HIS NAME IS RAY
A film directed by Michael Del Monte
award-winning director of Transformer
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To some, he may be another panhandler on Toronto’s Lakeshore Blvd. But the drug-addicted homeless man has a backstory straight from the sea, and lost to the streets.
Ray is a fortysomething from Prince Edward Island, a bedraggled survivor of multiple near-death experiences. To concerned lifelong friends from home who encounter him in Toronto, he looks, “more like 80.”
And when he wearily complains, “I’ve been working since five in the morning,” he means he’s been at his spot on one of the city’s busiest intersections, going from car to car, panhandling.
His Name is Ray, directed by Michael Del Monte (Transformer) sprang from an impulse by the filmmaker who’d repeatedly encountered this same street person for the duration of a traffic light. He was lean and amiable and often clearly suffering.
Who was he? How did he end up there? “Every time I drove home, I would see the same man panhandling that same intersection,” Del Monte says. “One day, I decided to get out of the car and talk to him.
“After getting to know one another, he invited me to follow him on his journey to get off the streets and back on the water. I followed Ray single-handedly for eight months.
“It’s a hard story to watch, but it’s a much harder story to live. It’s a film that begs the audience to have the courage to look Ray in the eye and have empathy.”
The water turned out to be key to Ray’s story. A Maritimer who’d worked for the Coast Guard, he had a lifelong love of the sea. And whatever personal disasters led him to where he was now, it was telling that his “territory” for panhandling was never far from Lake Ontario. There, he could gaze at sailboats in the distance and dream of being anywhere other than the streets of Toronto, trying to finance his next hit of heroin.
His Name is Ray is a remarkably intimate look at the drama that plays out on the streets while most city-dwellers look the other way.
When we meet Ray, he has “lost” $700, money owed to an unseen drug dealer named “Mikey,” who was now going through the ritual of collecting a debt from the homeless (ie. going to his haunts and threatening his friends).
Of course, “friends” is a relative term on the streets. On more than one occasion, Ray passes out alongside an ostensible friend, only to discover upon waking that he’s been robbed.
The community of the homeless greet each other with inebriated bonhomie, and everyone seems to have a story about how the other person saved their life (usually from a drug overdose).
As Ray’s friend Ashley puts it, “Drugs… we share them, we rob each other for them. That’s what goes on every day.”
His appetite for oblivion reflects the headlines of the opioid crisis. He drinks, he does heroin. And as the movie nears its end, he injects the worst of current drugs, fentanyl, for the first time.
Ray’s story could end in redemption. A kind offer by a local on the docks to take Ray for a spin in his sailboat seems to switch on a light in his heart and mind.
At other times, his old self seems to be disappearing – as when he endures a drunken and disinterested phone conversation home on Mother’s Day and discovers with a shrug that he’s become a grandfather for the second time.
“For Ray, getting back on the water would be the ultimate achievement of the oblivion he craves – sailing away from it all,” Del Monte says. “Is it a realistic dream? It is to him. It may even be what keeps him alive while people around him die.”
Del Monte was director, producer, cinematographer, and editor on this riveting film. Scott Montgomery was writer and producer, and Tad Munnings was also producer, with Hanan Townshend the composer.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Michael Del Monte won the Canadian Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2018 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival for his film Transformer. He directed Village of the Missing (2019) about the murders in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. His Name Is Ray (2021) is his latest feature film which he shot single handedly.