Sep 28, 2010

TED's My X -Or Not.

The famed TED has come to Toronto -or rather, it did last year, in "X" form. Those who've attended Idea City for a while might argue the brainy TED idea arrived in this city a long time ago -but as Dan Jacob pointed out to me in a recent broadcast chat, TEDx Toronto is a free event. Free, if also chosen by committee.

Jacob is the co-founder of TEDx Toronto, happening Thursday. Attendance to the conference is free, but potential attendees had to fill out a questionnaire and prove why they should be there. I'm not 100% sold on the idea of this being any less elite than a hefty price tag, but taking a look at the eclectic roster of speakers, it must be conceded that the event is truly a good-hearted, well-intended celebration of Toronto in all its various shades and angles. Why would you want people there who only know how to draw in one colour (or worse, can't draw at all?) There's a poet, a playwright, a CEO, an author, an adventurer... and much more. The frisson of creative, seeming-opposites in a room-full of young, curious people committed to ideological exploration feels like it might produce something... good.

Speaking with Jacob was a fantastic experience, especially since (big reveal) I have attended Idea City in the past, and been invited to a TED in the United States. I'm always intrigued by why people want to jump, feet first, into such a heady (or seemingly-heady) event. The young co-founder was clear about the intentions behind starting TEDx here, and about why the city needed it. I admire his bright-eyed optimism and open embrace of the unknown -I'm sure those qualities have -and will -colour TEDx Toronto.

TEDX Toronto, Two Years On by CateKusti

On the outside, sure these kinds of conferences do seem like a bunch of geeks (or snoots, or hipsters, or all three) talking about SEO and online ventures, and throwing around buzzwords like social engineering and crowdsourcing. Occasionally, they are -but more often, they're not. And the theme of this year's TEDx Toronto conference might pull you away from that horn-rimmed/I-pod-toting/American-Apparel-wearing stereotype; it's called "A Call To Action" -and the breadth of speakers Jacob has lined up feels like a fulfillment of that call. I think Jacob's answers will surprise and inspire, just like the event itself will for those lucky enough to be going.

For those who aren't, video from the conference will be posted soon. Hold your TEDs -not your noses. It doesn't cost anything to get a bigger brain.

Sep 27, 2010

Blowing Leaves

Much to my horror, I don't think I'm going to be able to get to see this before it closes on Sunday.

I'd been so anxious to catch this particular play, especially since it features two of my very-favorite actors: the amazing Nicholas Campbell (who you might know from the long-running TV series Da Vinci's Inquest) and veritable force of nature Maria Vacratsis (from Little Mosque on the Prairie). The two-hander work is directed by the utterly-talented Phillip Riccio, who makes up one-half of the ridiculously good Company Theatre group; the other half is the brilliant Allan Hawco, star of CBC TV's Republic of Doyle (I'm hoping for a Q&A with him in the coming months -stay tuned), who appeared with Campbell in the company's last production, a jaw-dropping production of Festen, that, even two years on, remains seared into my brain for its sheer...genius. Three words for the Company Theatre: they kick ass.

Nicholas Campbell Returns To The Stage by CateKusti

I had the amazing good fortune of interviewing both Campbell and Riccio a couple weeks back, amidst the madness of the Toronto International Film Festival. With all the starry/film-y chaos ensuing, there was something weirdly soothing about speaking to thee two talented men about a little-known (if awfully good) theatre work; it was like standing still on solid ground after so many days of trying to jog in an earthquake. Their insights on the play's exploration of male-female relations, something I'm continually fascinated by, was especially enlightening.

That sense of displacement vanished as soon as the pair left the studio, and I'm sad to say I haven't been able to see their production of Through the Leaves, which closes October 3rd. With more madness on the near horizon, I'm hoping to make time. The Company Theatre always demands that -and rewards with memories that last forever. No kidding.

Sep 22, 2010

Animating Arthur



The Lipsett Diaries is one of my favorite National Film Board animated shorts. Screened as part of the Canadian shorts series at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the work is a brilliant interpretation of Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett's life and work. It covers his short, tragic life with equal parts gusto and respect, and imaginatively captures the inner torment and outer brilliance of the Oscar-nominated director.

Award-winning director Theodore Ushev spent a good deal of time manically drawing each frame in The Lipsett Diaries. Yes, he drew it. By hand. We spoke about this pain-staking (if rewarding) process during TIFF, and we also explored the vital role music plays in Ushev's creations. It's fascinating to listen to him talk, in Bulgarian-accented English, about his passion for Polaris-nominated band Besnard Lakes & as well as Godspeed You, Black Emperor. It really hit me, in speaking with him, about how the two artistic forms I consider the oldest -art and music -have the exhilarating power of reaching past nationalities, experiences, places, and circumstance, to go straight into the territory of the heart, where logic stops and feeling starts. This sense definitely plays into his work.

Lipsett, Animated by CateKusti

We also discussed Stanley Kubrick's letter to Lipsett upon the latter receiving an Oscar nomination for his landmark film, "Very Nice, Very Nice" and the creative way Ushev animated this amazing moment -as well as Lipsett's unique (and kind of hilarious) reaction.

