Resistance to ‘progress’ in rural communities is a key pillar of the ‘youthful’ experience when moving home, starting a business, offering up new ideas, or even just going against the way things have always been done. At the same time, it’s also a potentially damaging stereotype that can be brought home – ‘the country bumpkins don’t know what they’re doing;’
Y’know the drill.
The kicker is, most rural communities hold their charm because of the way they’ve done things – and that identity, regardless of how rooted in stubbornness it may or may not be, is part of the reason we love rural Ontario so much – the character of small towns can’t be replicated because its weathered the storms, the fads, the influx and/or retreat of money, the decline of industry – all that jazz. That character is why we want to be here, and at the same time, why sometimes young people (mid 30’s is still young, right?) want to tear their hair out after living abroad or in cities and return home to find nothing much has changed in decades.
Jesse McCracken is a filmmaker who hasn’t been afraid to tackle this conundrum in his work. A Markdale boy at heart, you may remember we showcased his film Grey Roads back in 2021, a dynamic and beautiful account of him reconnecting with, and embracing his relationship with his father and the overarching canon of rural masculinity. It was a stunning film, and one that really put us back in our seats with its powerful ethos on helping a town grow and how to repair strained relationships. The metaphor and symbolism that parried back and forth between Jesse’s dad and the town itself was unforgettable.
Then last week, we had a chance to see his newest work, a short called Coming Home, about our good friends Joel and Hannah from Down Home.
“Coming Home is a tongue in cheek sequel to Grey Roads”, says McCracken. “It’s about Joel and Hannah opening their restaurant ‘Down Home’ and the troubles they had with the town in making it happen.”
The film chronicles Down Home’s struggles to navigate the ebbs and flows of rural bylaws that haven’t been challenged in many years – the idea to open a world-class restaurant in a residential home in the country is, albeit, a new idea for any town – so for Grey Highlands to, perhaps, stumble in their pursuit of trying to make sense of Joel and Hannah’s proposal makes a bit of sense.
“The bureaucracy within the Town had left a sour taste in my mouth,” narrates McCracken in the film. “I was scolded by the Town for not asking prior permission to film some shots in the hockey arena I grew up playing in. When Joel and Hannah told me they were also having difficulties with the Town to get their restaurant going, I felt inspired to once again come back home.”
“When we started,” says Joel, “there was nobody from township that was like ‘hey, here’s this is what you’re going to have to do… We had constantly been dealing with roadblocks from each department we talked to… You grow up in the community and you just want to get the fuck out of here, but then realizing I want to be involved here and I want my life to be here. I love this area and community.”
Winding through four seasons of Grey County weather, the film shows the process of Down Home enduring disheartening setbacks and issues with municipal law, but then the openness of a neighbour helping to craft a dining table for the restaurant from lumber cut from their property, then the proverbial green-light being given by council via Zoom.
It’s at this moment the crux of the film begins to shift and a very new narrative pulls through: this place, and places like it, just need some cooperation and reassurance these newfangled ideas are going to be safe enough to bet on, while offering some shred of community, understanding, and togetherness that we should always collectively strive for.
Grey Highlands, Saugeen Shores, Thornbury, Owen Sound, Hanover – wherever you call home in this region, there’s a familiar plot here that seems to suggest progress can’t always be trusted – but what Coming Home shows unequivocally, is that trust must be earned.
Even after hearing ‘no’ so many times, this duo didn’t give up, instead they embraced their community in offering local fare, and chose to bring their business into their home on 9 Line – the warmth that develops between the township, the locals, and the Down Home crew becomes this sweet, respectful, well-wishing relationship that’s all about the process of earning trust and learning to listen.
This is a HUGE deal, not only for the arch of the film, but for all of us who live in rural communities. The old ways and the young ideas that are so often pitted against each other have one resolute thing in common – they just want to be heard, respected, and allowed to thrive. Where tradition lives, innovation can find creative ways to intertwine character and identity into something more whole. When innovation bites off more than it can chew, tradition can offer experience and wisdom. The sooner we understand that, the better off rural Ontario will be.
Progress isn’t about exiling the old guard into obscurity, and trying to maintain the status quo isn’t about being afraid of ideas pitched by people with a birth date near the millennium. At the end of the day, this film is about taking a chance on one another – and we like that, a lot.
Coming Home has already been accepted to premier at Forest City Film Festival in London and Buffalo International Film Festival. While there are no additional chances to view the film locally just yet, we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a McCracken double-feature take shape in the near future.