Monday, May 31, 2010

Worldwide Short Film Festival - Preview #5

Worldwide Short Film Festival Preview #5
Comedy Without Borders

The Fest runs June 1 - 6 and you can check out full details here.

A funny crop of shorts with everything from social commentary to romantic comedy.

Customer Support (Brukerstøtte)
André Øvredal Norway (2009)
5 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - North American Premiere

It's a bit deadpan in the effect, but a cute idea in a blow by blow help desk kind of support for a woman attempting to open a door.

Dinner Date

Tom Antos Canada (2009)
4 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - World Premiere

It doesn't cover any new ground conceptually, but it's a clever look at two dates - and four points of view.

Instead of Abracadabra (Istället för Abrakadabra)
Patrik Eklund Sweden (2008)
22 minutes 35mm Fiction - Toronto Premiere

An inept magician practices for his parents and languishes in their house until he meets the beautiful blonde next door and wows them all with his magical prowess at his father's birthday - or does he? It's a nicely observed comedy, with some great moments with the long suffering parents.

Drunk History: Douglass & Lincoln (Laughter Without Borders)
Jeremy Konner USA (2009)
6 minutes Beta Documentary - Canadian Premiere

Is is politically incorrect to laugh at drunk people these days? If so, you'll have trouble with your chortling at this very funny "documentary" where one Jen Kirkman, having drunk two bottles of wine, relates the story of Frederick Douglass, a black man, and Lincoln. Her exact words are acted out by Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle, with Cheadle saying lines like ", if there's prisoners of war, don't fucking kill them..." The actors sometimes react to her odd choice of words - it's hilarious.

Homeland Security
Isaac Cravit Canada (2009)
8 minutes Beta Fiction

A border guard takes out his growing marital frustration and jealousy on a group of women looking to go on a bachlorette dirty weekend to NYC - only to find his worst fears realized. A clever plot and nicely twisted sense of humour.

Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No
James Blagden USA (2009)
5 minutes DigiBeta Animation

This drawn animated short tells the (apparently) true story, as narrated by Dock Ellis himself, of a historic no hitter he pitched as a Pittsburgh Pirate on June 12,1970 - while high as a kite on LSD.

SEX! With Hot Robots (Laughter Without Borders)
Jay Dahl Canada 2010
11 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - World Premiere

The one note joke really does go on too long in this story about the robotic revolution that starts with sexy housekeeping robots. It would've been much funnier at half as long.
False Start (Faux départ)
Sébastien Trahan Canada (2010)
7 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - Toronto Premiere

Thanks to a small portable time machine, a man gets to rehearse his break up with  his girlfriend over and over until he gets it just right - only to find that he really doesn't have all the cards in his hands after all. Clever scriptwriting.

Drunk History: Tesla & Edison
Jeremy Konner USA (2009)
6 minutes Beta Documentary - Canadian Premiere

Another episode in this very funny concept series, with Duncan Trussell after six beers and half a bottle of absinthe relating the story of the rivalry between Thomas Edison (played by Crispin Glover), proponent of the DC or direct current, and Nicholas Tesla (played by John C. Reilly) who was a proponent of the AC or alternating current - often called the War of the Currents. The unfortunate Duncan almost doesn't make it through this one, which includes a scene narrated near the white porcelain bowl.

Seeds of The Fall (Slitage)
Patrik Eklund Sweden (2009)
18 minutes 35mm Fiction - Toronto Premiere

Only Scandinavians, I think, could make a comedy about destructive accidents, death and paraplegics and make it work in a dry and laidback kind of way. It begins and ends with an older couple in bed, including a steamroller crash through the house, marital tensions, guest insemination and a great middle-aged marital sex scene along the way.

Worldwide Short Film Festival - Preview #4

Midnight Mania: CREEPY Programme

The Fest runs June 1 - 6 and you can check out full details here.

This is a particularly strong group of films that do all embody their own version of creepiness.

Jessie Mott, Steve Reinke USA (2009)
4 minutes Beta Animation - Canadian Premiere

Beautifully watercoloured animations of animals offer poetic meditations on sexuality and general weirdness like You smell like diapers and sausage and You are a delight - if only I could remove your head all together!

Jardin Dead End
Stéphane Lapointe Canada (2009)
11 minutes Beta Fiction - Toronto Premiere

You know evil's afoot when a film begins with a dog being run over. A man meets a woman with a strange problem in a bar, and finds that demonic possession can have its ups and downs.

The Elemental
Robert Sproul-Cran UK (2009)
12 minutes 35mm Fiction - Canadian Premiere

Very creepy and atmospheric, it tells the nightmarish Tale of a woman's visit to parents in the most dismal of Council housing and an evil presence that lurks in the hallway. It really keeps you on edge.

Kryshan Randel Canada (2009)
6 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - World Premiere

A group of yuppies, a magic spell, and the murderous carving of a pumpkin leads to unforeseen consequences in this over the top gore-horror story.

Ondrej Svadlena Czech Republic/France (2010)
9 minutes 35mm Animation - North American Premiere

A fabulously weird CGI about partial humanoids with a surreal blood and guts sensibility about it. You have to see it to know what I mean.

5 Minute Dating
Peter Hatch Canada (2009)
6 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - World Premiere

The heartwarming story of two misshappen zombie-types who meet at a speed dating event.

Chloe and Attie
Scooter Corkle Canada (2009)
8 minutes DigiBeta Fiction - World Premiere
Elderly sisters are locked in a caregiver relationship, one of them wheelchair bound, but, as it turns out, possessed by a malevolent spirit. Shot at odd peripheral angles and genuinely creepy.

Stewart Comrie UK (2009)
12 minutes Beta Animation - North American Premiere

A marvelously eccentric story about a nefarious squirrel and an innocent magpie, including a kind of elaborate Mousetrap (like the game!) with unexpected results.

Off Season
Jonathan Van Tulleken UK (2009)
13 minutes Beta Fiction

A drifter and his Jack Russell survive by robbing cabins in some far north (Scotland?) scene - until they run into the one that they should've just left alone. It's quite suspenseful, and that stark frozen landscape does have a haunted side that's used quite effectively.

Worldwide Short Film Festival - Preview #3

Worldwide Short Film Festival Preview #3
Alternative Comedy Showcase

The Fest runs June 1 - 6 and you can check out full details here.

The laughs are mild rather than raucous from this quirky group of mostly very shorts.
Morning Walk
Chris Locke, Nathan Fielder Canada (2008)
2 minutes - Fiction

Follows to rapping friends who lip synch their way around Bathurst and Bloor in Toronto. The fun lies in their delivery.

