When Langford resident Michael Wallace turns on a light in his home he says “thank you.” He says the same when he turns on a tap or flushes his toilet.
In his one-bedroom suite, a couch and bed occupy the living room while the bedroom houses guitars and his music studio. It’s world away from living on the streets of Victoria.
After a series of unfortunate events, including a tragic car crash that nearly killed his son, the 56-year-old single-dad found himself homeless for five years starting in 2002. Metchosin filmmaker and University of Victoria student Shiraz Higgins, 22, has explored Wallace’s life of living rough in the documentary film So Close to Home.
In an honest and vulnerable narration, Wallace talks about his experiences and feelings of sorrow, hopelessness and gratitude as he revisits old haunts on the streets of downtown Victoria or squatting in a home near Elk Lake.
Throughout his life on the street, Wallace always had his guitar, a black Fender.
“A homeless person told me to get one with the lacquer because it (could withstand) the rain,” Wallace said. “When it rained I could loosen the strings and put my clothes inside.”
He composed more than 300 guitar songs and his music is featured on the film’s soundtrack. At his lowest point, Wallace said all he needed was to talk to someone.
“You never know about someone unless you talk to them and truly take the time to listen,” Wallace said.
Higgins met Wallace through the editor of the Street Newz publication in Victoria about four years ago. Wallace was eager to tell his story.
“There are some scenes that are pretty heavy stuff, but the rest of the time filming was all laughs,” Higgins said. “He would break down (in tears) and then there would be laughs right after.
Filming started in September 2009, and extended over two and a half years. Higgins’ friend Darrin DeStephanis helped with interviews and filming.
“Darrin and I were both affected by making the film,” Higgins said. “It definitely makes me feel lucky to have avoided this type of hardship in my life.”
The sincerity of Higgins and DeStephanis allowed Wallace to open up in front of the camera, he said. “I have to thank Shiraz because this was like therapy to me.”
One month before filming began, Wallace found a place to live. His son, Arthur, bought a home in Langford with a settlement he received from the car crash, and his father moved into the basement suite.
Wallace has found work as a carpenter, as well as rebuilding a boat and doing odd handyman jobs. He is also working to establish an organic farm in Saanich.
“Michael has a positive outlook on life,” Higgins noted. “People want to listen to him and be around him.”
To view the film go to Soclosetohome.ca.
Did you know?
• So Close to Home is the first film for Shiraz Higgins and was shot on a bare bones budget of $2,500. He admits he didn’t really know much about filmmaking and learned to shoot, interview and edit as he went.
• View the film at Soclosetohome.ca.