Thursday, 29 May 2008

Please support the people of Myanmar by attending this fundraising screening of Mystic Ball at the Bloor Cinema on June 4th, 7:00 pm ($10)

I interviewed Greg Hamilton a few years ago when he first made this documentary, Mystic Ball. Greg visited Myanmar (Burma) and learned the non-competitive, highly challenging game of Chinlone, an ancient game that looks like a blend of soccer and a traditional Asian dance. Even though Greg had studied Martial Arts and was in great shape, he found himself outdone by the locals. Chinlone is played by men, women, and children and is a game that brings community together to celebrate the skill and beauty of the athlete. Greg was welcomed by the Burmese, who admired his attempt to learn their game and to learn from them. Now he is doing what he can out of respect and love of the Burmese people.
"Tapandancing", the solo performance aspect of Chinlone, is only performed by women.
The making of the Chinlone (cane ball)
Photos courtesy of

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

I could feel Cleo Parker Robinson's personality beaming through the phone lines during my interview with her on Saturday, May 24th. If you were listening to the show, I hope you that you, too, could feel her openness. This accomplished dance, choreographer, and award-winner shared her experiences growing up in Denver, Colorado where the artistic exchanges among people of various backgrounds flourished despite the presence of the Ku Klux Klan. From forming her dance ensemble and school, to assisting legendary, Katherine Dunham during the last years of her life (when it seemed she had been forgotten by the dance world), to her experiences with dancers Donald Mackayle and Alvin Ailey, Cleo Parker Robinson is a woman who had dedicated her life to dance. Through her master classes, countless others will benefit from those she has learned from as well as her original ideas about dance.

The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble will be performing at Harbourfront Centre's Enwave Theatre ( 231 Queens Quay West) May 29th -31st, and Robinson herself will be teaching classes for children and adults through Dance Immersion at the National Ballet School(400 Jarvis Street), June 2nd - 8th.

Tickets to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble: $25 (student/senior) $30 Adults:416-973-4000
CleoDance Classes: $17 adults, $10 children: 416-203-0666

Reel Asian Spring Showcase
I'm being very self-indulgent by posting this picture of actor, Andy Lau. Reel Asian Head Programmer, Heather Keung, and I did not discuss the Spring Showcase's opening night film, A Battle of Wits (the screening had passed), but I can never resist anything that features Lau's face. Heather and I did talk about other films in the festival such as "Chinese Restaurant: Latin Passions" and the predominently silent, visually engaging film by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, "Three Times". Cheuk Kwan has been documenting the Chinese diaspora by means of researching Chinese restaurants around the world. What comes through in his films are portraits of families who have experienced varied and extraordinary things. In Latin Passions we meet, for example, a couple who left China by swimming shark-infested waters to get to Macau. They then made their way to Hong Kong and ended up in Sao Paolo, Brazil. For more information about Reel Asian visit

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Lute Player Was a Spy! John Edwards on the Musicians in Ordinary

Musicians in Ordinary
Who knew that the world of lutenists had a history of espionage. John Edwards hasn't been investigated by CSIS, but he does play a mean lute. Edwards and soprano Hallie Fishel are Musicians in Ordinary (MIO). John was on the May 10th show to promote MIO's concert on Sat. May 17th (A Defence of Ryme: Poetry by Thomas Campion and Samuel Daniel).

During the course of our conversation, it was revealed that a couple of lutenists were suspected spies--Alfonso Ferrabosco and Nicholas Lanier. Because musicians in ordinary (lutenists and vocalists) were allowed into very private places, they were privy to very confidential information! Learn more about the rivalry between Campion and Daniel and hear some saucy lyrics at this concert at the Heliconian Hall,35 Hazelton Ave. (near Bay Subway) at 8PM, Single tickets $20 / $15 students & seniors.

Foresight: Speculative Fiction in Canada

Thanks to my second guest, Wendy Banks, Communications Officer for the Toronto Public Library for introducing me, and hopefully some of you, to hard and soft SF/Fantasy novels and poetry.

Presented by The Canada Council Heritage Series, Foresight features author-readings and book signings until the end of May. If you love the genre, Lillian H. Smith has the largest SF/Fantasy collection in North America.

Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival (May 15-25)
Last Saturday, I spoke with Scott Ferguson, Executive Director of Inside Out. We discussed the festival's attempt to find quality films to appeal to the diversity within the Queer community.

The Focus on Australia brings back an old favourite of mine, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and there are some big stars this year like Julianne Moore in Savage Grace.

I have also had the opportunity to screen some Black focus documentaries films that are worth checking out:

One of my favourites is The Believers
, the story of a transsexual choir. Each of the people in this film could have had a feature of their own, but combined their stories are powerful, hopeful, and genuine. How do you reconcile being a Christian and gay when some in the queer community have been damaged by the Church and distanced themselves from the institution; how do you integrate trans-sexuals into the Church of Christ, and how do you create a harmonious sound with voice effected by hormone levels?

U People
This film is the behind the scenes footage of music video shoot. This gathering of Black women (straight, gay, trans) leads to celebration and frank discussions about gender roles and sexuality. The documentary drags a bit, but the diversity of Black women on screen shocks you into realizing how rare these images are. We will sometimes see a Black woman on screen, but outside of Da Kink, how often do you see Black women in their infinite variety on the small or large screen?

On the Downlow
Join me on Saturday, May 17th for an interview with director, Abigail Child as we discuss the subjects of the film, African-American men who are "on the downlow" and honest enough with the camera to speak about their dual sexuality.

TICKETS: or for tickets: 416.967.1528 or in person at The Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street West, enter off Bloor.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Donna's Hot Docs

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Letter to Anna-The Story of Journalist Politkovskaya's Death

In one night I saw two documentaries about two very courageous women, Kenya's Wangari Maathai, Founder of the Green Belt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, winner of the 2004 Olof Palme Prize for human rights work. Wangari went from being under the government radar, helping women plant trees so that they could feed their children, to being beaten into a coma for speaking publicly about the insidious link between political oppression and environmental issues.

Anna's work as a war correspondent took her into dangerous territories. Her hard-hitting articles criticizing the Kremlin and chronicling human rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya lead to her being poisoned by a mysterious substance in 2004, and being gunned down in her apartment building in 2006.

Both films succeed in bringing us into the lives and work of two strong women, but from a cinematic stand point, Taking Root is the stronger of the two documentaries. The universal themes, personal stories of Kenyan women, as well as the tight editing make Taking Root a captivating film to watch. Letter to Anna, engages with it's revelation of corruption stemming from the top, and the personality of Anna herself, but to viewers who are familiar with Anna this bio-doc plays like an addendum to the documentary In memoriam: Aleksander Litvinenko.

An Island Calling is an interesting and personal glimpse into Fiji's past and present as seen through the eyes of Owen Scott, a fourth generation white Fijian. In 2001 Owen's brother, John and his lover Greg Scrivener were brutally murdered. As a descendant of one of the most powerful families in Suva, Fiji's European enclave, and the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross, John was well-known on the island. Interviews with John's family and friends, gay rights activists, and the killer's Fijian family, present a far different picture of Fiji than the usual sandy beaches and tourist huts. Director, Anne Goldson's images of the island's interior becomes a metaphor for the island's internal conflicts. The struggle between East Indians, Fijians and Europeans, the residue of colonialism, the rise of homophobia, and the move towards religious conservatism are all intermingled with the murder of John Scott.

Killer Poet

The film is like a James Elroy novel. Convicted double-murderer walks away from prison and spends the next 20 years as a model citizen. Norman Porter was one of the most wanted men in the United States. He became a legend. The one most lawmakers wanted to capture. He was also the type of prisoner wardens loved, keeping the peace during riots and acting as a prison rights advocate. When Porter became JJ Jameson he started a day care for children at his church, helped politicians get elected, and gained a name for himself as a poet. Circumstances and Dukakis' political career prevented Porter from being paroled. JJ Jameson has contributed to the lives of numerous people since his escape. Is rehabilitation a suitable punishment for crime? Is retribution by the victims' families more important than justice? Is Norman Porter a con artist or is he genuine?

