Two people holding camera equipment look towards a building with a sign on it reading Le Sélect Bistro.

Imagine that the first film you created at Humber College goes on to be nominated as semi-finalist in the documentary category of the 2023 Student Academy Awards.

For Film and Television Production students Raval Alviarez and Hayley Pinto, that’s exactly what happened. Alviarez is the writer, director and editor of the documentary Le Sélect while Pinto is the producer. The 10-minute film delves into the history of longtime Toronto staple Le Sélect Bistro, its impact on the city’s culinary community and its sale after more than four decades in business.

With a documentary made on a budget of $1,000 with four days to film and a crew of six going up against films from prominent American post-secondary institutions including New York University, Alviarez said he was thrilled their film was recognized.  

“When you see the level of competition, it does feel like a huge accomplishment to get that far. To be the only Canadian film as a semi-finalist in the documentary category did feel great,” said Alviarez.

A short list of 2023 Student Academy Awards was recently released and Le Sélect didn’t advance. However, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished with the film, said Pinto.

“To have other people, professionals, like it and the Academy also recognize it was an incredible feeling,” said Pinto. “We were a super small crew but look at what we did. We made it with so much passion and put so much heart into it.”

A group of six smiling people stand together in front of a blue backdrop with the Humber College logo on it.

The film follows the restaurant’s rise after opening in 1977 and how it became a fixture in the city’s dining scene. The film has interviews with owners Frédéric Geisweiller and Jean-Jacques Quinsac along with former employees, including chef Matty Matheson.

The documentary also explores the owners’ decision to sell the restaurant. While there were a variety of reasons cited including financial, Alviarez says Le Sélect’s situation was a microcosm for what’s happening across North America.

“Gentrification is taking a hold of cities and there are tall condos going up and big business is moving in and a lot of small businesses – the heart and soul of cities – are getting gutted out,” he said.  

Raval pointed to the Toronto Employment Survey 2020 that showed the city had a net decrease of 3,480 business establishments compared to 2019.

“With the film, we wanted to explore what it means to lose just one of those places so the audience understands what they mean to a community and to understand what’s happening in cities like Toronto,” he continued.

The idea for the documentary came about when Alviarez started seeing stories from news outlets about Le Sélect’s sale. A good friend of his had worked there and talked about how much it meant to him and there were also outpourings of support on social media.