Monday, 21 April 2008

Hot Doc Diary Day 4

There are 3 million people in the Greater Toronto Area. There are 2 million AIDS orphans in Uganda. Get the picture? The subject matter is a serious one, but Christa Graff's documentary, Memory Books, uncovers an empowering organization called NACWOLA (National Community of Women Living with AIDS). It was through NACWOLA that HIV+ women began writing down their stories. As one mother says, if they don't tell the children how wonderful they are while they are alive, who will be there to do it when they are gone? The Memory Books are a project that mothers and children work on together. In the photo (top left) Betty, who cannot read or write, dictates a story to her son and daughter, Lucy.

Dennis (left) reads from the memory book his mother wrote with him and his sister Chrissie. Dennis is only now understanding the importance of the book in reminding him of his mother, her life, his birth and how much she loved him. Through writing the book, the children also remember the time spent with their mothers while creating the books. Community nurse and NACWOL member, Christine is a fierce force in advocating for women and children. She too, is HIV+, and teaches women that AIDS is not a death sentence if they have friends, family, and a good mental attitude. AIDS has forced many women, who followed the dictates of men, to take control of their lives for the first time.

What would you do if your adult daughter who was raised Christian became a Muslim after being held hostage by the Taliban? Well, this is the subject matter of My Mother's Daughter. Journalist Yvonne Ridley promised her captors that she would become a Muslim when she was released and, after reading the Koran several times, Yvonne found that the Koran's values of equality regardless of sex or race was more in keeping with her feminist views than Christianity. While her mother admits that Yvonne's conversion helped her daughter to quit smoking and drinking, she is not at peace with her daughter being a Muslim--she is not eating Halal meat and won't give up her bacon sandwiches. This film puts an interesting spin on the mother-daughter relationship, raises some thought-provoking issues and generates a few laughs while doing so. Well done director Saleyha Ahsan!

Not so well done is A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad (dir. Georg Misch). The film is well-intentioned, but dry and lacks the energy needed to tell the fascinating story of a Leopold Weiss, a Jew who converted to Islam in the 1920's while travelling through the dessert and living with Bedouins. Asad is considered one of the most important Muslims of the 20th century, having worked for Saudi Kings and translated a highly praised edition of the Koran. He is also the co-founder of Pakistan. Asad dreamed of the East and West discussing their differences and finding acceptance of each other. This film is okay viewing but does not live up to such a dynamic personality.

Check out for details about screenings.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Hot Docs Diary Day 3

My day at the movies started with Anna Magnani, Anthony Quinn and Tony Franciosa in Wild is the Wind at Cinematheque Ontario. "I love you!.. I keel you!" Director, George Cukor really knew how to work a melodrama!

After la Magnani, it was off to the ROM to see Victoire Terminus (dir. Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye), a documentary about female boxers in Kinshasa set against the backdrop of the 2006 elections in the Congo. The film was very good at depicting the deplorable social and economic conditions of the city, and in explaining why the women choose to box rather than become prostitutes. The women are fascinating to watch and listen to as is their trainer and promoter (a civil servant who has not been paid in months!). There trainer is a man inspired by Muhammad Ali, and the women train in the same stadium where Ali knocked out Foreman in 1974. On the whole, though, the film could have been tightened up by dropping a few scenes at the beginning of the film. Bad editing means slow spots in the film and this leads to boredom. This 80 minute film should have been cut to fit into a 1-hour time slot. Still, the spirit of the boxers, and the perseverance of the Congolese people is what makes this film worthy of a first glance.

My next screening was also at the ROM. Song Sung Blue (dir. Greg Kohs) is the story of Michael and Claire Santini a.k.a "Lightening and Thunder". Micheal is a Neil Diamond impersonator while his wife sings Patsy Cline songs. I laughed a lot at this movie, mainly because Michael Santini is a very funny man, and because their Jerry Springer life is like looking at a traffic accident when you really don't want to. I liked parts of this film very much: you can't deny the love the couple share (in sickness and in health), or their dedication to their profession as performers, but I found some scenes repetitive, the family at times annoying and I especially hated the sentimentality of the last sequence. I had never heard of Lightening and Thunder before seeing this film (they are huge in Milwaukee) and had no idea that they had sung a Neil Diamond cover with Eddie Vedder at one of the largest summer festivals in the world. I'm happy for the introduction, but the film, as a whole, doesn't quite work for me.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Hot Docs Diary: Day 2

After an enjoyable interview with Finlay Pretsell of the Scottish Documentary Institute (check out the results of their Bridging the Gap initiative, My Mother's Daughter, I Shot the Mayor and The Unbearable Whiteness of Being), I headed off to Hot Docs. A stop at Greg's Ice Cream (Spadina/Bloor) for some sweet ginger-flavoured coolness and then...