Suddenly, Last Winter

Question: Why isn't Italy as forward-thinking as Spain when it comes to gay-rights? Answer: the Pope. Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, a couple for eight years, know the answer to be true from personal experience. When a draft law giving legal rights to unmarried and gay couples released a wave of homophobia in Italy, Gustav and Luca stepped out of the loving circle of their friends and family, took camera in hand, and interviewed politicians, people in the street and gay rights activists to ask them their views on the proposed law. Imagine finding out that the country you love isn't as democratic as you thought it was. It is a painful discovery for Gustav and Luca, but they handle it with ironic humour, self-deprecating domestic scenarios, and a look at Italy that begs to be contrasted with other countries in the European Union.

S&M: Short and Male--Is being short and male a human rights issue? Men around the world are making less than their taller counterpart by a thousand dollars an inch, face job postings that list height requirements, think about painful leg lengthening surgery and taking growth hormones etc...Think about your own bias. Lots of men would date a short woman, but how many women do you know that date men who are under 5 feet? Ask around and see what answers you get.

Other Films of Note
The Apology Line-An actual line that you can call and apologize for anything, from an affair with your wife's mother to spewing hateful anti-European thoughts followed by a polite "thank you" and hang up.

The Pull--about setting a date to end a relationship. Very interesting split screen visuals.

General Idea:Art, Aids and the Fin de Siecle-about a trio of Canadian artists well beyond their time, two of whom, had their lives end too soon from AIDS.

Hot Docs Continued...

My Hot Docs postings got interrupted by life, and even though the festival is now over, I still want to share with you some of the films I saw. I had also asked my friend Jason Charters (Riddle Films) to share his thoughts as we both saw completely different films.

Jason's Hot Docs

The English Surgeon
A simply told and beautifully shot film with an amazing subject. This is a case of a wonderful subject to follow and incredible access. Not for the squeamish however.

Man on Wire
Phillipe Petit's story is like something out of a Mamet play. This is a fascinating story of an unlikely group of people pulling off an incredible stunt: high wire walking between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center in 1974. A bittersweet, funny and suspenseful film.

Dear Zachary
An undeniably moving and powerful movie. It's impossible not to be profoundly affected by this story, however it did call into question for me what makes a good documentary film. As a film, I'm not sure that this is a great one, but in this case, I'm also not sure it matters.

Two pioneering films from the lens of cinematographer Richard Leacock. Watching Primary, I felt like I was seeing the genesis of DA Pennebaker's acclaimed The War Room. Pennebaker, incidentally, was a camera operator on Primary. Crisis is a privileged glimpse inside the Kennedy White House and an entertaining and suspenseful portrait of Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy during the 1963 stand-off at the University of Alabama.

Wild Blue Yonder
This film by Celia Maysles is probably as much self-help therapy as it is a documentary about her father, filmmaker David Maysles. It's rough, repetitive but ultimately at least somewhat redemptive and an interesting look inside the lives of the Maysles brothers and their influence on the people around them.

Murphy's Law
This is a short worth watching if you can. Along with the audience I saw it with, I first laughed at Chris Murphy's family, then cringed, and finally really cared about them. An intimate look at the dysfunction and love between a single father and his sons.

Jason's Film List (in order of preference)

The English Surgeon
Man on Wire
Dear Zachary
Murphy’s Law
Beginning Filmmaking
As Slow As Possible
Wild Blue Yonder

The Show Must Go On

Dedicated volunteer programmer that I am, the Toronto Transit strike did not prevent me from walking for an hour to get to 91 St. George Street. Thankfully it was a nice day. My guests for that April 26th show were Jason Charters of Riddle Films, and Bill O'Meara, a piano accompanist for silent films and the Artitstic Director of Oganix, a pipe organ festival.

Talk about two interesting jobs! We had such a great conversation in front of the station that when it was time to go in and start the show, I decided that the conversation might as well continue on air. So, that hour we all discussed improvising music for a film that you may see only a few days before the screening (Bill was playing for the Von Sternberg series at Cinematheque Ontario), some of the tricks of the trade for silent film piano playing (like using phone numbers as musical notes to get out of a jam), the pipe organ that you can walk into, and Hot Docs--documentary content and the filmmaking process. It was a very fascinating hour, and I hope you enjoyed that show.

Photo Credit: TIFFG's Film Reference Library

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...