Sunday, 24 May 2009

Two Unique Film Festivals: Mark Them In Your Calendar

The Women of the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival (left to right): Jill Andrew (publicist), Tracey Salaway (dir. The Story of Ch'ien-niang), Catherine MacKinnon (Festival Director), Catherine Miller (producer) and partner Ann Calamia (writer/director)of the Opening Night film, Universal Signs.

With the over-abundance of film festivals that Toronto has to offer, I want to shine the spotlight briefly on two that occur in the merry month of May: Toronto's Inside Out LGBTT Film Festival and Toronto International Film & Arts Festival (TIDFAF). Both festivals outreach to specific audiences as well as their allies.

Inside Out has come a long way in its 19 years, and I wanted to see what my listeners would think of the festival. I offered up a pass to the festival and invited Gyles (pass winner and lead vocalist for JamesKing) to share her thoughts on the festival. Gyles is a gay-positive, Black woman, and a major fan of the Black gay comedy series, Noah's Arc, but she had never attended Inside Out. I think a lot of people are in her position, where they plan to go, but never get around to it. Let's face it, Toronto has a lot of distractions.

Gyles had a great time at the festival, even though she was disappointed by a couple of the films she saw. Still she would attend the festival again, and intends to make a point of it next year, now that she has broken her attendance record. She especially related to the film, THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, the documentary about San Francisco's openly gay politician, Harvey Milk. Maybe next year, more allies of the LGBTT community will be like Gyles, and come out to Inside Out.

Unlike Inside Out, the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival (TIDFAF)is in its infancy, but Festival Director, Catherine MacKinnon has high hopes for it's growth. MacKinnon, several talented filmmakers, and a simultaneous interpreter took a break from screenings across the street at Innes Town Hall to join me in studio.

TIDFAF was my introduction to deaf culture, and although I didn't get a chance to attend, I was impressed by the line up of films. What's it like to fight for the use of using sign language in Portugal after having it surpressed for over 200 years (10 YEARS OF PORTUGUES SIGN LANGUAGE RECOGNITION)? How did deaf people react to Sept. 11th--did the hearing community think about them (911 FEAR IN SILENCE)? What does a deaf holocaust survivor have to tell us about life in a concentration camp (ANNA'S SILENT STRUGGLE)? The next TIDFAF takes place in 2011.

Over the upcoming months, I am going to make an effort to incorporate more deaf culture into TMTM. Let's all continue to learn about ourselves and each other as we explore the arts together.

Photo Credit: all photos by donna g

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Inside Out: Scott Ferguson(Exec. Dir.) Talks About the Children's Program

donna g: There is a little gem of a program at Inside Out that many people may not be aware of. I’m talking about your Children’s Program. How many years has Inside Out been programming films for younger viewers and how did the festival realize there was a need for this special program?

Scott Ferguson: We have been programming Children’s films for the past six or so years. We have seen a increase in the number of parents within the LGBT communities over the past decade and it was really important to try to provide opportunities for entire families to come to the Festival and enjoy screenings together.

donna g: How are films selected for this program? You have 3 films in this year’s program, two of which have LGBT content and one that does not. What is the priority (if any) in choosing children’s films for an LGBTT festival?

Scott Ferguson: We look for films with queer content or a queer sensibility. In the past we have screened works like Charlotte’s Web, which isn’t specifically queer but does feature gay icons like Paul Lynde and Debbie Reynolds. Last year we screened the 1970s television special Free To Be You and Me starring Marlo Thomas. This special was groundbreaking in terms of teaching kids acceptance, diversity, and individuality.

donna g: This year Inside Out has a Focus on France spotlight. One of the films in the Children’s Program is the French film, THE RED BALLOON, directed by Albert Lamorisse. This film was released in 1956, while the other two films in the program (BUDDY G, MY TWO MOMS & ME and DOTTIE’S MAGIC POCKETS) are recent releases. What is so special about this film that you chose to include it in the program?