Good Pals
Nathan Fielder Canada (2008)
3 minutes - Fiction

A chance meeting on the sidewalk proves awkward for a couple of old friends. I thought it dragged on a bit over a one note joke.

Once a Year
Levi MacDougall Canada (2007)
5 minutes - Fiction

A winsome word gamed played in a park and a kind of test to see if you're cool enough to party with an enigmatic stranger...

No Nose Nelson
Kathleen Phillips Canada (2009)
2 minutes - Animation

A cute, funny short that tells and old West flavoured story of how Nelson's nose was stolen by one Squeekie Muhguggins. It also has a tiger in it, which is extra points.

Life With Dogs
Heath Milo Canada (2009)
4 minutes - Fiction

If you have or have had your life ruled by your furry friends, you'll relate to this tale of trying to sleep in when they want you up and so much more. Naturally the pooches steal the show here, (another extra points situation).

Knights of Atomikaran
Adam Brodie, Dave Derewlany Canada (2007)
6 minutes - Fiction

The funny tale of a group of nerds dedicated to their pseudo-medeival/post-apocalyptic neo-world, one which they play out in real life (in a gym) using moves like "hacking" and "virus"-ing.

The Library
Levi MacDougall, David Dineen-Porter Canada -( 2007)
4 minutes - Animation

A surealistic journey into Marlon Brando's library via an old school 2D video game, with dialogue like "Imagine how powerful I am - tap A to imagine how powerful I am..."

Dick Mime
Evan DeRushie, Daniel Warth Canada (2009)
3 minutes - Fiction

A surprising and funny take on the theme of the male member in three ultra shorts that involve the concept of, but not the performance of, same, done with a Marcel Marceau aesthetic in the woods.

This is Ana
Kathleen Phillips Canada (2007)
3 minutes - Fiction
Barbie as Ana tells us about her life of office work and living with her three sisters in a metal box stuffed with clothes.

A Situation
Nathan Fielder Canada (2006)
1 minute - Fiction

The truth about gay porn?

Toy Boyz
Dave Hodgson, Geoff Webster Canada (2009)
3 minutes - Fiction

This one runs as a trailer for an action film à la Fast & Furious but on miniature motorcycles. There are some funny sight gags and appropriately over the top acting.

Hiding From Bad Guys
Katie Crown Canada (2008)
1 minute - Fiction

Just like the title says, hiding kid style behind curtains and such. It's cute.

Kelly 5-9
Derek Horn Canada (2010)
7 minutes  DigiBeta - Fiction

An object lesson in why you shouldn't piss off the unpaid editor of a bad sci fi - especially if he's left with the footage.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Corpse Bride - Q&A with playwright Niki Landau

An interview with Niki Landau, writer of
The Corpse Bride
The Young Centre, Toronto
June 4th at 8pm and June 5th at 2pm and 8pm

I have two tickets to give away to the June 5 matinee (2pm) performance of this original show - contact me via Twitter (link to the left of this story).

Toronto's premiere of The Corpse Bride is an original production of  Theatre Panik. It's described as a darkly comedic Canadian interpretation of the famous Yiddish folktale that follows a young bridegroom, who, on the way to his bride’s village, accidentally weds a corpse bride. Theatre PANIK reclaims the intent of the traditional tale through Yiddish theatrical tradition using rhetorical gestures and a silent film style mixed with projections.

Of special note is the fact that former prima ballerina extraordinaire Evelyn Hart will be appearing in the play - her first appearance on stage in years.

Here's a bit of a Q&A with playwright Niki Landau (pictured below):

Q: How did the idea of doing this particular story come about?
A: I found a Jewish folktale called ‘The Corpse Bride’ when working with an acting class at York University in 2002. It struck me as very theatrical, even though it was less than a page in length.  There’s a groom, a
bride (who the groom’s never met) and the Corpse Bride – quite a love-triangle! I also liked its focus on women. I spoke to my husband, director Paul Lampert, about the folktale and he conceived it as a movement piece set to music.
Q: How did the production/people come together? Was it an existing group, or was there a particular reason why people came to work on this project?
A: We knew the story needed a big cast, with lots of young people in major roles. We thought it would be a great opportunity for a graduating class of a theatre school, so we spoke to George Brown Theatre School, and they were excited to be part of the project.  The veterans, including the wonderful Richard Greenblatt,
Sarah Orenstein (pictured left), and Bill Vickers, are playing all the ‘parental’ roles, and the mix is just great.  And, of course, Evelyn Hart, former prima ballerina of the Winnipeg National Ballet, is incredibly exciting to watch in this show, which is so different from anything she’s done in the past.
Q: Give us a brief history of the play's development - I've seen mentions 2 or 3 years spent in development. What did that entail?
A: We actually started researching the show in 2002, but then took a break to do Territories. When we came back to it, Tim Burton had found the same folktale!  Since his version veered away from the folktale’s cultural origins, we decided to continue on. In 2005, I wrote a long short story to fill out the details of the folktale. In 2007, we did a first workshop focusing on movement and music, and presented it at The Factory Theatre. ‘The Corpse Bride’ was then part of the Groundswell Festival at Nightwood Theatre in 2007, where we developed a detailed scene breakdown that Paul has used for the show.
Q: How have you put together the details, like staging, props, lighting, costuming, that kind of thing? What will the audience  see on stage?
A: This show is done in the style of silent film, so it’s like nothing you’ll see in ordinary theatre. You’ll see the large, rhetorical gestures like in the old movies –  set to music from a live band, led by the incredible John Gzowski. Lighting design is by Shaw veteran Kevin Lamotte and set design is by award-winning designer Teresa Przybylski.  Dialogue will be projected on to a screen in the silent film style. The entire show is an exciting mix of the old-fashioned and the modern.

dance Immersion 16th Anniversary Showcase

dance Immersion Showcase
Harbourfront Centre Toronto
To May 29 (tonight!)

There were more than a couple of interesting things about the dance Immersion 16th Anniversary Showcase. One was that each of the choreographers had the chance to work with a mentor, which included people like Debbie Wilson and Danny Grossman. Second was the opportunity to work with talented lighting designer Sharon DiGenova, whose imaginative creations added depth to the evening as a whole. A starlit sky, mottled colours and shadows, directional spots , colour washes - she had a formidable arnsenal of effects that highlighted both mood and meaning.

South African born dancer/choreographer Mafa Makhubalo began the evening with his solo piece Colour of my soul: RED. I've seen him perform in other productions, and as a very strong and athletic dancer, I would imagine he's most often given roles that take advantage of those qualities. Perhaps it's no surprise then to find that, as a choreographer, his tendency leans much more towards the expressive than the purely athletic.As a reaction to the colour red, the piece left no ambiguity about that nature of that reaction. There was and effigy of a white man dressed as a suit towards the back of the stage, a very effective and ever present backdrop to his emphatic movements. He's a very watchable dancer with a strong presence on stage.

