New Canadian Media

In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.

Stephane Mukunzi, PACE Magazine

“It all comes back to the idea of bringing communities together. The spoken word collectives, the singers, the artists, the painters… they are all present in Ottawa. We just don’t have centralized spaces where people can go to see Ottawa artists and critical thinkers. And that’s what we are trying to achieve with PACE”.

As a twenty-three year-old videographer and photographer, Stephane Mukunzi was fed up with receiving the same old rejection letter after submitting work. After realizing there was no community of young artists in Ottawa’s art scene, Stephane decided to create one himself. He gathered together a group of young creatives and they developed PACE Magazine, a place where young artists and critically minded people could express themselves. Inspired by London’s DIY magazine culture, Mukunzi and his team wanted to maintain the classic element of print media while combining it with innovation and online presence. PACE aims to dismantle the hierarchical nature of art and ensure the representation of indigenous artists, black artists, artists of colour, women artists, immigrant artists, and anyone who may have turned away by the fine arts community.

The PACE team decided to give voice to those who haven’t had a chance to speak to Ottawa, and within the first year of launching, it is clear they have found voices that Ottawa is eager to hear. The magazine has published two print editions, created a website for creative content, and held two successful launch events that featured local photography, spoken word, and art pieces. After this continued foray into Ottawa culture, Stephane fully rejects the idea of Ottawa as a boring city and believes that the many creative scenes, are there to fill cultural needs if you are ready to integrate yourself into them. Looking for that first step? Check out the latest issue of PACE at http://www.pacemagazine.ca/

Khoebe Magsaysay, Artist/Filmmaker/Animator

“It’s really important to embrace and accept your disappointments and failures because they make a strong foundation for your future endeavours.”

Filipino-born Khoebe Magsaysay immigrated to Ontario when she was ten years old. After high school, she enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan College, and began a time of huge personal growth. At university, she learned to persevere through challenging times, cultivate her talent, and refine her skills as a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Khoebe landed an internship in New York City for the summer between years three and four of her undergrad at Gameloft, a notable gaming company. Following her internship, Khoebe produced a short film, and the process of making it was very stressful and complex. The film, titled “NIHIL”, is about Adina, a character who is the epitome of perfection. Through a series of events, she comes to question her reality. The success of the film won Khoebe the Via Rail Award for Best Canadian Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which is considered one of the most prestigious international animation film festivals in the world. Khoebe has continued to excel in her field, working in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment.


The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!

Published in Arts & Culture
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 21:16

Asian Cinema Week: Chop-Socky of Fun

By R. Paul Dhillon in Surrey

Last week turned out to be an unplanned Asian cinema watching binge, watching four Asian films – three Chinese and one Korean.

I love Asian films as some of them have action and special effects that are better than Hollywood even if they sometimes lack in the story-plot, but over all they are spectacular visual feasts.

First up was the Super hit special-effects laden Journey To The West - Demons Attack, an action packed road movie with four characters - a Monk, powerful monkey king, a pig man and a devilish looking beast. It had out of this world fights and action even if the story was a bit off.

Next up was Korean cop buddy picture Confidential Assignment with a terrific pairing of top Korean actors who play two very different North and South Korean cops, forcefully teamed to catch a rogue North Korean general who took off with valuable US currency printing plates. It was a fun ride of comedy and action and beautifully crafted with a tight story and characters easily identifiable and likeable.

Jackie Chan's Kung Fu Yoga, a silly action adventure with top of the line production design and chop-socky action which only Jackie can execute. Even at his 60 plus age, Jackie can kick ass like a young stud. Kung Fu Yoga also features Indian characters and storyline about lost treasures from the ancient civilisations of Indo-Chinese descents.

It features the beautiful Disha Patani playing an Indian Princess and Bollywood villain Sonu Sood as you guessed it as a villain seeking to inherit or steal the riches found by Jackie and his archaeological team. Not a lot of meaningful story-plot but a lot of fun and crazy action featuring car stunts, animals and of course the classic hand to hand Kung Fu speciality of the one and only Jackie Chan.

