With his 2015 documentary Hurt, the first film to win the TIFF Platform jury prize, filmmaker Alan Zweig (When Jews Were Funny, Vinyl) chronicled the rocky road to wellness, recovery, and happiness faced by Steve Fonyo, a former Canadian hero who once raised millions for cancer research when he finished a cross-Canada run akin to what Terry Fox attempted, but never completed. In the thirty years after that historic moment, the Surrey, B.C. resident fell far. He ran into trouble with the law and crystal meth addiction, and is one of the few people who ever had their membership into the Order of Canada rescinded. Hurt ended with Fonyo getting stabbed during a home invasion and suffering potential lifelong brain damage as a result of his injuries. Hope begins after Fonyo has already recovered from his wounds and is dealing with the acclaim of Zweig’s film. Wanting Steve to get help for his addictions and therapy for his troubled mind, Zweig and Fonyo’s girlfriend Lisa Marie follow their friend as he attempts to get his life on track at a rehab centre and new home in Powell River, B.C.
I hesitate to say that watching Hurt is a prerequisite to catch Zweig’s equally potent and emotionally draining follow-up, but it certainly helps. Fonyo remains a man of two hugely conflicting personality traits: he has a cocky ego and tremendously low self-worth. Watching Zweig – who puts all of his heart, soul, and empathy on the line here for his subject – and Lisa Marie trying to gauge which version of Steve they are going to get is like trying to figure out which wire to cut when defusing a bomb. Steve Fonyo isn’t a violent man, but he’s certainly a volatile man who appreciates help but doesn’t appreciate being told what to do.
Zweig once again delivers a gorgeous looking film that’s on par with his previous film about Fonyo, and the depiction of Fonyo’s road to recovery and self-awareness will resonate deeply with anyone who has watched as a loved one has struggled with depression and addiction. Just like with Hurt, there are no easy answers about what the future holds for Steve contained within Hope, but Zweig makes you care about him deeply in the face of the man’s many flaws.