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New documentary a 'love letter' to streetcars and trolleys

Last Updated Mar 20, 2018 at 3:20 pm EST

A still from the documentary "The Trolley," premiering at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival from April 26 to May 6, 2018. YOUTUBE

Toronto has a love-hate relationship with its fleet of streetcars.

Sure, they’re environmentally-friendly and charming, but they also slow down traffic, breakdown in extreme cold, and many feel they belong in a museum, rather than a modern metropolis.

But for every Rob Ford, who once proudly boasted that he planned to phase streetcars out entirely, there’s someone like filmmaker Stephen Low, who believes the vehicles have the potential to change, and maybe even save, the world.

Low loves streetcars and trolleys so much that he’s dedicated an entire documentary to the topic.

His latest film, The Trolley, will be screened in IMAX at the upcoming Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. See the schedule here.

The Trolley stares down the automobile,” Low said in a release. “In climate change, humanity faces a global crisis that is in scale and complexity unlike anything we have encountered before, yet we already have the solutions. And one of them is staring us in the face.”

“I had to make this film to give streetcars their due,” he added. “The film may prove especially poignant and nostalgic for Torontonians, given that streetcars (trolleys) have been these charming fixtures in the city since before we can remember. I hope we are able to give people a look at how and why they evolved — and I hope that the film helps humanize the transit system that is so vital to our lives and future.”

The film chronicles the history of trolleys and streetcars around the world, with an emphasis on Toronto as one of the few North American cities to retain an extensive streetcar network.

Low told CityNews he realized streetcars were a contentious issue in Toronto, but said the Big Smoke is looked upon admirably on the world stage.

“When we were researching the film we heard all over the world that Toronto was kind of a hero of public transit and zero emissions, except here, there’s controversy here all the time about streetcars.”

But Low has little sympathy for drivers of exhaust-spewing vehicles who moan and groan about streetcars.

“We should be doing more of what we are doing on King Street which is kick the cars off the road,” he said.

“They should close all streetcar lines to cars.”