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Photo courtesy of Mike Geiger on Flickr.

Is Ottawa the City that Fun Forgot?

By François Levesque on March 11, 2014

Four years ago, Amen Jafri was frustrated with Ottawa. She was a young professional who liked to go out and do fun things, yet she seemed incapable of finding fun in the city. After conversing with a few friends, she realized she wasn’t alone. She decided to explore the stereotype that Ottawa is the city that fun forgot through a format she’d been wanting to get into for years: documentary film. Four years later, her project is finally complete and Jafri’s ready to share it with the world. Apt613 caught up with Jafri to discuss how making the doc helped her discover a side of the city she didn’t know existed.

Jafri and pal Nathan Hauch wanted to know if they were part of the minority or part of the majority. Is Ottawa actually a boring place? They decided the best way to attack the topic was by going on the street and asking people. “Is Ottawa boring? If so, what makes it a boring city? And if not, why not?”

Answering the question in the style of a documentary was an ambitious project. For Jafri, it was taking the plunge into film that made her do it. “I had wanted to get into filmmaking but didn’t want to go to school for it. […] I always had this idea of being on the street and speaking to people,” says Jafri. A project like this was a good opportunity to experiment and was a great format to explore the issue.

“Honestly,” says Jafri, “I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning. I didn’t know what kind of resources I needed. It was a lot of exploring the topic itself and figuring out how to take a massive topic and making it a story.” The original thesis was that being a government town affected the reputation of the city. It was fairly simplistic correlation. “A couple of other theses we were testing at the beginning was the silos of activities – there are lots of little things around town but different groups don’t speak to each other. The other was that Ottawa’s non-government identity was clashing with its government side.”

Jafri and co. went to the streets to speak to people: everyone from Apt613 to Mayor Jim Watson to Alex Fotheringham, former Maclean’s columnist and the man who invented the quote “Ottawa, Sparta on the Tundra” or “the Town That Fun Forgot” more than 40 years ago. “Once we listened to that first round of interviews, we started picking out other themes. For example, urban planning is a big issue that comes out in the documentary, transit was an issue brought up several times.” While none of their theses were totally disproven, they were certainly nuanced through various interviews.

The documentary, The City that Fun Forgot? is being officially released at Hub Ottawa (6th Floor, 71 Bank St) this Thursday, March 13. The event starts at 5:45. Accompanying the viewing will be a talk with Councillor Mathieu Fleury, Herd Mag Founder Stephanie Vicente, JustChange Co-founder Mitchell Kutney and documentary collaborator Nathan Hauch. Tickets are $8 if you’re a Hub member and $12 general public.