YMCA envisions different worlds, with and without its services

Who: YMCA of Greater Toronto, with Skin & Bones, The Assembly (editing), Alter Ego (colour and VFX), SNDWRX (sound design) and freelance creative director Jonathan Guy. PR by Glossy.

What: A new cinema (and cinematic) campaign, “A World Without Y,” which shows how the YMCA and its services can drastically improve the lives of young people and families. 

When & Where: The 2:45 short film debuted today and is running in cinemas across the GTA. It is being supported by online and social elements.

Why: The ad is intended to demonstrate how the YMCA is more than just a space for people to exercise or play sports, but helps address the community’s needs through its various programs—which include child and family development, youth engagement, education/training, and services built around employment and housing.

How: The two-and-a-half minute spot focuses on an immigrant family, juxtaposing life with and without the YMCA and its array services. Although the ad is presented as a continuous shot, the actors recreated their movements and dialogue with different inflections, creating two distinct realities—one bright and cheery, the other dark and foreboding—that were then seamlessly edited together.

“We wanted to develop an idea that enables the viewer to really feel what it’s like to live in a community that has support, and one that doesn’t. However, as dissimilar as the two worlds seem, there is only one core difference. Support.” says director Edward Andrews, who has also helmed similarly evocative work for the Vancouver Police Department and Bullying Canada. Andrews says he was inspired by the U.K. directors Andrea Arnold (Big Little Lies) and Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here).

“We wanted it to be cinematic from the beginning and we wanted the storyline to reflect that,” said Guy in a statement to The Message. “It toes the line between commercial and short film. The goal is to try and change how the YMCA is perceived. It’s not just a hangout for youths to come and play sports and ‘stay out of trouble.’ The Y deals with serious issues beyond that and it has a huge impact on communities in a city growing as rapidly as Toronto. It’s realistic and hard-hitting for that reason.”

And we quote: “We hope this powerful video will allow the public to see the YMCA of Greater Toronto, and its impact across the GTA, in a new light. We aim to build healthy communities by providing support for people at every stage and age of their life, and this video alludes to a variety of YMCA programs and services. We believe the storytelling approach is the right one because it illustrates what can happen to families and communities when vital supports aren’t there.” —Ali Kashani,  senior director, capital campaign, YMCA of Greater Toronto.

“Filming it as a one-take was the only way to do it; we didn’t want to do a spot full of vignettes. It allowed us to take you on a journey with our mother and feel everything she feels, but also reveal how each of her two worlds are affected.” —creative director Jonathan Guy.

Chris Powell