In 1984 and ’85, amputee Steve Fonyo captured the emotions of the nation and raised millions of dollars for cancer research by running from the East coast of Canada to the West, something national hero Terry Fox famously couldn’t do. However outside of being dogged by criticism that he merely aped the goodwill previously generated by Fox’s attempt at the same feat, the reality of Fonyo’s life after his brush with fame — something he craves to this day, almost like a drug — is far worse.
Recently “divorced,” homeless and addicted to cocaine and crystal meth, Fonyo has begun shacking up with his new girlfriend (who’s also an addict, with an ex that never seems to leave her side), in one of Canada’s worst neighbourhoods in Surrey, BC.
For documentary Hurt, filmmaker Alan Zweig (Vinyl, When Jews Were Funny) brings a unique journalistic style to a subject that’s far better than a factoid regurgitating biopic or cautionary tale. Visiting Fonyo several times over the course of a year, Zweig openly talks to his subject, sometimes following the fallen hero into dangerous situations. However, he never poses his questions as condescending soft balls, and Fonyo responds in kind, often stopping himself in the middle of a lie he would have normally told anyone else.
Zweig also refuses to paint Fonyo as a victim of a rough life or a slick opportunist and addict who turned to petty crime and bad decisions to fund his habits. It’s uncomfortable to watch Fonyo squirm at having to confront the harsh truths about his choices and see him floundering through a less than comfortable life, but Zweig displays remarkable empathy, free of judgement and scorn. It’s dark, but there’s warmth.