Scott Ferguson: The two recent films in the program are great little kids videos that are by and about queer families but stories like that, aimed specifically at children, are few. We chose the Red Balloon for a few reasons – it fit with our Focus on France, it is rarely seen anymore and there is a newly restored 35mm print of it. Again, it is not an overtly queer story but it does teach about feeling like an outsider and finding your place in the world.

donna g: What do you have to say to English-speaking parents who might be concerned about the inclusion of a French film in this section?

Scott Ferguson: I don’t think it was a concern at all – it’s a children’s classic around the world for a reason. The film has a very simple story line and there is almost no dialogue in it, which makes it easy to follow.

donna g: Are there any plans to expand the Children’s Program for Inside Out’s 20th anniversary year in 2010, or are things fine as they are?

Scott Ferguson:
I’d like us to feature a few programs that appeal to different age groups, including toddlers, kids and pre-teens. Our programming choices are always dependent on what films are out there and the financial costs. Hopefully you’ll see more programs in 2010.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Inside Out 09: Artistic Matters

I created The More the Merrier radio show so that you and I could learn more about various aspects of the arts. Well, ever heard of Wolfgang Tillmans? Yes? Great! No? Great! On Sunday, May 17th at 2:30 pm Inside Out is presenting a documentary of German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street). So, whether or not you are familiar with this art star, here is your opportunity to see IF ONE THING MATTERS: A FILM ABOUT WOLFGANG TILLMANS (Germany/USA). The film also screens with shorts UNITED FILM STILL (Australia) and TAKING PICTURES (Canada).

Festival details at

Photo courtesy of Inside Out

Friday, 15 May 2009

Inside Out: Why Not Try A Little Something Spanish?

It's not my sole intention to send you to subtitled films at Inside Out, but how could I resist telling you about CHEF'S SPECIAL (Fuera de carta), a Spanish comedy that has two actors from films by Pedro Almodóvar: Javier Cámara (Talk to Her, Bad Education) and Lola Dueñas (Talk to Her, Volver). Like last night´s Opening Night Swedish film, PATRIK AGE 1.5, this film also deals with the paternal instinct. In this case, however, there is a lack of fatherly nurturing on the part of restaurant manager Maxi (Cámara) towards his two children. Meanwhile, Maxi's maitre d', Alex (Dueñas) develops a fascination with neighbourhood hunk. I'm not expecting Almodóvar, but this film has won some Spanish awards, and I don't think Almodóvar is the type of director to rehire actors if they aren't good. I've also seen these actors in these films and liked their performances. Vamanos! See you at the Bader Saturday night at 9:45 PM!

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Inside Out '09: Paternal Instincts

Never been to Inside Out? Tonight's Gala screening of PATRIK AGE 1.5 is a film that I can highly recommend. I saw this film at TIFF last September, and am going to see it again, I loved it so much. The basic premise is this: a gay couple think they have adopted a baby aged 1.5 year; instead, a mix-up occurs and they end up with a rebellious, straight, homophobic 15 year-old.

What I absolutely loved about this film is the way in which it handles the topic of paternal instincts. There is a scene in which one of the characters is on a bus and we see him watching a mother interacting with her baby. He looks at the scene with such yearning that it makes your heart ache. In Swedish with English subtitles. Don't even think of being scared off by the subtitles!

Here's a look at the trailer:

CLICK HERE for ticket information or call 416-967-1528. For all things Inside Out please visit

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Getting By In Life

I love doing my show, but there are just some Saturdays where I wish I could just call in to the studio from home. Not possible, when you are the host as well as the technical operator. Don't get me wrong, I book my own guests and they are always people I want to talk to and introduce to listeners, but every once in a while I just want a lazy day. Every time I feel this way, and go in to the studio, my mood is instantly elevated by my guests. Every time.

