From tearing tickets at the Toronto Fringe to handing out programs at North By Northeast, you could spend almost every day of the year volunteering at a Toronto festival. Harvey Lalonde does just that. The 47-year-old has been a full-time festival volunteer for 14 years. On busy weeks, this film buff clocks upwards of eighty hours of service, subsisting on free popcorn and volunteer lunches and catching up on sleep during the two-hour commute to his home near Pearson airport.
But now the camera will turn on Mr. Lalonde. His life has inspired the documentary You Know Harvey, an effort that the filmmaker hopes will promote his cause of finding paid employment. "I don't think he's aware of how he represents himself," says Linda Matarasso, whose 2008 film Rockstar has been screened in Canada, the United States and Russia. Mr. Lalonde is friendly, but his rumpled fashion and poor hygiene leave a bad first impression. He frequently sports free hats and t-shirts given away at festivals and attributes his scarcity of teeth to an inability to afford dental care. "If people knew about his position," says Ms. Matarasso, "I think they'd help him."
Ms. Matarasso first met Mr. Lalonde while volunteering at the ReelWorld Film Festival in 2003 and got to know him better after casting him as a zombie in her 2008 film, Urban Zombies.
When Ms. Matarasso approached Mr. Lalonde with the idea of making a documentary about him, his response surprised her. "I said, 'You'll have to get on the list,'" recounts Mr. Lalonde. "At the time, I had about five people ask me."
Eventually Ms. Matarasso prevailed and began this June to film him working his shifts. She also interviews his colleagues, including ReelWorld Film Festival founder Tonya Lee Williams.
Mr. Lalonde worked as a restaurant attendant, video-store clerk and CNE cleaner prior to becoming a festival volunteer, a lifestyle he maintains through the small social assistance he receives. But the dozen-plus years of corralling queues and handing out programs seem like they're wearing on Toronto's supervolunteer. As a result, this year he sought paid employment with both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Bloor Cinema, which he calls "a home away from home."
But when TIFF declined hiring him they cited lack of experience as their reason. Ms. Matarasso doubts their sincerity as Mr. Lalonde has performed similar roles in his 14 years of volunteering with them. "I never see him spend money on anything - glasses, dental work," she says.
This past week she arranged for Mr. Lalonde to visit Great Glasses on the Danforth, where he was given a free replacement for his thick, outdated pair. Ms. Matarasso hopes the film will compel others to bestow their generosity on Mr. Lalonde, who is pleased with the attention he's receiving: "These days," he says, "my name seems to be on everybody's tongue."Report Typo/Error