The fourth film in my Asian cinema foray was The Great Wall, which opened in North America recently after making more than $250 million in China and overseas. The film featuring Hollywood star Matt Damon and top Chinese stars is masterfully crafted by ace Chinese filmmaker Zhang Zimou. The alien sci-fi drama is an action film with good performances and dazzling special effects. For me it had the beautiful mix of western and Chinese big tent pole action film elements with a tight story and dramatic elements that lift it above average action sci-fi films.

The Great Wall was the best among the four Asian films I saw in my Asian Cinema Week and I'm glad it came at the end of my viewing odyssey as it will remain with me for a while.


R. Paul Dhillon is an award-winning journalist and editor of the South Asian LINK Newspaper and founder-publisher of Desibuzzbc. Dhillon is also a prominent filmmaker with feature film credits, including the latest The Fusion Generation.

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 28 February 2017 08:14

Depicting the First 150 Days in Canada

by Tanya Mok in Toronto

OVER 300 movie-goers attended the recent world premiere of ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’, a documentary that strikes to the core of the Canadian immigrant experience.

The film screened at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of TVO’s year-long programming dedicated to Canada’s 150th anniversary. It follows single mother Melona Banico and her family during their first 150 days together in Canada, after immigrating from the Philippines. It offers an emotional glimpse into the life of a matriarch struggling to provide for her family in a new country while coping with her own disappointments and expectations.

“All immigrants can relate to the story of the family one way or another,” says the documentary director and writer, Diana Dai. “We all experience loneliness, language problems, difficulty finding jobs.”

Coming to terms

‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is particularly touching because it focuses on the spectrum of hardships new immigrants must face, from the external struggles like unemployment and cold climates to the emotional, more complex impacts of realigning with a new society under less than favourable circumstances.

The documentary begins nearly a year ago with a tearful reunion at Pearson Airport as the Banico family is reunited for the first time, but it’s bittersweet: Melona has toiled for nearly 10 years, sometimes working three jobs simultaneously, in order to sponsor her son Jade, 24, her daughters, Judelyn, 26, and Jeah, 14, and her grandson, Clyde, 10, to come to Canada.

The separation, though, has been too long. She’s become a stranger to her children, having missed out on their most formative years. Suddenly, the family of five is thrust together into a single apartment with one goal: to save enough money for a better future.

Dai, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, says she could relate to the Banico family as an immigrant herself. As a Chinese-born immigrant who first moved to England and then Canada, Dai has spent years documenting issues facing Chinese people and their diaspora community in Toronto.

“You have to work harder than local people, that’s a fact,” she says.  “It’s important for local Canadians to know how we live, what we’ve been through ... I want them to understand their hopes and expectations.”

The first few months

But Dai says the documentary also has a message for new immigrants as well. “I want them to know the first few months is hard.”  

Capturing the Banico family’s ups and downs was a tough process. The family was cooperative at first but, overtime, became less and less willing to share their vulnerable moments. Financial expectations had caused a rift between Melona and her children, especially with Jade and Judelyn, who were too old to go to school but lacked the experience for non-minimum wage jobs.

They also had mouths to feed back home: Jade’s one-year-old daughter and Clyde’s father still lived in the Philippines, and Jeah was facing health problems. Melona was fired from her job and the bills were ever-looming.

Sometimes, the family would ignore Dai’s calls and scheduling shoots became difficult. It was only when Dai shared her own experiences as a new immigrant from China that the Banico family became less resistant to sharing their own.

“That’s the one reason why we trust each other, because I can feel that frustration. I understand their difficulties,” the director says. “Very few [documentaries] touch the conflicts among [new immigrant] family members because people don’t want to talk about it ... I’m very lucky that they allowed me to enter their world.”