On today's show I spoke to director, Aron Gaudet (he called in from Boston) about his film, THE WAY WE GET BY, and the three seniors (one of whom is his mother) who greet troops as they come in and depart from Bangor International Airport in Maine. When I heard about this film, I kept wondering why it wasn't called The Troop Greeters, and I kept forgetting the name of the film. After seeing the film, I realize that it was really about how to get by in life, how to give your life meaning when you have lived a long time, experienced loss, and there aren't that many seasons ahead in your life. We come to understand life and our own mortality through these three portraits of Joan Gaudet, the military widow who gets up in the middle of the night to see troops come in (she gets too emotional seeing them off), Jerry Mundy, the ex-Marine with a heart problem whose humour entertains the troops, and Bill Knight, whose life seemed to stop when his wife died, but who greets the veterans so that they will not experience the pain that the Vietnam vets felt. These three people are wonderful examples of what it means to live life to the fullest by finding a way to get by.

My second guest was playwright/actor, Rob Salerno. Rob is also the founder of Ten Foot Pole Productions, a theatre company that tells stories that "polite people wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole". Rob's latest production is BALLS, a coming of age comedy-drama that also deals with the issue of testicular cancer. Although Rob was inspired to write the play after a friend died from the disease, he wanted to stress the fact that BALLS is more than just a "cancer play", and that themes of young men and masculinity is at the heart of the play. There is also lots of humour involved as you can see from the play's poster.

Showtimes and Tickets: BALLS runs until May 17th at the Lower Ossington Theatre. Tues-Sat 9pm and Sun at 3:30pm. 100A Ossington St. -- One block north of Queen St. W. Tickets are $19 and are available at the door, by phone at 416-915-6747 or online at: Partial funds raised by this production will go to the North York General Hospital's Underwear Affair.

It's always a pleasure to have Sistah Lois a.k.a
Afrikan Princess
on my show. Maybe it's because she was the first solo interview that I did way back when during my By All Means days at CIUT. I was very nervous and she put me right at ease. She still does. She dropped by to talk about the Art of Praise Chorale Collective, which she started as a way to bring joy into people lives (it was a reaction against all the war talk that followed 9/11). The chorale is still going, and always looking for new members, regardless of singing or musical ability. If you can make a noise, you can participate, and if you have a twoonie + a loonie bring that with you so that people who had a one-way fare can get back home on the TTC. It's all about community, shedding your fears, and doing a little charity work at the same time: any extra funds is donated to a local or international charity. The chorale is looking for lightweight musical instruments to send to a school in Guyana. Sistah says feel free to drop in any Tuesday night at the The Spiritual Church of Toronto, 706 College Street. Sessions run from 7:00-9:00 pm. For more info visit:

Photo Credits:
"The Way We Get By" photo courtesy of Hot Docs
Rob Salerno and "Balls" poster courtesy of Ten Foot Pole Productions
Sistah Lois photo by donna g

Friday, 8 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: Not Loving LOVE IN INDIA

LOVE IN INDIA was a disappointment for me. I had been expecting a revealing discussion of why, in the land of the Kama Sutra, public displays of affection and talking about sex was such a social taboo. Director Q has discussions about the issue with several people, from philosophers to friends, but the way the film is pieced together is sloppy and rambling. There are scenes that go nowhere, too many shots of his beautiful girlfriend, Rii (did I need to see her rolling around in the rain or see the two of them watch a video of themselves making love?), and not enough thoughts of how the documentary should unfold in a cohesive manner.

I appreciated scenes of Q's family, especially the female members, talking about their views of love and sex. A widowed aunt is full of emotion as she talks about the oppressive nature of India, and how she didn't dare go against society by having another relationship after her husband's death. I would have welcomed the inclusion of a women's services organization in this film, but all I got were statistics on how many women are murdered or commit suicide in the name of love gone wrong.

If you must see this film, it has another screening Sunday, May 10th, 4:00 pm at the Cumberland.

