A film by Hugh Gibson
2016, 95 minutes
No. 082


Shot over the course of five years, Hugh Gibson's award-winning documentary examines the lives of habitual drug users at an urban health center staffed by both former and current users.

The Stairs takes us inside the Regent Park Community Health Centre, focusing on three current staff members: the loquacious, seemingly tireless Marty, who was so addicted at one point that, after being shot in a deal that went south, he stopped for a hit before going to the hospital; Roxanne, a former sex worker whose tales of life in the trade are beyond harrowing; and Greg, a biracial child of the 1960s consumed with a long-delayed legal case hinging on a police officer's use of excessive force.

As it draws us closer to Gibson's subjects, the documentary challenges prejudices and preconceived notions. It also underlines how tentative sobriety and stability can be for people who have lived in addiction for years. In one of the film's rawest moments, Marty, when asked what kind of future he sees for himself, explains that "When you wake up and you're at that next day, you're very happy because it's another day you didn't smoke crack … I didn't do it yesterday, I'm not gonna do it today either. That's our happy ending. Cuz it never ends."

A deeply moving and compassionate documentary, The Stairs subtly expands into a wide-ranging portrait of the conditions that can nurture addiction, most notably poverty and homelessness, as well as the social and legal structures that surround it.

Winner, Best Canadian Film, Toronto Film Critics Association
Official Selection, Toronto Film Festival
Official Selection, Mar del Plata Film Festival
Official Selection, Jeonju Film Festival
Official Selection, Maryland Film Festival

“One of the best documentaries of the year. The Stairs has an intelligence and humanism reminiscent of Allan King, paying attention to people, their behavior and self-articulation, without trying to fit the material into some convenient message-driven box.”
- Filmmaker Magazine

“A fascinating documentary… gets us far deeper into the complicated reality of drug dependence and recovery than standard television-style docs can reach.”
- Cinema Scope

“Gibson is successful in illuminating the constant struggles of a user and the lasting impact drugs have on one’s life.”
- The Globe and Mail

The Stairs is extraordinary, and speaks to Gibson’s own tenacity and resourcefulness to let the story take him where it was meant to go, finding moments that illuminate the harsh but often beautiful reality.”
- POV Magazine

“A deeply inspiring look at ordinary people striving to defy the odds by helping each other off the stairs and out the exit door. It is also worth noting that the exquisite final shot, captured through a car’s side mirror, is as happy an ending as one could hope for.”

“A huge contribution to the country... shockingly inspiring... I loved it.” - Sarah Polley (Director, Stories We Tell, Away from Her

“The Stairs provides an honest insight into drug addiction. Hugh Gibson’s 2016 documentary is a sensitive and important portrait.” - Little White Lies

"Hugh Gibson’s feature film debut represents the arrival of a major new voice in documentary filmmaking. The Stairs is a compassionate, unvarnished look at the lives of drug users in urban Toronto—their struggles to help themselves and one another, to change their lives for the better, and above all to maintain dignity in a society that often seems to prefer their invisibility. Gibson’s film avoids the pat narratives and uplifting bromides so often associated with this genre, instead preferring to allow the subjects to speak for themselves. His camera is curious and non-judgmental. Applying a style that is equal parts Errol Morris and Allan King, Gibson combines free observation with direct testimony to produce a vital document of a culture all around us. It’s a community that some of us may at one time have been a part of, one that others of us seldom see." - MUBI Notebook