For many in Canada, that world is a reality not so different from their own. From first snowfalls to being made fun of in school or for eating too much rice for lunch, ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is not just a story of Filipino immigrants, but the story of families across the world trying to make a better life for themselves in a new country.

Ending in optimism

Though the Banico family seemed to face a seemingly endless list of obstacles in Canada, an undercurrent of love and Melona’s determination for a better future for her family carried them through the first five months towards an optimistic ending in the film.

After the screening, the Banico family and Dai were invited onstage to a question and answer session with TVO’s Nam Kiwanuka, host of The Agenda In The Summer, where audience members had more words of support and gratitude for the family than questions.

Though the Banico family’s journey has just begun, Melona had words to impart to the many immigrants who have recently arrived in Canada, just as her family did nearly a year ago.

“My advice is try to be strong and put your family first,” she says. “Fight for the challenges that might be encountered in life. Later on, once everything’s settles down, they’re going to get better.”


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture
Thursday, 06 October 2016 17:01

Estonian Short Film Competition in Toronto

Oct 5, 2016 (Toronto, Canada) Have you ever dreamt of speed dating with Estonians? Now’s your chance. Well, sort of. Toronto’s annual Estonian Documentary Film Festival (EstDocs) kicks off with a public showing of this year’s short films where you vote for the Audience Award at the 8th Annual Short Film Competition October 14th at 7:30pm.

Hosted at the Camera Bar, you’ll have the opportunity to explore Estonian culture through featured short films from all over the world. And unlike a bad date, these films won’t drag on – they vary in lengths of seven minutes or less.

The Estonian Life

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

From a machine gun wielding high school girl-yakuza boss to time travelling samurai; from sexual awakening in the final devastating days of WWII Tokyo to the true story of “the Japanese Schindler”, Canadian and Japanese audiences enjoyed yet another cultural feast at the 5th annual Toronto Japanese Film Festival.

The Festival ran for two weeks in June in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC), located at Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. It screened more than two dozen Japanese movies to over 10,000 audience members from all over the GTA. 

“Our 2016 line-up again reflects the films that resonate with Japanese audiences, critics and Japanese Academy Award judges, providing a thorough cross section of the very diverse Japanese film industry. In our first four years we attracted large and diverse crowds and much positive reaction to the films,” says Gary Kawaguchi, President of JCCC. 

The 70th anniversary of the Second World War

A lot of films came out the end of 2015 that marked 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. These include Nagasaki – Memories of My Son, which centred around a mother who lost her son when the atomic bomb was dropped; and The Emperor in August, a powerful political drama that tells the little-known story of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War.

There was also Persona Non Grata, the story of Ghiune Sugihara, known as the “Schindler of Japan” for saving 6,000 Jewish people from the Holocaust; and When I Was Most Beautiful, a story of Japanese people’s lives in the summer of 1945 when the war is drawing to a close. 

The Festival ran for two weeks in June in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC).

James Heron, Executive Director of JCCC, says that 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is quite significant in Japan, particularly because many of the people involved in the war are at the end of their lives.  

“We saw a lot of the films from different perspectives. There are consistent anti-war films, mostly about the people who were trapped,” he continues. “Average Japanese people feel like they were trapped between the military government that started the War and the gigantic response from the Allies powers. The films are made for domestic markets, so they tend to look at things from Japanese perspective.”

Internment and Japanese persecution in Canada

“Last year we showed the film Asah, which was all about the internment of Japanese-Canadians. The film was made entirely in Japan but was about a Japanese-Canadian baseball team that really played for the pride of Japanese Canadians. The team was ended when Japanese Canadians were put into camps,” says Heron.

Japanese-Canadians had to suffer internment after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that Japanese-Canadians were to move into prisoner of war camps. Their possessions were confiscated and their belongings were sold. 

Heron, who spent 11 years living and working in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese. His wife is also Japanese. “One of the reason the Festival and the Cultural Centre exists is many Japanese-Canadians feel that they were persecuted in the Second World War because people didn’t understand them and Japanese culture. Because Canadians didn’t understand, they were afraid of the Japanese, even the Japanese-Canadians who were born here, “ he explains.