Sharon Harvey's piece Cargo creates a box or crate out of several dancers, all of them female, in what was a very effective kind of human sculpture. The dancers became pure movement, shivering in agitation. Once in a while, one would rise out of the group to attempt an escape. It was quite evocative as a meditation on human traffic through slavery, immigration, refugees and illegal aliens.

The first half of the show ended with Water Colours, a piece by Edmonton's Movements: The Afro-Caribbean Dance Ensemble. It was a multi dimensional work that looked at human relationships through four very talented dancers, each who brought a different flavour to it, including choreographer Garfield Andrews. As a whole they were very strong in a technical sense, combining it with a nice theatrical sense that fleshed out the narrative.

The second half opend with a bang and KASHEDANCE's In Search of OURselves, a piece by choreographer/dance Kevin A. Ormsby. Kevin describes his work as a synthesis of traditional and modern dance with ballet, along with African, Western and Caribbean influences, and without knowing it last night, that's exactly how it struck me - choreography that used a fusion of vocabularies for a truly contemporary voice. The company is technically quite brilliant, Kevin in particular is a virtuoso performer. Their style is above all expressive, making the athletic prowess simply part of the flow. The stand out was the finale set to Fela Kuti's kinetic Afrobeat music, an urban tableau complete with briefcases and passersby.

Montreal's Ghislain Doté's piece Mâle de femme looks at women's relationship to men through time through four female dancers. Much of the piece was performed without music, the dancers creating sound through words, or infectious polyrhythms through their hands and feet. It was a beautiful piece, and really unique in flavour, their simple costumes leaving the focus on the dancers.

War Child, choreographed by Lua Shayenne and performed by Toronto's Aya Dance Collective is a kind of examination of what the collective calls "the weighty subject matter of war and childhood". The company traveled to Mali and Senegal for research and training leading up to the creation of the piece, and this premiere, and even without knowing that fact when I saw it, what stood out was that this piece was the most directly African in its flavour. Music was compoased by Amadou Kienou, who played on stage with Daniel Joof and Derek Thorne, adding a deeper element to a piece that was shot through with grief, shock and agitation.

It was an energetic finish to a varied and interesting to watch showcase.

Images from top to bottom:
Mafa Makhubalo by Nzegwhua Anderson
Kashedance by Christopher Cushman

Aya Dance Collective by Daniel Garcia

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Worldwide Short Film Festival - Preview #2

Worldwide Short Film Festival 
Toronto - June 1 to 6, 2010
Film School Spotlight - Mexico's Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica

The Worldwide Short Film Festival fires up soon - from Jun 1 to 6 - here's the second in a series of previews I'll be running of some of their programmes. For a full listing and more details, please check out their link.

CCC is considered to be Mexico's premiere film school, and this selection of mostly dramatic shorts was put together to commemorate the bicentennial of Mexican independence.
A Trip (Un Viaje)
Gabriela Monroy Mexico - 2004
10 minutes  Beta
Fiction - Toronto Premiere
A bit of a gut wrencher about a single father looking after a special needs little boy. It's a nice piece of visual storytelling, effectively conveying the father's tireless vigilence - tireless until a moment of weakness lets him contemplate an escape from the task that consumes his life. A neat series of close ups on bubbles and other objects gives us insight into the highly charged world of the little boy himself.

The Life and Times of John H. (La vida y obra de John H.)
Lourdes Rébora Mexico - 2005
14 minutes Beta
Fiction - North American Premiere
This absorbing story combines a labyrinthine plot with Kafka-esque dimensions and a stylish gothic sensibility. John H. goes to the theatre only to be enlisted in the plot of the bizarre period melodrama. He thinks he's figured his way out of the wormhole, but that's the thing about wormholes...

Dirty clothes (La ropa sucia)
Yoame Escamilla del Arenal Mexico - 2007
15 minutes  Beta
Fiction - Canadian Premiere
The story begins with the nightmare of Tatiana, the wife in a stultifying marriage. It's a finely rendered domestic drama of marital stagnation that revolve around the repair of a washing machine, complete with flashbacks to happier times. It had a great sense of colour and composition - pleasing to the eye as well as on point. Those of us who are or have been married will relate.
Reality show
Federico Schmucler Mexico - 2007
17 minutes  Beta
Fiction - Canadian Premiere
This short has an imaginative story within a story kind of plot that will surprise you to the end. Ramon enlivens life in a dreary apartment with reality shows on TV and a pizza on the way. The trouble starts when the TV begins to show a version of reality - his reality - and what will happen just a few minutes into the future. It lags somewhat in the middle, but ends strongly.

The Desire (El deseo)
Marie Benito Mexico - 2008
14 minutes Beta
Fiction - Toronto Premiere
Ana's left alone in a big house after a divorce, and this drama follows the reawakening of her sense of desire. The outlines are just a little too familiar - the masturbation, the makeover with make-up and heels - and the scenes depicting the boredom of her mundane world just a little too boring.
The Eye on The Nape (El ojo en la nuca)
Rodrigo Plá Mexico - 2000
26 minutes Beta
Fiction - Toronto Premiere
This film opens with a bit of a voiceover on the historic context of the story - the military persecuted, tortured and executed many in Uruguay's former military regime, and a law has pardoned all those reponsible. Pedro, now living in Mexico, is obsessed and returns to exact his revenge. You'll learn about an interesting twist to Uruguayan law in this story about the continuing and destructive legacy of violence.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Worldwide Short Film Festival - Preview #1

Worldwide Short Film Festival
Toronto - June 1 to 6, 2010
Midnight Mania - Freaky Programme 

The Worldwide Short Film Festival fires up soon - from Jun 1 to 6 - here's the first in a series of previews I'll be running of some of their programmes. For a full listing and more details, please check out their link.

From animated weirdness to stop motion to live action and experimental treatments, this crop of shorts covers nearly all the bases in its quest to bring you midnight freakishness.
The Little Dragon (Le Petit Dragon)
Bruno Collet  France - 2009
8 minutes 35mm
Animation - Toronto Premiere
A martial arts themed combination of stop motion animatino and live action in a cute meditation on what would happen if magic incense brought a Bruce Lee figure to life. Cute and fun, if slightly melancholy in parts.

Still Birds (Alle Fugler)
Sara Eliassen Norway - 2009
13 minutes 35mm
Fiction - Canadian Premiere
Weird and atmospheric, this live action short explores an off kilter apocalyptic world where adults are zombie-types and children live in institutional like buildings with green hallways and fluorescent tube lighting. Only one of them can still speak or use language, a skill that proves crucial. Art school aesthetics rule (see image below).