Bond. James Bond. Same name different lifestyle. While super spy 007 is known for beating up bad guys, loving the ladies and sipping martinis in evening clothes, projectionist James Bond (he was born and named before Dr. No) is known for his work as a projectionist. Make that unknown since, as one projectionist points out in Behind the Glass (dir. Gabriel Rhodes) the audience only notices you when things go wrong. "Unknown" James Bond (see b/w photo) and his ilk have a passion for film that sometimes borders on obsession, but when you hear them speak you can't help but be impacted by their dedication to making your viewing experience the best it can be. In the early days of film, when projecting film was dangerous business if the nitrate film caught fire and exploded, projectionists were entrusted with delivering studio goods to the audience in the best way possible. With the advent of digital technology, and cost-cutting mandates, the projectionist is no longer king. So, if you go to a second viewing of your a film you liked and the picture doesn't seem quite

as clear as the last time you saw it, that's because there

is no one in the booth that cares about your movie-going experience beyond how much you spent at the concession stand.

Another gem of Behind the Glass is the Loews Jersey (photos on left), a movie palace built a couple of months before the stock market crashed in 1929. Check out this link (click here) to the projection booth and be sure to take the tour. The Friends of the Loew's have put in many volunteer hours to restore and continue the life of this grand old palace.

Irony of all ironies, wouldn't you know that after the projectionists in Behind the Glass advocating for their profession, the next film had to be stopped and restarted. Oops!

You may know her best as Nancy on This is Wonderland, but actress Siu Ta has produced and directed a wonderful documentary about Daddy Tran and his family. Daddy Tran in 3-D is a delightful and revealing film about a man's obsession with photography: from his days in Vietnam, to

fleeing his homeland with a wife, 3 kids and 3 cameras on a boat in the '70's, ending up in a refugee camp for 8 months in Hong Kong, and finally being sponsored by people in Calgary, Alberta. Daddy Tran thinks nothing of stopping people and showing them his 3-D photographs. And once you stop you do say "Wow!" I know. I uttered the same banal expression when he showed me his photos in the lobby of the Al Green Theatre. Some other adoring fans also uttered the same expression, too. The landscapes were amazing of course, but there was a black and white image taken a few years ago in Vietnam that blew us away, as did a slow-speed picture of a waterfall that looked like streams of cascading fishing wire.

Not without his flaws, Daddy Tran is known by his family for his short temper, but his grown children account that to his past struggles and being poor for so many years in cold Calgary. With the establishment of Vintage Visuals, a camera store for the shutterbug crowd, Tran calmed down somewhat, but as his wife says "negotiating" customers can sometimes get on his nerves which is why she prefers him out of the store and out and about with his camera. For Daddy Tran the camera is his best friend.

I am not a big Jackson Brown fan, so when Talking Guitars (dir. Claire Pijman) started with him singing I thought I was in for a world of hurt, but I stayed the course because I love watching instruments being made and I knew sooner or later (and I prayed for sooner) the film would move on to Dutch guitar master, Flip Scipio. Flip makes and restores guitars for the likes of Brown, the Buena Vistas Social Club, the Rolling Stones, and Simons Carly and Paul and many other musicians.

Flip is an intuitive craftsman. Few guitar schools were around when Flip started out in the late '70's, so he is self taught. Leni Stern confides that a guitar Flip made for her came out the way it did because the guitar told him how things should be. So if the guitar wanted a curve in a particular place on her guitar, that is what she ended up with--and with no complaints from Stern. She adores the ease with which she can play her baritone guitar--no fighting to get the sounds out. I especially loved Flip's work-in-progress guitar for Paul Simon. Flip brought the guitar to Paul, who was so impressed with the tone of the instrument that he told Flip not to do any more work because he didn't want to risk losing what had been created. I have to also confess to a tiny bit of breathlessness upon seeing Keith Richard's guitar. Watch for this one to hit the big screen in limited release or show up on your cable doc channel, but it has one more screening on Sun. April 20th, 2pm Isabel Bader, 93 Charles Street.)

donna g's Hot Docs Diary

Icelandic artist, Ásmundur Ásmundsson
deconstructing the Pepsi Challenge in the documentary STEYPA
Next Screening: Sun, April 20th, 5:00 pm, Innis Town Hall

Is this "art"?

What is Art? This is the question directors, Markús Thór Andrésson and Ragnheidur Gestsdóttir posed to several Icelandic artists in the documentary, STEYPA (concrete). After the screening at the Royale Cinema tonight (April 18th), Andrésson admitted that the artists couldn't really answer the question, so he just showed them doing what they do--working at their respective arts. Andrésson also confessed that as a curator, he made the film so that his mother would understand his job as a curator.

I don't always understand abstract or performance art, but I'm always fascinated by it, and think about the works long after I have seen them. The documentary STEYPA is the same. Some artists I understood
, some I didn't, but I enjoyed meeting them in this film and I appreciated them trying to put into words the concepts and feelings that compel them to create certain pieces/work with certain material. If they were better at words they would be authors, so the works like the oil drum pyramid, the dough masks, the angels and the plants speak for themselves. Interwoven throughout the film is the breathtaking canvas of Iceland.