Photo courtesy of Hot Docs.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: Questions Raised and (some) Answered

Acclaimed documentarian, Jean-Marie Teno, doesn't disappoint his fans with his this latest film. SACRED PLACES that tackles the subject of African film. Who are African directors making films for if the average African cannot afford to see the films in the theatre? Cine Clubs are popping up all over Africa, but the locals do not see a lot of recent African films because they are too expensive; instead, they are consuming the American action films and Bollywood movies. Like the Djembe and its griots, African cinema is supposed to spread the history of the Africa to successive generations, but how can it do this if Africans are not seeing themselves on screen? According to Jean-Marie, these questions are only the beginning of a dialogue that must occur.

SACRED PLACES has its final screening at the Cumberland on Saturday, May 9th @ 1:00 PM

Ticket line for The Jazz Baroness at the Isabel Bader Theatre began almost an hour early for the 1:45 screening of the film, while the rush line snaked down Charles Street heading towards Bay Street. I had first heard of Pannonica Rothschild (Nica) from Straight, No Chaser the documentary about Thelonius Monk. I knew they had a close relationship, but I didn't know if they were lovers or very close friends. All I knew was that she took care of him as she did with a lot of jazz greats at the time, including Charlie Parker (who died in her apartment).

I had always wanted to know more about this rich, white Jewish woman and her penchant for supporting Black jazz musicians at a time of racial segregation in the US. Nica grand-neice had the same curiosity as I did, which is why she made the film. No one in director, Hannah Rothschild's aristocratic British family openly discussed Nica, the rebel who had left her upper crust life to live in New York, so Hannah went digging. How did this zebra-rich (there is a shot carriage on the Rothschild estate that is being drawn by four zebras!) woman end up being intimes with a sharecropper's son from North Carolina? What did they have in common and what was the nature of the relationship? Just who was the real Pannonica?

There are no more screenings of this film at Hot Docs, but if it appears on a channel near you, it is more than worth seeing. You don't even have to be a jazz fan(although the music in the film is pretty fantastic) because the film includes elements of the European and American social issues of the time, World War Two, and human rights. Visit the official website for more details about this film:

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: Director Heddy Honigmann Honours Ordinary Peruvians

Award-winning director, Heddy Honigmann's new work, EL OLVIDO (OBLIVION) reminds me of an earlier film of hers, THE UNDERGROUND ORCHESTRA. In that 1997 documentary, Honigmann followed the lives of a diverse group of immigrants sharing their respective musical talents with users of the Parisian subway system; Her camera also managed to capture the human will to survive. This same human struggle and sharing of talent is reflected in the street scenes of El Olvido, where the children and adults of Lima, Peru ply whatever skills they have in order to subsist--a child does flips between traffic signals and gets coins that she gives to her infirm mother; a blind woman sings on the sidewalk; a vendor sells memory-boosting frog juice; and another takes pride in repairing anything that is broken.

I have never met Honigmann, but it seems to me that she has the documentarian's gift of getting people to reveal their truths, allowing us the privilege of a shared intimacy. Though Honigmann's lens, we are invited into the humble homes of Lima's working class. Many of her subjects have worked for years in places which they cannot afford to eat or stay. They have survived years of economic hardship and political corruption. One amicable bartender, who speaks admits he is speaking out because he is at the end of his career, says that choosing a Peruvian presidential candidate is like choosing whether you would like to have Hepatitis B or AIDS.

Unlike many in the film, this little shoeshine boy had no dreams. His eyes were so sad I wanted to reach into the film and take him home with me, or connect him with the poor mother and her loving daughters, who had lost her eldest daughter to an accident. Despite her poverty and loss her girls always hugged and cared for each other, while this little boy seemed to have no one who loved him. What does it take to kill a child's ability to dream? Even the adults who lived through terrorism, massacres and coups managed to have a bit of hope.

Honigmann was born to Holocaust survivors in Lima, Peru. She has not lived in the city for many years (she's a Dutch citizen), but it's obvious from her films, that she does not take people's lives for granted and this sensitivity shows in her work. Peru is not in the worldwide consciousness as other Latin-American countries, and, it seems to me, that Honigmann brings these ordinary Peruvians to the screen so that they can be honoured for their resilience. Ordinary lives matter and should not be forgotten.