Clean Carousel
Andreas Bødker Denmark - 2010
2 minutes  DigiBeta 
Animation - North American Premiere
A beautifully drawn animated piece about an old tyme carousel and its keeper, who takes drastic measures as the carousel is threatened by a flock of crows and barfing children. It's from Denmark. There is no happy ending.
The Twin Girls of Sunset Street (Les Bessones del Carrer de Ponent)
Marc Riba, Anna Solanas Spain - 2010
13 minutes Beta
Animation - North American Premiere
The creepiest, most disturbing one of the bunch, this stop motion animated film tells the dark tale of two elderly sisters who kidnap children, eat them, and turn them into tonics that they sell. And that's not the worst of it! Nightmare-inducing.
To Kill A Bumblebee (Laharog Devora)
Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon Israel - 2009
8 minutes DigiBeta
Fiction - World Premiere
A live action black comedy about a pair of hunters whose day of shooting for boar goes horribly awry  - or one thing leads to another...

The Tail Gunner
Sam Lanyon Jones UK - 2009
1 minutes  DigiBeta
Animation - North American Premiere
What do cute kitty-kats dream of while they're curled up so adorably? Those of us who have cats won't be surprised that it's not all warm and fuzzy.

Beauty Plus Pity
Emily Vey Duke, Cooper Battersby Canada - 2009
14 minutes DigiBeta 
Part live action documentary, part (intentionally) crudely animated musical, this experimental film includes fucked up narratives about killing animals to be close to them, drugging animals in the zoo to be close to them
(something very serial killer-ish about this theme) and cartoon animals that sing about family dysfunction. Yet, it's oddly watchable in a stream of consciousness kind of way.

Prince of Milk (Gyunyu Ohji)
Eisuke Naito Japan - 2009
15 minutes DigiBeta
Fiction - Canadian Premiere
This one was made by the kind of crazy kids who go to the Film School of Tokyo. Naturally, there are schoolgirls, sexual humiliation, suicide and bloody revenge, along with the murderous use of umbrellas and a song about milk in a compelling pastiche of over the top aberrancy.
Yellow Belly End
Philip Bacon UK -  2009
9 minutes DigiBeta
Animation - Toronto Premiere
This British animated eccentricity features people costumed as animals. One dressed as a canary sits at a desk and dutifully notes the number of suicides jumping off a cliff in a book, by species - cats, dogs, lemmings and so on. It develops a nice sense of dramatic tension amongst the surreality of it all. I really wanted to find out what was going to happen to him - the canary - even after he threw the mouse guy in the suitcase over the edge...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

6th NFB Online Short Film Contest – Cannes 2010

Crash! Bang! Wallow?
of the 6th NFB Online Short Film Contest – Cannes 2010
Over 2 million views in 14 days

Check it out

Montreal, May 20, 2010 – The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) announced today in Cannes the winner of the 6th NFB Online Short Film Contest: Crash! Bang! Wallow? by Jon Dunleavy and Keith Wilson-Singer of the United Kingdom. The award ceremony was held this afternoon at the Short Film Corner in the presence of Claude Joli-Cœur, Assistant Commissioner of the NFB.

This year, the 10 shortlisted films generated more than 2 million views in 14 days – an increase of over 1000 percent compared to last year – on the NFB’s English and French YouTube channels. This sixth edition was organized by the NFB in collaboration with the Short Film Corner, the meeting place in Cannes for short filmmakers from around the world, and in association with YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing site. In partnering the contest, the NFB continues to encourage the creators of bold and innovative shorts.

The public had 14 days to vote online for their favourite short film on the YouTube site, which recorded more than 20,000 votes from all over the globe. The contest attracted the attention of a large number of subscribers to the NFB Twitter accounts @thenfb and @onf, reaching close to 16,000 short film lovers. Numerous blogs aired the videos on their sites.

The winning short, Crash! Bang! Wallow?, is an animated film that tells the tale of ex-Hollywood stuntman Larry LeTan and his fight to find a place in the modern world. Filmmakers Jon Dunleavy and Keith Wilson-Singer will receive a digital camera/HD video camera and a laptop computer from the NFB. The winning film can be viewed until June 20, 2010, at or The short films that came in second, third and fourth place are Love and Theft by Andreas Hykade (Germany), The Technician by Simon-Olivier Fecteau (Canada) and The Story of My Life by Pierre Ferrière (France).

The ten short films of this 2010 edition were selected by Danny Lennon from the many entries submitted to the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner by filmmakers from around the world. (Image is of le Palais du Film in Cannes)

The other finalists were Mother of Many by Emma Lazenby (United Kingdom), Forbidden Tree by Banafsheh Modaressi (Iran), Annie Goes Boating by Noel Paul (United States), Awake by Thaid Dhi (Czech Republic), The Last Passenger by Mounes Khammar (Algeria) and The Report Card by Alessandro Celli (Italy).

About the NFB

Canada’s public film producer and distributor, the National Film Board of Canada creates social-issue documentaries, auteur animation, alternative drama and digital content that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. The NFB is expanding the vocabulary of 21st-century cinema and breaking new ground in form and content through community filmmaking projects, cross-platform media, programs for emerging filmmakers, stereoscopic animation – and more. It works in collaboration with creative filmmakers, digital media creators and co-producers in every region of Canada, with Aboriginal and culturally diverse communities, as well as partners around the world. Since the NFB’s founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. The NFB’s new website features over 1,600 productions online, and its iPhone app has become one of the most popular and talked about downloads. Visit today and start watching.

dance Immersion 16th Anniversary Show

I'll be checking it out Friday night - more to come.

dance Immersion Celebrates 16th Anniversary at
Annual Showcase Highlighting Emerging Dancers
featuring up-and-coming dancers from across Canada
Part of Harbourfront Centre's NextSteps
Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay West
Thursday, May 27 - Saturday, May 29, 2010 | 8PM

Toronto, May 4, 2010- dance Immersion, a Toronto-based organization that provides guidance and opportunities to Canadian dancers of the African diaspora, celebrates its 16th anniversary with a Showcase Presentation of up-and-coming dancers of African descent, running Thursday, May 27 to Saturday, May 29 at Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre. A Talk-Back follows the performance on Friday night (May 28), giving audience members a chance to interact with the dancers and get a glimpse behind the process of dance creation.

Performers in this edition of the Annual Showcase Presentation include the Aya Dance Collective (Toronto), Ghislane Dote (Montreal), Sharon Harvey (Toronto), Kashedance (Toronto), Mafa Makhubalo (Toronto) and Movements (Edmonton).