Their possessions were confiscated and their belongings were sold.

By having the Cultural Centre where they could introduce Japanese-Canadian and Japanese culture, the organizers hope there will be better understanding and that persecution will never happen again to Japanese-Canadians.

Aftermath of the Festival 

When the audience enjoyed sushi and Japanese sake at TJFF’s closing ceremony, Dr. Sandra Annett, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, announced that Being Good, a movie on raising children and having compassion, received the Grand Prize Jury Award for Best Film. 

A coming-of-age story, Flying Colors, won the Kobayashi Audience Choice.  

Toronto resident Shiming Fei, 29, particularly enjoyed The Magnificent Nine, which featured one of her favourite Japanese actors, Eita.

As a young Chinese person who came to Canada to study ten years ago, Shiming says she experiences Japanese culture through food and TV dramas. This is why Festivals like TJFF are so important to her.

 “I come here for the food and movie, maybe make a couple of new friends,” she giggles, renewing her search for her favourite hors-d’oeuvre at the closing reception of the Festival. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

So then … the Oscars are guilty of being a tad too monochromatic and a chorus of notables from Spike Lee to Michael Moore are threatening to boycott the whole event.

Now even Donald Trump has weighed in on the whole issue – and rather gingerly at that – calling the fact that this year there were so few black actors nominated as “unfortunate.”

But as Spike Lee noted on Instagram, the " 'real' battle" over racism in Hollywood is not with the Academy Awards but in "the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks," where gatekeepers decide which projects get made and which don't.

"People, the truth is we ain't in those rooms, and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white," he wrote.

While one can’t argue with Lee’s logic, it seems a truism to say, “Hollywood is white.”

Corporate culture or racism

Puritan America was after all, founded on a cult of whiteness. And Hollywood itself was largely a myth, a WASP fantasy constructed by Eastern European Jewish immigrants partly as a way to assuage their feelings of being outsiders. Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood examines the way new immigrants “whitewashed” their way into their own version of the American dream.

And as actor Janet Hubert (of Fresh Prince fame) said to her Oscar boycotting peers “Y'all need to get over yourselves. … You are a part of Hollywood. You are a part of the system that is unfair to other actors." 

Hollywood has had its moments.  In the 30’s, great anti-war films like All Quiet on the Western Front, and Idiots’ Delight espoused pacifism, Chaplin’s Modern Times the plight of the working man, and the classic Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was deemed “anti-American” and “pro-Communist” for its portrayal of government corruption. And 1970's American cinema was provocative and political  (Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s MenDay of the Locust, Dog Day Afternoon). But Hollywood always seems to slip back into dull dominant cultural narrative mode. That may, of course, be more due to corporate culture than racism per se.

And for many actors of colour around the world, Hollywood has been a godsend.

As black British actor Idris Elba noted in a speech to MP’s at Westminster this week, he and many of his peers had to go to the U.S. to advance their careers. He mentioned a “glass ceiling” for black actors in Britain, saying, “I was very close to hitting my forehead on it.” Although last year’s Martin Luther King epic Selma was snubbed by the Oscars, it did offer U.K. actor David Oyelowo a starring role.

Culture by bureaucracy

Here in Hollywood North, where a low loonie means a production boom in American TV and films, I know many Canadian actors of colour who would starve if it weren’t for the plethora of parts they play every year on everything from cop shows to feature films. (Full confession: I have paid my rent on latina housewife in Swiffer commercial and belly dancer in Ford advert roles during rainy Vancouver winters).

The parts may be one dimensional, but at least they exist. While racism may be less overt in Canada, it’s not less institutionalized and Canadian film culture is hardly a model of diversity. If Hollywood is about aggressive corporatism, the Cancon attempt to revive the “old stock” cultural corpse verges on necrophilia.