El Olvido (Oblivion)screens at the ROM on Thursday, May 7th at 7:15 PM or at The Isabel Bader Theatre on Saturday, May 9th at 11:00 AM.

For all things Hot Docs visit

Photos courtesy of Hot Docs.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: Aspects of Love

There's one more screening of ROUGH AUNTIES on Wednesday, May 6th, 11am at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St.). I'm still too full of emotion to write about these women and the sexually abused children that they help. See the movie if you can, if not visit the film's website to learn more about these women and their dedication to showing children love. Website: Also visit the Bobbi Bear organization at

Love shines through every frame of this film, and I'm glad my day ended with this screening. The aunties have had to become "rough" in order to stand up for the children, but they are also there to support each other when difficult times impact the lives of one of their circle. Like her work in Sisters in Law, director, Kim Longinotto succeeds in bringing to the screen stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

My day began with a screening of Orgasm Inc, a documentary that explores the business of disease. The rise of "female sexual dysfunction" (FSD) it turns out, shares a link with marketing and research by the pharmaceutical industry. No one seems to be able to define exactly what the term FSD means yet billion dollar companies are in a race to develop a cure for it. When and how did companies obtain the power of diagnosing illness? "Sex for our pleasure not their profit" is the campaign slogan of New View, an organization trying to bring to light the complexities of human sexuality and the fact there is more involved than just the genitals. Even the drug companies have to admit that the placebos (porn, sex toys etc) used were almost as effective as their test drugs, and without any side effects. One such drug, a testosterone patch that also included estrogen had to be administered over a period of time. Is it worth having one more orgasm a week to increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and breast cancer when a sex toy or someone watching the kids would do the same thing? The documentary also revealed that the popular Berman sisters (seen on Oprah and other talk shows) were paid by such companies, and that Dr. Laura Berman still recommends Viagra for women even though the drug company that was doing research on its effectiveness in women called off the study.

My Greatest Escape is the story of Michel Vaujour, a country boy whose teenage escapades landed him in jail where he became very well schooled in the art of robbery. Despite his many escapes, Vaujour spent 27 years in jail, 17 of which were in solitary confinement. The story drags a bit as we listen to Vaujour recount his life, but you can't help but hang on to every word. Imagine someone decides to tell you the story of how he ended up in jail, how he daringly escaped many times (by helicopter even), was shot in the head, and had two significant romances. There are times you wish he would hurry up with his tale, but you don't dare say that because you don't want to miss any details of the wild, fantastic and true story. Watching the film I couldn't help but cast Vincent Cassel as Vaujour (Johnny Halliday may be too old). Now that this doc has been released I'm sure Hollywood will be lining up to make this action flick, especially since the real protagonist is still alive. Maybe Soderbergh will direct.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Hot Docs '09: Pussycat, Pussycat...Are You Visually Illiterate?

I was disgusted and fascinated by the 4 women who are the subject of Christie Callan-Jones's documentary, CAT LADIES. I was born in Jamaica, where cats and dogs were kept outside in the yard. We loved our pets, but we didn't exchange kisses with them, have them crawl all over our furniture, or save their whiskers in a little tin. Pet hair on clothes? YUCK! So, now that you know where I'm coming from you can imagine the grimaces that rearranged my face as I watched this film. In Toronto you are only allowed 6 cats per home. Only 1 cat lady in the documentary is living within the law (she has four). Of the other women, one has 16 and the other two have over 100 each.

Moving past my disgust and onto fascination: I marvelled at how open the women were about being "cat ladies". They more than live up to the stereotype, are very aware of this fact, and I admired their confessions about being lonely as children and as adults. How do you travel or have people come to your home when your house is full of cats? The hoarders believe that they are rescuing strays and providing them with a safe home. They have good intentions, but at what point does cat rescuing become cat addiction? You, too will empathize with these women's loneliness, but you will also wonder, as I did, if they need the cats more than the cats need them?