Toronto's Aya Dance Collective is an emerging company founded in 2006 by Lua Shayenne and Roshanak Jaberi, a multicultural female-driven duo fueled by a desire to inspire social change through the art of movement. The collective has performed at the Dance Ontario Dance Weekend, Series 8:08 and Dusk Dances. They perform Lua Shayenne's War Child, a piece 4 dancers and 3 musicians that depicts the tragedy of child soldiers, and explores the emotional and psychological effects of the horrors as well as the innate qualities of love and forgiveness that all children possess.

Originally from the Central African Republic, Montreal-based dancer, choreographer and composer Ghislaine Dote's pieces have received praise from critics in Toronto and Montreal. In addition to her contemporary dance work with companies such as Sinha Danse Company and Flak (Jose Navas), she has performed with Cirque du Soleil, African music group Laobe, and since 2008, Luc Plamondon's Rock Opera Starmania. For the dance Immersion showcase, she remounts Mâle de femme, a 2006 quartet about women's relationship to men through time which originally ran in Montreal to popular acclaim.

Sharon Harvey is a dance specialist and faculty member of the St. Lawrence College in Brockville, ON, in the Musical Theatre Department. Her previous work with Toronto's renowned Ballet Creole has been described as "sensuous" and "heart-wrenching." Her Showcase piece, Cargo, is a work for five dancers that examines the importing and exporting of the human race through slavery, immigration, refugees and illegal aliens.

Led by dancer/choreographer Kevin A. Ormsby, KasheDance uses an emerging dance technique created by Ormsby called "kashedantek" to create explosive, subtle and confronting works that fuse ballet and contemporary dance with African and Caribbean traditions. The world premiere of In SEARCH of OURselves, a piece for five dancers, explores the displacement of peoples across borders and examines the fundamental question of how we affirm ourselves.

Born and raised in Sassolburg, South Africa, Mafa Makhubalo has been dancing since the age of five. He has performed at events such as the FIFA World Cup Conference in Morocco and the Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa. In Canada, he apprenticed with Ballet Creole and currently performs with OMO Dance Company, His solo, Colour of My Soul "RED," interprets various dances performed during traditional ceremonies in China, South Africa, and India and fuses them into a contemporary African style that forges a cultural link between the past and present. The work also explores the colour red and its relation to mood, emotion and behaviour.

Edmonton's Movements is an internationally acclaimed Afro-Caribbean dance ensemble dedicated to inspiring and educating about dance, African and Caribbean cultures and multiculturalism. Founded by Sharlene Thomas in 1990, Movements presents Watercolours, a narrative piece for 4 dancers that reflects on the quintessential essence of water, and the repetitive neural activity in the mind that can generate oscillatory activity in many ways that drives us.

Image of Mafa Makhubalo by Nzegwhua Anderson

Friday, May 21, 2010

9 Parts of Desire - Interview with Heather Raffo

9 Parts of Desire
an interview with Writer/Actor Heather Raffo

Continues at Toronto's Theatre Centre to May 23

As an American whose father was born in Iraq, Heather Raffo naturally felt torn by this generation's conflicts in the area, beginning with Bush Sr's Gulf War. It led her to question much, and to wonder how to make sense of both sides of the story. Luckily for the theatre world, it also led to 9 Parts of Desire, a one woman show that has her taking on the personas of various Iraqi women living in times of war.

"I would say the research was multi-pronged," Heather says. "Some was done in Iraq in 1993 when I was there visiting family - before I thought about doing a play. I was curious about my Iraqi roots." The initial spark led to a continued interest in the women she'd spoken with, who'd taken her into their trust, and she kept in touch over the years. "It was a decade's worth of phone calls, just out of interest, not because I had a piece in mind."

Once the idea of a play began to percolate, those long conversations became the starting point. "There was a few years of more earnest information getting," she describes. "When I decided I wanted to write about an artist, for example, I contact the Iraqi arts community." In the process, the drier aspects of research took on a more personal tone. "I was talking with Iraqis that I came to care very much about."

The characters you see in the play are composites, not a depiction of specific people. "It's not documentary theatre," she insists. They are characters that embody the spirit and experiences of the Iraqi women she came to know.

Putting together a monologue play can seem deceptively simple. As Heather tells it, however, it was a long process that continued long after its début. "I had a few monologues done, but putting them together was most of the work as a writer." The order of the monologues and how they segué into each other was of prime importance, setting the tone for what the audience sees and absorbs. "I wanted it to be more than the sum of its parts."

What Toronto audiences see in 2010 is a different version than what premiered in 2003 in Edinburgh, even different than the NYC version that played to sold out houses for 9 months in 2004. "The New York version was close," she notes, "although it isn't the same as what was published - that came together in about 2006."

As events unfolded in Iraq, it changed the play. Heather wanted to heighten or emphasize certain elements. "I want the audience to get the sense of a fractured psyche - of one person torn in many directions. I want them to see the exhaustion of one person as they shift from role to role." Her performance mirrors the conflict itself. "The war is apparent on stage."

Tweaking the play could only happen as she performed it, the pace, rhythm and dialogue between the characters changing along with the nature of the war itself. Unlike many depictions of highly charged material, though, she wanted to envelop her audience in the experience, not confront them with it. "What was more important was making the audience feel like they were there. The audience is very much endowed in the play as a character, like a beloved friend of these women. It's a very intimate conversation - not agit-prop."

In depicting the lives of Iraqi women, it speaks to a sense of the feminine experience of war. "I think that the play is riddled with images that mind us of the necessary balance between the masculine and feminine principles." Nonetheless, you won't find a Westerners typical blanket condemnation of the role of women in Islam. It's not about the clichéd understanding we have of gender issues in the West. "I've found it gratifying that Iraqi men who've seen it have felt the same way as the women," she says - proving she's gotten the stories right.

Photo of Heather by Irene Young

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival - Previews Part II

Here's another trio of reviews you'll find in the programme at the 20th annual Inside Out LGBT Film Festival:
(screening times at the links)

Beautiful Darling (2010)
Directed by James Rasin

Canadian Premiere

Check out the trailer here

The film begins and ends with scenes of the preparation for the funeral of one James L. Slattery, AKA Candy Darling, who died in 1974 but whose ashes were finally put to rest by longtime friends Jeremiah Newton, right beside those of his mother, in 1991. It's a sad but appropriate frame for this ultimately melancholy story of an Andy Warhol-era icon.

Her story's told in images and interviews with people like John Waters, Fran Lebowitz, actor Paul Ambrose, and others who'd spent time in Warhol's inner circle. Sometimes we hear Jeremiah's diary, sometimes excerpts from Candy's diaries. James, as he began his life, grew up in a sterile new subdivision just as ugly and uniform as they knew how to make in the 1950's, and into an abusive family. He ended up in New York City, (presented as a kind of repository for the unemployable, he he) already dressing and living as a woman - the former being illegal under then applicable state laws.