While racism may be less overt in Canada, it’s not less institutionalized and Canadian film culture is hardly a model of diversity.

In Canada, culture-by-bureaucracy (as opposed to the more American free market model) perpetuates a quaint colonial old boys system and the Anglo inspired  “multiculturalism” that, as opposed to the Hollywood casts of thousands style, only allows for single representatives/gatekeepers of entire ethnic groups – normally safe, inoffensive, controllable and palatable to liberal CBC listeners.

The system is run by a crew that’s more monochromatic than the Academy, who go bravely forward like colonial administrators on a mission – partly to perpetuate “Canadian values” – one of which seems to be denial that American-style racism exists in Canada.

But just as our neighbours to the South perpetuate the “American dream” of opportunity, even as statistics about race, wealth and poverty put paid to it, we have our own Canadian myths, many of which create their own “glass ceilings” for artists who are not “Canadian” enough.

Culturally fragile place

In a recent article penned for Canadian Art magazine, Chinese-Canadian artist Ken Lum, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, wrote an eloquent treatise on differences between his homeland and adopted home.

While admitting that living in the U.S. is a “Faustian pact”, he writes of the strictures of a “certain ideal of what can constitute Canadian culture,” and remembers a leading Canadian curator expressing displeasure at his East Vancouver inspired work that juxtaposed corporate signage with portrait studio style images of people of colour as being “cold” and “not very Canadian.”

Entities such as the CBC continue to advance the narrative of Canada as a culturally fragile place, with stories of success beyond the borders of Canada promoted as somehow rare. The narrative of a nation comprised of isolated communities in constant threat from the forces of nature endures, in spite of the reality of Canada’s increasingly cosmopolitan urban centres. The reality of vibrant, multi-ethnic urban clusters is folded into the former meta-narrative of the bush.

By contrast, he notes that artistic expression in America exists without “qualifiers”.

The system is run by a crew that’s more monochromatic than the Academy, who go bravely forward like colonial administrators on a mission – partly to perpetuate “Canadian values” – one of which seems to be denial that American-style racism exists in Canada.

So while Hollywood may perpetuate its nation’s founding cult of whiteness, at least there’s a discussion about race and culture that makes headlines in Variety. And while recent Canadian cinema offers some encouraging signs (Fire Song, Felix and Meira, Mina Shum’s documentary Ninth Floor about a black student protest movement in 1969 Montreal), I always get the feeling that even raising the issue of diversity in Canada is considered somehow, impolite, or at the very least, something that should be assigned to an all white committee to discuss and write a report on.

It’s certainly not an issue that inspires boycotts of the Canadian Screen Awards (previously known as the Genies) or expressions of concern by right wing politicos.

While a perfect system only exists somewhere over the cinematic rainbow, if I were forced to choose between Hollywood fantasia  (think the factually inaccurate, inflammatory, but thrilling Argo) vs. earnest documentarianism approved by committee, I think I know which side of the Faustian bargain would prove most seductive.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician.  

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

As the Palm Springs International Film Festival wraps up and Thursday’s Oscar nominations loom, I remember the words of my old friend Paolo Consigilio.

The expert Italian mask maker fused his commedia del arte style craft with a Pasolini like cinematic sensibility and spent time in both Canada and his homeland.

When I asked him once to define the difference between the two places he said, “In Italy, everyone wants to be the protagonist in the movie.”

In Canada, he said, we are content to be on the sidelines.

I contemplate this from Vancouver’s Hollywood North where every other person seems to be connected to the film industry and after a week spent at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where Canadian cinema is a star attraction.

While Palm Springs is more known for its population of aging Republicans and its modernist architecture, the festival, now in its 27th year, has quietly become a hub for world cinema. This year all nine of the films shortlisted for the Foreign Language Oscar and their directors were present at the festival.

Canadian presence

99 and a half miles from Los Angeles’ Paramount Studios, Palm Springs has always lived in Hollywood’s shadow. Once a getaway for Hollywood stars (who under contract could not go farther than 100 miles from the studios) 10% of its population is now Canadian.