Cat Ladies final screening is Saturday, May 9th at 9:45 PM at The Royal Cinema. It screens with the Norwegian short film Statistics.

It had its final screening today, but given the cult stature of director, Peter Greenaway's the experimental documentary, REMBRANDT's J'ACCUSE will probably appear on a television screen near you.

Greenaway's film is part detective story and part conspiracy theory. It examines Rembrandt's famous painting "The Nighwatch" as if it were a period murder mystery. Using actors, visual effects, and an imposing journalistic narration by Greenaway himself (a la Stone Phillips)we go through the 31 points of who and why? Is the young girl in the painting a transvestite dwarf? Is the central figure in the painting issuing a challenge or is he a replica of Satan? And what of the secondary figure with the phallic sword? Art history meets the murder mystery in this documentary that will could turn your next visit to the art gallery/museum into an investigative report. A growing force of visual detectives would please Greenaway, who thinks that our educational system has left us visually illiterate with its emphasis on words as the only form of communication.

For all things Hot Docs go to
Photo Credit: Hot Docs

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: And Then There Was One

If you have time on the morning of Monday, May 4th at 11:30 AM, then drop into the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St) and buy a ticket to ONE MAN VILLAGE. This will be you last chance to see the Lebanese doc about Semaan El Harbe at Hot Docs. Director, Simon El Habre (Semaan's nephew) tells a simple story, revealing the complexities one by one as the film unfolds.

Semaan is the only resident of a village that used to be inhabited by 45 families (civil war drove the residents to Beiruit). Tired of the crowds and pollution of the city life, Semaan returns to Ain el-Halazoun where he lives very contentedly with his cows--I liked Rabiaa, the Stubburn. There is snow on the ground when we first meet Semaan, and the morning sounds of the animals and the dark, cold morning was enough to make want to run to my corner coffee shop.

As the film progresses, we move from the silence of Semaan's solitude into the history of the village, and come to the realization that he is never really alone. Semaan lives with the past in the form of the ruined houses and land of people he knew. Every time he delivers milk, he passes by these invisible people. From time to time he is visited by relatives and old neighbours who come back to see him and to cultivate the land. The village's beauty is revealed as the temparatures warm, but we can't help but feel a twinge of loss ourselves, not for Semaan, but in the knowledge that eventually the village will die.

Click Here to buy tickets to The One Man Village.

For all things Hot Docs visit

Photo Courtesy of Hot Docs

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Hot Docs 09: What's Hot, What's Not

I have screened 4 films playing at Hot Docs this year, and the reggae documentary, RiseUp, if by far my favourite. I had the opportunity to interview the film's Argentinian director, Luciano Blotta today (he called in from L.A.). Blotta followed 3 subjects from various economic strata of Jamaican life, as they try to break onto the Reggae scene. The 3 year journey is well-documented and each subject is fascinating in their own way: Hungry Town's Turbulence dreams of having his face painted on street walls and buildings along with other reggae superstars but is stuck in the ghetto; Uptown Kingston's Ice has all the money and women he needs but is hungry to make it big in the reggae business; and country girl, Kemoy, loves composing and singing songs, but Clarendon is hardly the place to become a reggae queen. Throughout the film we get introduced to a variety of music industry players including the legendary Sly and Robbie and Lee Scratch Perry. For someone who didn't really listen to reggae music, Blotta's serendipitous encounters, connections and talent as a cinematographer turned director, results in a very engaging documentary about reggae and the socio-economic conditions in Jamaica. Upcoming screenings May 8th, 9th, 10th various times and venues.

I appreciated Hair India's contrasting images of poor Indians offering up their hair at Temples in exchange for good wishes with images of rich, style-conscious women who create images of the new India with hair extensions (and a booming cosmetics industry), but in the end, the pace of the film was too slow for me. Bombay superstars and Hollywood movie stars alike use Great Lengths hair extensions, but images of the Roman hair mogul in his helicopter (a la La Dolce Vita), and the Indian factory owner lording it over rows of silent, bangled women could have been edited--really, we got the picture. Pare the film down from 75 minutes to 45 minutes and it would have more of an impact. Final screening: Tuesday, May 5th, 7PM at the Cumberland.