Fixated from an early age on images of Hollywood beauties of an earlier era like Kim Novak, Candy Darling was created as an ode to that star system and those values. She was beautiful, a vision in platinum blonde. Candy found adulation on the stage in the West Village. She really wanted to be a movie star in that glamourous mode, and thought that Warhol's low budget art films would be her ticket. And hey, I've been in many myself, I'm not knocking art films, but they tend to open doors to... more art films, and not much more.

We're shown a world of navel-gazing scenesters obsessed with being seen at the right clubs by the right people every night. Candy also found some success as a model, doing shoots with people like Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and even making the cover of Cosmo. Probably the height of acceptance came with her performance in a part written for her by Tennessee Williams in his play Small Craft Warning.

The problem is that Candy couldn't deal with what happened when the lights came on and the audience went home. In her diary, she talks about "my strange, stylized sexuality", and of her acute loneliness. She was "always sleeping on someone's couch", and chronically short of funds. She's even described by some as a classic hustler who turned tricks secretively - although it's denied by others, and many people quite close to her claim they knew nothing of her sex life.

The film does a nice job of portraying her all the same. The fact that the pieces only come together as a puzzle, and at that partly contradictory, probably says more than the evidence put together about this complex and sympathetic person who paid a high price for living as herself.

Prima Donna: The Story of Rufus Wainwright's Debut Opera (2009)
Directed by George Scott

International Premiere

Check out the trailer here

Just as the title says, this doc takes us through the meandering story of both Rufus Wainwright's first opera and its premiere in 2009, and a bio of the man himself - described by father Loudon Wainwright II as a "flamboyant toddler".

We're shown home movies, old pictures, concert footage, and lots of interviews with mother Kate McGarrigle, aforementioned father, boyfriend, Janis Kelly the soprano who sang at the premiere, and Renée Fleming, who's obviously taken with him and his work. Apparently his love for opera does go back to age 7 or 8, when he'd bother his mother to play the records and he describes an early infatuation with Maria Callas. The film takes an abbreviated look at the process of putting it together, including parts of his own story like the drug fuelled partying of his youth.

What's interesting is when they - Renée, Janis, others - talk about his music. He likes to use melody, deceptively simple sounding music where the melodies hover over harmonies that shift underneath. It's contrary to most dissonant 'new music' as we know it. "It's not challenging on the ears," and Janis describes it. Renée Fleming is thrilled at the injection of new blood into what is sadly seen as a museum art form.

On the whole, I found it overly reverential of every little eccentricity - like his francophilia, among others, but that's to be expected when most of the interviewees are close family and friends. Perhaps interestingly, the only dissenting voices in this 98% uncritical documentary were people he worked with, including American director Daniel Kramer, whose long suffering demeanour implies even more than he says (and I'll leave that for you to find out). When his boyfriend says he's "impressed" by what Rufus accomplished, it's nice... but leaves me with little idea of what to actually expect. If you're a Rufus fan, you'll love it, but if you're not, you'll likely be left a little puzzled, as I was.

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement
Written & Directed by Gréta Ólafsdóttir and Susan Muska

Canadian Premiere

You can check it out here.

Edie and Thea are two charming older ladies as we first meet them in this bio-pic, watching a slideshow of pics from a beach vacation decades ago when both were young and babe-ish. "Now you're old and I'm disabled," says Thea, and from there, their stories unfold in interviews and images.

The pair met and danced - a theme that would play throughout much of their 42 year relationship. The early days are also a portrait of the vibrant lesbian club scene of Greenwich Village in the 1950's that morphed into the disco scene of the 1970's. Interspersed are their individual histories. Thea was born into a well to do Jewish family in Holland who had the foresight to escape to the UK in September 1939. Both had painful experiences with families that couldn't accept them as lesbians.

The film veers into what feels like an obligatory discussion of the Stonewall Riots, with a few minutes of marches and commentary that cuts immediately to Thea's diagnosis with MS. Edie waited 27 1/2 years for a "domestic partnership" license from the State of New York, and were finally married in Toronto in 2007 after 41 years of a love that endured till death did them part. It's sad on the surface, yet I couldn't really feel sad about a film that's really about finding and keeping that one true love.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival - Previews Part I

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival
Preview/Reviews Part I

Here's a trio of reviews, more to come tomorrow - screening times at the links:

Communication (2009)
Directed by Christopher Banks

Starring Rudi Vodanovich, Alexander Campbell, Richard Lambeth & Rita Lefau Ryan
Short - 19 minutes

The success of a short relies on an economy of filmmaking - how quickly can you establish the story, the mood, the characters? Director Christopher Banks does a beautiful job of it in Communication, revealing a tragic twist to the story of how a young, handsome man inherits a lavish estate from a former professor and lover.

He walks through the house, and various objects bring back memories of his half tentative encounters with the older man, and a dinner party where a boorish former love (of the prof's) shows up to spoil the idyllic mood. Every scene reveals a little more, and Banks is aided by the lush and lovely New Zealand countryside in this nicely realized story of love gone awry.

Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! (2009)
Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky

Written by Evgeny Afineevsky & Joseph Goldman

With Carmen Electra, Lainie Kazan, Saul Rubinek, John Lloyd Young, Jai Rodriguez & Vincent Pastore

Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! is formulaic comedy elevated, to the extent that it is elevated, by the solid and watchable performances of screen veteran Saul Rubinek and stage veteran Lainie Kazan. The story goes like this: Jewish mama Kazan wants to find a nice Jewish bride for son John Lloyd Young, who happens to be gay, but somehow nobody knows this. By a wacky misunderstanding, she thinks his centrefold model friend (because all gay guys have hot chick friends, right?) is actually the 'relationship' that he tries (but can't succeed because of one of those scenes where he can't get the words out of his mouth as she talks over him - you know what I mean, it's in every rom-com) to tell her about.

The funniest scene comes where he finally tells the fam he's gay, this during a wedding ceremony in a synagogue. Scenes that focus on the talents of Rubinek (the disbelieving dad) and Kazan as they agonize over the implications together also stand out. Unfortunately, much of the rest is a nonsensical progression of set ups to punchlines that don't work as often as they do. The script tries to stand on too many soapboxes. This is a fantasy world where a newscaster tells the audience that 'it's cool to be gay' and apparently looks and age don't matter either, even as it blends in the realistic sad/funny struggles of the parents to understand. There are no real or identifiable characters here, just mouthpieces for the writers' various pet causes.

