Arts & Culture

New documentary features "Mosaic in One Mile"

By Ahmad Ali Jaffer

Published 3:05 PDT, Thu September 19, 2019

Last Updated: 12:33 PDT, Tue October 8, 2019

Richmond’s No. 5 Road is home to one of the most unique stretches in Metro Vancouver—lined with houses of worship, religious schools, and community centres. Residents and worshippers alike have dubbed it the Highway to Heaven; the namesake of a 2019 short documentary featuring these sacred spaces.

The film, Highway to Heaven: A Mosaic in One Mile, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and directed by Sandra Ignagni, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 7. It follows a typical day on this road, beginning with resident monks of Ling Yen Mountain Temple waking before dawn to commence their morning rituals—a rare glimpse into this sacred time of the day.

The film also showcases a Sikh wedding at the India Cultural Centre of Canada (Nanak Niwas Gurdwara), Sunday service at the Trinity Pacific Church, Friday prayers at the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre, and glimpses of the Thrangu Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and the Vedic Cultural Society of BC. 

Throughout the 17-minute-film there are seven languages spoken, yet no subtitles or narration. This was an intentional choice, as Ignagni envisions her film as an invitation for “audiences to sit with what is unknown, different, raw, or only partially visible.”

In a true display of diversity, the film also includes a glimpse into the secular spaces that share the road, including the Kingswood Pub and Grill, Mylora Golf Course, and the Richmond detachment of the RCMP. 

While the majority of the film follows a linear sequence, moving from one place to another, there are a series of scenes which demonstrate the parallels and contrasts between two of the religious schools on the road, the Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy and the Richmond Jewish Day School.

Interestingly, the only time in the film the two schools—which have developed a close relationship through joint athletic and community service activities over the past decade and a half—interact, is in a choreographed hockey tournament, under RCMP supervision. This is notably the only documented exchange between members of the different institutions.

While the director situates the film in “a world grappling with ethnic and racial tensions, religious xenophobia, and violence,” characterizing the road as one of high-surveillance and closed doors, many of the faith-based centres have voluntarily come together to form the Highway to Heaven Association. This group promotes interfaith collaboration, and encourages its members to open their own doors and to visit their neighbouring places of worship.

Highway to Heaven premiers in B.C. at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 29.

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