theater, Coogler has emphatically succeeded. The majority of viewers likely know how it will end – but that only makes the build up to the climax all the more heartrending.

Coogler approaches his subject matter with a steady gaze. Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, is depicted as neither a hero nor a villain – he has his faults, as we all do, but he also has the self­-awareness to recognize them.

At the center of the film is his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melonie Diaz), with whom he has a four­ year ­old daughter. We understand that Grant has let them down in the past – yet Sophina acknowledges Grant’s willingness to be honest with her, and they spend New Year’s Eve with his family before heading out for the night.

Grant’s relationship with his mother, played by Octavia Spencer has also seen strain. One of the most striking scenes in the film takes place in a flashback when she visits him in jail. Jordan truly excels here – we see Grant’s vulnerability contrast with the harsh necessity of maintaining a tough exterior ­something that Jordan conveys with just a subtle shift in his gaze. Grant’s deep affection for his family is evident here too. He is visibly upset after learning that his daughter doesn’t understand why he isn’t around, and when his mother states that it’s the last time she’ll be visiting him in jail, he has to be restrained by prison guards.

As the film reveals Grant’s last hours, we’re left with a compelling portrait of a life that ended far too soon. The intelligence of Fruitvale Station lies in its ability to touch on something deeply human: those small moments of tenderness and understanding that occur in everyday life and that, in the end, are also what connect us to Oscar Grant.