Check out the trailer here

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)
Directed by James Kent

Written by Jane English

Starring Maxine Peake, Anna Madeley, Susan Lynch, Christine Bottomley, Gemma Jones, Dean Lennox Kelly and Tina O'Brien.

International Premiere (and closing night Gala)

I love and only love the fairer sex, and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any but theirs.

Miss Anne Lister was a historical figure, a woman of the landed gentry who lived in the early 1800's (1791 - 1840) in Yorkshire, England. Widely travelled, she's considered by many to be the first 'modern lesbian', in that she lived openly as such as a contemporary of Jane Austen. Her 4 million word coded diaries, which speak (when you know the code) openly of her loves and dalliances, were only fully deciphered recently, (you can check out part of that story here,) and brought to the screen in this BBC2 production.

The story is given a lush and literary treatment, illuminated by the beauty of the rain drenched English countryside, the foggy moors. It chronicles her longtime love for a woman who loved her back, but chose the conventional life of marriage, the triangles with a former lover, and her eventual happiness with a rich widow. In between there's a smattering of business rivalry, discrimination and the murmur of gossip about the eccentric figure the locals called 'Gentleman Jack', but the storyline is more meandering than dramatic, and there's never a sense of real danger or unwanted consequences to the gossip.

What we do get a sense of is the genteel isolation of life in the countryside amongst the wealthy - a gilded boredom that surely led to her penchant for travel. It's a beautifully shot and interesting look at a historical figure taken at a leisurely pace.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Jazz Loft Project

The Jazz Loft Project
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

40 Lincoln Center Plaza

New York, N.Y. 10023-7498

Phone: (212) 870-1630

Closing May 22, 2010

If you're in the big (big) city, and whether your interest is primarily in photography or in the music itself, you'll want to try and catch the Jazz Loft Project exhibition before it leaves NYC. The exhibition, using material compiled at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, includes displays, audio and video stations, and photographs - just a small fraction of the 1,447 rolls of film (or about 40,000 pictures) taken by W. Eugene Smith during the 8 years or so he spent at 821 Sixth Avenue.

In 1957, Smith, a well known professional photographer who'd worked for the likes of Life magazine, walked out on his wife and four children, (as the brochure tells us,) away from his mistress (that part's left out of the official documentation,) and into a life of artistic freedom in a rundown loft building at the 821 Sixth Avenue address, (it's between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth). The building became home to an assortment of artists, writers, and jazz musicians who'd jam until the wee hours in a golden period that lasted until about 1965. Smith not only photographed the goings on, but he taped it, and that not only the music but conversations, telephone calls, you name it. Along with the artistry, he had a definite sense of documenting history, the evidence of which brings that era back to life.

The loft gained a cachet that drew the best and brightest in town to the scene, a who's who of mid-century cool that included Thelonius Monk (who takes a great picture,) photographer Diane Arbus, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, avant garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, painters Salvador Dali and Willem de Kooning, heiress Doris Duke, Stan Getz, Jackie Gleason, Max Kaminsky, Piper Laurie, Norman Mailer, Zero Mostel, Paul Newman and Sonny Rollins - and that's only just skimming the surface of 591 people documented in Smith's photographs and tapes.

The exhibition includes tidbits like the handwritten tape labels, audio tape of a cop's visit to the loft in 1961, Eugene's phone call to the Ziff Publishing Company of February 1960, where he tells the hapless secretary "I'm trying to find out who my enemies are" before announcing that he'll never produce any more books for them. And, of course, there are many, many photographs, some of them simply streetscapes taken from his own 4th floor apartment. There are audio stations along the walls, and a TV viewing stations where you can view and hear episodes from the Jazz Loft Radio Series,

The Jazz Loft Project is also a 2009 book by Sam Stephenson (available at the link).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Whitney Biennial 2010 (Better Late Than Never)

Whitney Biennial 2010
(better late than never)

continues to May 30

The world would be a duller place without the Whitney Biennial to kick around every two years. - Roberta Smith, New York Times February 28, 1993

It's easy not to like contemporary art, it's true. Notions of classical beauty and of creating things that are pleasing to the eye went the way of the dodo decades ago. So what are we left with? The Whitney Biennial gives you a good snapshot of the contemporary American art scene - and in this global village of ours, I think, a notion of current visual arts in general. As the nice young man at the desk suggested, I began at the 5th floor, which is a retrospective of artists in previous Biennales, and worked my way down. It's a mind boggling multiplicity of pieces, to be sure, but here's what stood out for me.

Actually, just to back up a touch, I got there before the 1pm opening, so I browsed the giftshop and highly recommend the literary and visual works of the Guerrilla Girls, including the Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes.

Anyway, up to the 5th floor and its survey of former Biennialists. I liked Matthew Barney's video "Drawing Restraint 2", in which the artist negotiates a kind of booby trapped room on ice skates, tethered to the floor as he attempts to make it to continue working on the drawing which hangs up near the ceiling. David Hammons' fabulous spidery sculpture made of rocks, copper, wire, hair and fabric was cool too. And naturally I liked Claes Oldenburg's Soft Toilet (pictured) because I'm always a sucker for Oldenburg.

There was surrealism both grim and whimsical, along with monochromatic abstracts, textile and text based art. A thread of celebrating the mundane ran through it, including Vija Celmin's Heater, (which is a painting of a space heater, just like it says,) and Alex Hays' Paper Bag, (which is, like, a giant paper bag). On to the 4th, and the current Biennial.

Piotr Uklanski's Untitled (The Year We Make Contact) and Untitled (Red Dwarf) met you as you reached the 4th floor, and maybe it's just that, or the fact that it took up the whole wall, but there was defnitely something striking about the piece (pictured below). Maybe it was the colours in warm neutrals and red, or the textural appeal of it. I don't know what it was, but I know that I liked it, to paraphrase. Another stand out was an installation by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, an anonymous collective from Brooklyn. A large vintage stationwagon of the type once used for both hearse and ambulance has been painted white, with a video and voiceover playing on its windshield. The part I heard was a running narrative about America as a former flame We fucked America to make America disappear. and so on.

Despite the huge number of works that passed in front of my eyes, the ones that (unfortunately) stick with me are the haunting photographs of Stephanie Sinclair. Self-Immolation: A Cry for Help documents the treatment of Afghani women who've set themselves on fire in a bid to escape lives of abuse from husbands and families at a clinic with only the most rudimentary of supplies. (You can check it out at the link.)

I found the piece I'd describe as happiest in tone of the whole show on the 4th in a full room of Charles Ray's ink on paper stylized drawings of flowers and plants. They had a lyrical, dare I say even pleasing quality about them in the middle of all the post modern angst. It's not that we shouldn't be scared and agitated about all sorts of things, it's just that every once in a while, I need a break and I found it in this room full of his work.