Key film festival administrators are Canadian, and Telefilm is a big film festival partner. With its incongruous mix of Hollywood glamour and earnest world cinema ranging from a first weekend gala celebrating stars in the mainstream firmament to the opening night Finnish film The Fencer about the Cold War in Estonia the festival also provides an interesting lens on Canadian culture.  Indeed, the eight films from the true north strong and free this year provided much food for thought.

Maxime Giroux’s Felix and Meira - Canada’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission for 2016  (which sadly didn’t make the shortlist)  tells the story of the romance between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a bohemian French Canadian artist in Montreal. 

Ryan McKenna’s Sabali is about a French Canadian woman who receives a heart transplant from a Malian immigrant woman and then befriends her son.

Phillippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada is a satirical look at the relationship between a Quebecois politician and his Haitian intern, while Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song concerns a “two-spirited” First Nations man living on an Anishnabe reservation in Northern Ontario who must navigate between his cultural and sexual identities.

Versions of multiculturalism

Program in hand, I contemplated the differences between Canadian and American versions of multiculturalism as I settled into my room at the Palm Mountain Resort. My immediate neighbours, an inter-racial lesbian couple from nearby San Bernardino, where the recent shootings unfolded like a bad Hollywood movie, chatted excitedly about the Lily Tomlin film Grandma. But when the subject changed to current events, the blonde half of the couple mentioned that her son attended the same shooting range as one of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik. She blamed U.S. President Barack Obama and his “open-door visa policy” for “letting those people in.”

My old friend Paolo’s words rang in my head at the opening weekend gala, where a red carpet full of paparazzi greeted stars like Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett, who were honoured by the festival.

I tried hanging out with fellow journalists waiting for 10-second sound bites and rapid-fire photos of Hollywood’s finest, but it felt weird. Later, inside the gala dinner, I wondered if it were my Canadian sensibility that stopped me from lining up for photographs with Johnny Depp. As enthusiastic fans stepped up, I watched from the sidelines.

I chatted with some young Czech filmmakers who didn’t have tickets to get in, from the vantage point of the cosier hotel lobby and fireplace. I was briefly reminded of the Hollywood comedy A Night at the Roxbury and the “inside-outside” nightclub, where the real party happens on the edges of the club.

Dividing screens

Later, in an interview with young Anglo-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar, whose first feature the Oscar shortlisted Theeb was about the Arab Revolt of 1916 seen through Bedouin eyes, I thought more about invisible dividing screens.

Theeb is the first Arab film shot in the Bedouin dialect, and one that steers clear of stereotypes common in mainstream Arab cinema (not unlike, said the director, “old Hollywood cowboy and Indian films”) as well as Western colonial narratives like Lawrence of Arabia.

The cast were all first time Bedouin actors some of whom were unfamiliar with the whole concept of cinema. At a local screening in the desert, one of the young nieces of a lead actor who meets an untimely death on screen proved inconsolable, until her very much alive uncle was brought forward. She had to be shown the edges of the screen before she was entirely convinced.

In a world where the most interesting stories unfold at the edges, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what is celluloid.

And in a world where mainstream narratives – often more fantasy than reality – still dominate, I think I may be content to remain on the sidelines. At least until a fresh set of protagonists emerge to pierce the screen and show us new horizons.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

New York (IANS): The filming of a movie based on the true story of a Sikh boxer, who was barred from the sport as he refused to shave his beard, is underway at a US university. The filming of the movie “Tiger”, which has many Indian-origin actors playing important roles, is underway on the campus […]

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In 2005, Maher Azem left Syria for Canada to pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering at Ryerson University. The 23-year-old’s dream was to build an IT career in a country where his qualifications held more weight than his connections. Ten years later, he is achieving his career goals; he currently works as a network […]

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Arts & Culture
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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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