STEYPA features electronic music by music by Ólafur Björn Ólafsson, very cool graphics and the works and thoughts of artists Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Gabríela Fridriksdóttir, The Icelandic Love Corporation, Huginn Thór Arason, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Margrét H. Blöndal, Unnar Örn Jónasson Audarson.

By the way, someone did ask whether or not the news of an OCAD student (from Iceland) leaving a package saying "this is not a bomb" at the ROM made headlines in Iceland. Yes, they heard about it, and according to the director, people thought it was "just art".

Screening with STEYPA is the documentary short, Drežnica by Brazillian filmmaker, Anna Azevedo. A combination of Super 8 images and voice clips from several blind people from a seniors' place, the film asks the questions what do the blind see when they dream? Azevedo was inspired to do the film by a random thought while waiting for a traffic light to change.

The Super 8 images were supplied by friends and have no relation to the blind subjects. We never see the people, just hear their voices and I connected with the man who said that to him, his father is always 30-something because he has no way of picturing him old.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Thank You Donors and Volunteers!

Well, CIUT's Spring Friends of 89.5 Campaign is over and thanks to donations from the arts-loving public, The More the Merrier is still on the air. I'd like to thank the volunteers who donated their time in support of the show--and me (I was very under the weather with a cold).

hearfelt thanks to:
  • Heidy and David for answering the phones
  • Sistah Lois aka Afrikan Princess for co-hosting the broadcast and carrying the show when my voice gave out half way through
  • Michael C. for bringing the warm sounds of his guitar into the studio
  • Kirk Cooper, independent publicist and Festival consultant, for sharing his passion for the arts
  • Marylou (she knows why)
You can catch Sistah and Michael performing at the City of Hamilton approved Hemp Festival on Saturday, April 20th.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Donate to The More the Merrier and You could WIN!

Make a donation to The More the Merrier on Sat. April 12th, 1-2pm and you could win the show prize package (see below). One lucky winner will be selected. To pledge on line go to or call in on Saturday: 416-946-7800. Good Luck!

  • 1-Year Subscription to Canadian Art Magazine (courtesy of Canadian Art)
  • 1-Year Subscription to Toronto Life (courtesy of Toronto Life Magazine)
  • A pair of tickets to the Salsa Africa concert, Sat. May 10th at the Lula Lounge (courtesy of
  • DVD--"Tina Turner Live in Amsterdam" (anonymous donor)
  • CD--Melanie Durrant's "Where I'm Goin" (anonymous donor)

Friday, 4 April 2008

We Are More Than Just Business and War: The Arts Matter

Artistic institutions and endeavours are "all things which civilization has a right to be proud of and should sustain, not just business and the ability to make war," says Anton Kuerti. Kuerti was my first guest on March 29th. He is a celebrated Beethoven pianist and composer and is the Artistic Director of Mooredale Concerts. On March 12th he was selected for the Governor General's Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award which he views as "an honour for the artistic community."

He is by no means satisfied with the level of arts funding in Canada, and urges individuals to pressure government to be more generous. In Europe, where there is more of a tradition of government funding for the arts Kuerti says that "it is taken as a matter of course that cities which have any pride whatsoever are going to have orchestras, operas, concerts, art museums, libraries..."

He dispells the myth that the arts do not contribute to the economy by pointing out that for every tax dollar given, more tax dollars are returned to the economy as an off-shoot of the expenses incurred.


Janet Jackson, Mark Twain, Angelina Jolie, Karen Kain, Abraham Lincoln

What do these people have in common?
Answer: Mood disorders (depression or bipolar illness)

According to my second guest, grade 11 student Joanne Courneyea, mood disorders are "still a touchy subject" with youth. Joanne is a student at North Toronto Collegiate Institute and is the coordinator of Stop the Stigma Week, a joint initiative with The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO), where she is also a placement student.

Stop the Stigma Week
is in its second year at North Toronto, and was created by past North Toronto students to raise awareness and debunk some myths about depression and bipolar illness especially as it impacts youth. Student studies last year showed that more grade 11 and 12 North Toronto students knew about the illnesses than those in the lower grades. Raising awareness is significant in helping parents and peers know how the symptoms can manifest themselves in youth, and also in normalizing mental illnesses as just another health issue.

Besides a school assembly featuring a video of Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury talking about his battle with depression as well as a speaker who will talk about bipolor illness and psychosis, the week (May 5th -9th) also includes an art gallery of work expressing feelings around mood disorders, a writer's cafe, a lunch time mediation session lead by the school's social worker, a drumming facilitator, and a student-produced documentary regarding support for students with mood disorders.

For more information about Stop the Stigma Week or The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario please contact:

Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
36 Eglinton Ave. West, Suite 602
Toronto, ON M4R 1A1
Tel: (416)486-8046
Fax: (416)486-8127

Anton Kuerti photo from
"It Starts Here, a Guide to Mood Disorders for Teens"
(published by MDAO)

A Sweet Liar: Theatre Francais de Toronto's Le Menteur/The Liar

The tag line is  "Don't believe a word he says" , but you can believe me, Le Menteur/The Liar is a fun way to spend a night at...