Hot Docs 2014: Guidelines – Documentary Review

Director: Jean-François Caissy
Country: Canada
Runtime: 76 minutes
Rating: PG

Director Jean-François Caissy has established his film style as something quiet and methodical that allows the images to speak for themselves. Preparing discretion rather than blatant revealing of information, his previous film, La Belle Visite, delved into a retirement home and explored the lives of the aging solitary beings. This time, in Guidelines, he explores youth, but in a similar and contemplative manner that allows the students and situations to speak for themselves in a confused, indecisive, and above all, vulnerable manner.


The cameras of Guidelines go inside a school in Quebec to film the daily lives of teenage students who struggle with bullying, behavior problems, drug use, and many other issues that affect youth nowadays. He also takes the time to record them in their leisure time, or during their jobs, making sure to give a whole picture of what it means to be a student, and how the inside and outside environments work together to forge the characters of these individuals.

Guidelines is mostly composed of long takes inside the school, and inside meetings of social workers with kids. The only dialogue in the film is that which happens between them, and there are no interviews. The overall feeling is quite somber and guide, as it contemplates on the lives of the students inside and outside the school. There is little excitement to be found in this documentary, but the beautiful shots and the ability to relate with it make it a worthwhile venture for those that enjoy documentaries that expect the viewer to make their own connections, rather than delivering all the information in a straightforward manner.


The long takes of the children in school are hypnotic, and are sure to make anybody who has gone through a similar school system reminisce about the days that felt endless, and sadly, like many of the students in the film show, pointless. The discussions of the kids with the social workers are raw, they deal with minor problems, mostly quarrels between students, but it is evident that the school system is still a monotonous system with pressures many students do not perform well under.

This documentary feels more like a film than a documentary at times, but because of that it has a unique character that makes it stand out. An utterly simple film, Guidelines might be silent, but with the right viewer it gives a loud message about an establishment that oftentimes overwhelms and tires those who it is supposedly built to protect and educate.