There was something disturbing about Pae White's cotton and polyester wall sized piece that erupted in a cascade of colour and texture, although I had to stop and look. I was noticing a lot of machine like repetition and themes. I watched Alex Hubbard's Annotated Plans for an Evacuation (2009) for a while. In the video, he alters the appearance of a hapless Ford Tempo. He spackles the tires, for instance, all the while an intent expression on his face.

On the 2nd floor, there was a surreal quality about the photography of James Casebere. He creates meticulous tabletop models of a suburban subdivision, in this caseLandscape with Houses (Dutchess County NY #1 & 2) . There was definitely something compelling and kind've creepy about them. Jessica Jackson Hutchins' Couch for a Long Time was in fact a large couch covered with newspaper clippings of President Barack Obama and a couple of ceramic jars.

My favourite on the 2nd was Canadian ex-pat Aurel Schmidt's Master of the Universe/Flexmaster 3000, a 2010 piece that reminded me in a way of the work I'd recently seen of Wangechi Mutu, in that it was a fantastical multimedia/collage creature. Her ultra beefy minotaur was made of graphite, coloured pencil, symthetic polymer, beer, dirt and blood, puffing on a cig, flexing one arm while the other grasps a staff made of Budweiser cans.

On the 1st floor, of the three artists represented, I have to say the work of conceptual artist Michael Asher left the biggest impression. His was described on a plaque on the wall; a proposal for the Whitney Museum to have the exhibition open to the public 24 hours a day for a period of a week. After it is the Museum's explanation that, due to budgetary restraints, the show would only be open 24 hours for a period of three days from May 26, 1pm to Friday May 28, 11:59pm.

As a Biennial, it is indeed representative of its times.

Attribution for the image of Piotr Uklanski: Untitled (Red Dwarf) and Untitled (The Year We Make Contact), 2010 (and I hope I'm doing this right):

Thursday, May 13, 2010

9 Parts of Desire Comes to Toronto

9 Parts of Desire

It got rave reviews and played to sold out houses for 9 months Off Broadway.

Heather Raffo's hit one woman play about Iraqi women living in wartime comes to Toronto May 19-23.

I'll have an interview with Ms Raffo sometime soon, but in the meantime you might want to get your tickets - check out the details at the link.

Music by Prudence - Academy Award Winning Doc

If you get HBO2, you can check out this inspiring documentary, which recently won an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Short. With material from releases and other media documents that were provided to me:

Music by Prudence
Airing May 20 (8:45 a.m.) and May 24 (7:45 p.m.) ET/PT on HBO2

(it also just aired on May 12)

Check out the trailer here

In Zimbabwe, there is a traditional belief that children who are born disabled are a result of witchcraft and, as a result, physically challenged children are often neglected and rejected by their families. This documentary film tells the story of a young woman named Prudence Mabhena, who has a rare congenital disorder called anthrogryposis, and her Afro-fusion band "Liyana"- made up entirely of physically challenged musicians. Abandoned by her parents, she was raised by her maternal grandmother until the age of 7, when she was sent to live with her father and his new wife, where she was belittled and neglected for 2 years.

Her luck changed when she got a scholarship to study at the King George VI School & Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities, where she found acceptance and friendship. She was soon singing and writing her own music, and forming Liyana with 7 classmates - Farai Mabhande, Energy Maburutse, Marvelous Mbulo, Honest Mupatse, Tapiwa Nyengera, Goodwell Nzou and Vusani Vuma, all of whom themselves lives with physical disabilities that range from muscular dystrophy to hemophilia. Liyana means "it's raining" in Ndebele.

The documentary lets Prudence tell her story in her own words, with the rest of the band and concert footage too.

The soundtrack was released digitally by Mi5/EMI on May 4, and you can check out and download samples at that link.

Music by Prudence follows this strong and resilient young woman, whose wonderful voice has helped her leave behind the years of rejection and neglect towards a bright and hopeful future in a documentary that is truly inspiring even in a world where we use such superlatives far too often, for far too little.

Directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams
Produced by Elinor Burkett
Music produced by Ted Mason
For HBO, supervising producer Sara Bernstein, executive producer Sheila Nevins

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We Are One: South Sudan Culture Fest

Batuki Music Society, in conjunction with the Sudanese Settlement & Community Services Presents:
We Are One: South Sudan Culture Fest
May 15, Toronto
(see details at the link)

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on January 9, 2005, ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, which, together with and largely considered a continuation of the First Sudanese Civil War, engulfed the region in deadly fighting from 1955 right up to its signing. The violent clash between between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (formed in 1983) and the Afro-Arab and Muslim dominated northern regions killed an estimated 1.9 million civilians and displaced another 4 million in one of Africa's longest and bloodiest wars.

The good news is that left in its wake is the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, whose capital is Juba. The region, home to more than 60 ethnic groups and extending east and west along the White Nile River (or Bahr el Jebel) south of Egypt and the northern capital of Khartoum, has been a hotbed of conflict for centuries. Needless to say, there's nothing like 50 years of warfare to lay waste to the rich cultural legacy of any region in any era, including the destruction of documents, archives and tapes along with the complete disruption of societies that had been largely untouched by outside influences.

Toronto's Batuki Music Society, whose Executive Director Otimoi Oyemu is himself a native of the region, is looking to lend a helping hand in the rebuilding process through an event that's centred in Ontario, but with contacts that extend throughout the diaspora and back into the African continent. "Culture reinforces identity," explains Nadine McNulty, Batuki's Artistic Director. "This is our first attempt. We're hoping that it will be continued and replicated - not only here, but in Southern Sudan itself. We're hoping to light a spark."

Putting together a showcase of South Sudanese arts proved to be no easy task, however. While rich in heritage, most of the musicians and performance groups were community based, performing at weddings and church events. Reaching out took some time and legwork, including contacting the Sudanese Settlement & Community Services and the Liaison Office of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan in Ottawa, who've lent their enthusiastic support. After a concerted effort, the programme was put together, and now includes a wide range of talented performers showcasing everything from traditional song and dance to cutting edge hip hop, and people that are coming from all over the province.

Many of the Sudanese in Canada have come from refugee camps, some young people who've taken advantage of the federal government's refugee student programme. While admirable in intent, it unfortunately only provides for one year of financial support. "So many struggle here," Nadine says, "and not only with finances." Proceeds of We Are One will go towards setting up a scholarship fund to help out, along with providing a networking opportunity. While it's the first celebration of Southern Sudanese culture in... well probably ever, the intent is that it will be far from the last. "Hopefully, it'll be an annual event."

See you there?