You won't be blown away by Laughology (or its screenmate, Amerika Idol) but you will learn something about why we laugh (babies around the world begin laughing around 2 months of age), the health benefits of laughter, and why, at some points in history, laughter was thought of as seditious. You will laugh at Amerika Idol, which documents a Serbian town's decision to erect a statue of Rocky. The beleaguered town needs an economic as well as psychological boost. For the town, the modern icon of Rocky Balboa is the perfect tourist attraction and embodiment of the everyman dream. Sly Stallone and the creator of the Philadelphia Rocky sculpture make appearances in the film. Final screening for this film package is Sunday, May 10th, 7:15PM at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

There are no more screenings of the opening night film Act of God, but considering the director is Jennifer Baichwal, odds are that it will be coming to a channel in your living room. Baichwal's latest film is not her best work, in my opinion, but it does have some interesting moments about the randomness of lightening strikes and the difficulty of not having someone to blame.

For all things Hot Docs visit
Photo Credit: Hot Docs site.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Rhoma Spencer Directs "Our Lady of Spills"

The closed set of Our Lady of Spills (designed by Sylvia Temis and Monika Geresz) Photo by donna g

Rhoma Spencer founded Theatre Archipelago (she is also its Artistic Director) in 2004 in order to present plays from the Caribbean and its Diaspora to Canadian audiences. Playing until May 10th, Edwige Jean-Pierre’s OUR LADY OF SPILLS, a two-hander with Jean-Pierre and Lorna Wilson. According to Spencer, the new home of Theatre Archipelago is Toronto’s “best kept secret”. Situated inside the Todmorden Mills Museum and Art Centre, the Papermill Theatre is the pleasant surprise at the end of a gallery showcasing some very lovely artwork. (Left: Spencer poses for me in front of one of my favourite pieces.)

Getting to the Papermill takes a bit of work if you don’t drive. Walking down Pottery Road’s decline to number 67 takes about 5 minutes (walking back up you’ll strengthen your thighs), but it’s well worth walk to see Jean-Pierre and Wilson’s duke it out in the boxing ring of a stage. Wilson plays a racist client (Lillian Holt), who has been placed unwilling in a nursing home. Jean-Pierre is the Haitian nurse (Sandrine) who must care for Lillian, all the while calling upon her Catholic upbringing and cultural respect for elders in order to deal with Lillian’s deprecating remarks about non-Canadians.

Other characters in the play are brought to life through dialogue with individuals that we do not see, but can easily imagine. Lillian Holt has conversations with her son (he’s married to a Japanese woman) and Sandrine tells stories and admonishes her daughter, Chloé, for fighting at school. We are also introduced to other clients at the home. These exchanges allow us to see into the private lives of Lillian and Sandrine even though the action takes place on the same set. The women share similarities and differences, but the characters themselves never realize this because of the barriers they construct to demonstrate control over their respective situations.

If the play has a weakness it's in the fact that Jean-Pierre as the playwright has created such a strong character in Lillian Holt, and Wilson gives such a powerful performance that Jean-Pierre (in the role of Sandrine) often gets knocked out by her own creation.

Despite its serious subject matter, Our Lady of Spills, offers enough observational laughs to move the play along. We recognize the racial conflict but never feel as if we are being hit over the head with pedantic lessons.

(Presented by Theatre Archipelago)
April 28th - May 10th
Papermill Theatre
67 Pottery Road
Tickets: $25, Sundays pay-what-you-can ($10 suggested minimum)
Box Office: person at TO TIX Dundas Square or at the theatre (1 hour before show time)
Show Times: 8PM (weeknights and Saturdays); 2:00 PM

1.         Photo courtesy of A BUMP ALONG THE WAY (DISCOVERY) Synopsi s: With her charismatic smile and formida...