Ushev and I were particularly keen on yacking about the extent to which the deceased director set the standard for later cinematic (and artistic) experimentation in North America. Lipsett was truly a trailblazer in terms of his cultural contribution and unique vision; he utterly anticipated Burroughs' cut-up technique, had a keen eye for unusual storytelling, and he was one of the few North American filmmakers to embrace surrealism in the early 1960s.

Arthur Lipsett's death in 1986 came too soon, but, as Ushev's piece seems to whisper, his artistic spirit is with us now, more than ever. The marriage of sound and art has never been more short -and more sweet.

Sep 20, 2010

You're Where?

I like being challenged in cinema -confused, even. Daniel Cockburn's You Are Here fits the bill beautifully. Part detective-story, part Borgesian puzzle, the work draws on a number of influences, from Dali to Phillip K. Dick to steampunk. Cockburn has concocted a tale that will furrow your brow even as it opens your heart.

I had the opportunity of speaking with actor-filmmaker Nadia Litz about the film -and her own work -as part of this year's Toronto International Film Festival. It was illuminating to glean her insights, as well as her thoughts around acting with fellow Canadian thespian Tracy Wright, whose final onscreen appearance in the movie is as much about the heart as it is the head. Wright waas beloved by many in the Canadian arts world; she tragically passed away earlier this year, leaving a gaping hole in the theatre and film worlds here. Ergo, the meeting of emotional and intellectual couldn't be made more plain than in the many close-ups Cockburn has of her face. Litz is eloquent in speaking about not only a great actor, but a great personal friend.

Nadia Litz on You Are Here by CateKusti

Equally, the actor also witty and wise in chatting up her own short that screened at TIFF. With the intriguing title of "How To Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You", the work is a zesty mix of macabre humor and ugly truth. Like, literally pulling-stuff-out-of-yours-and-your-loved-ones-guts truth. Ouch.

I really felt Litz really hit on a piece of honesty in this film, in a much more bold, if equally compelling way, to You Are Here. Both works are, at their essence, about the importance of connection; even fraught with peril, upheaval and discomfort, human connection is perhaps the most valuable thing we have -and the thing we most often take for granted, that passes us by, flickering, dying, and finding manifestation in something -anything -else, even its reverse. Ugly truths indeed.

Sep 19, 2010

I Want To See This Movie

Don't you?



After watching the preview, I'm more eager than ever to find out what happens to these young people. From the Kickstarter page description:
For the first time a film gives a voice to Sudanese youth from different origins, Muslims and Christians. The Waiting Room is an intimate portrait of a society that remains unknown to most and misunderstood by many. It addresses contemporary issues of identity and religion which continue to shape the world we live in.
...
Maybe you've donated to causes for Darfur, but wouldn't you like to know what it's really like to live in Sudan? A lot of political decisions are being made by our governments about Sudan, but we still know so little about the people who live there.
In light of the United Nations summit on the Millenium Development goals starting this week, stories like the one Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque presents here are more important than ever. Amidst the heady rhetoric and plaintive calls to Do The Right Thing (which is more complicated than it should be), the human, real stories like the ones presented in Sicotte-Levesque's film seem to get lost. And they shouldn't. The MDGs are about people, after all -not statistics.

And statistics -of the glammy kind -are really all I've heard about when it comes to films lately. There's something seriously refreshing for me to come upon a movie (make that, movie-in-the-making) like this after two solid weeks of non-stop glitzy TIFF coverage. Dear wag-tongued media, please, no more frock-and-name-dropping stories. I don't mind the odd bit of fun, but the omnipotent wall of Glamazonian coverage lately has been like eating a steady diet of icing.

In truth, there were a whack of great, socially relevant films at the film fest this year -and hey, one of 'em won the People's Choice Award (kudos, NFB & Mr. Suzuki!). I hope The Waiting Room will be among the lot at a future TIFF. Fingers crossed.

Sep 18, 2010

Amazon Rising

Long after I'd seen Amazon Falls I was thinking about it, about how we perceive celebrities, and about how far I'd go to chase my dreams. I was also thinking about how incredible it was that this movie, shown as part of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, got made in such a short space of time.

Director Katrin Bowen had originally planned on making another feature, but when that fell through, having already assembled a team, decided -bang -to make Amazon Falls, which explores the dreams and painful realities of being an aged-40 female actor in Hollywood. Partly based on her own time as a Troma performer, Bowen astutely cast former beauty queen April Telek as her leading lady, and fills the screen with all manner of creep and player, including a memorable turn from former X-Files baddie William B. Davis as a predatory producer. Also notable is the gorgeous, sparse score from Step Carruthers that nicely compliments the main character's harrowing experiences without ever imposing saccharine emotion. Though the tale of broken Hollywood dreams is common, there's nothing saccharine, or predictable about "Amazon Falls" or its characters.

Indeed, it isn't incidental that the film is dedicated to Lana Clarkson, the female B-movie actor who became tragically mainstream-famous only in death; legendary music producer Phil Spector was sentenced for second-degree murder in 2009. If ever there was a perfect distillation of the Hollywood dream gone bad, that sad situation had to be it. The connection to Clarkson, and the thousands like her, is felt all through the movie, and not just via the similar names. Even days after viewing the film I was still thinking about Jana (played by April Telek), and the thousands like her who sacrifice everything -home, family, dignity, sanity -in the name of getting that one dream part that will (or, more than likely, won't) change everything. In a broader sense, Amazon Falls poses some tough questions: how often do we tell ourselves lies -about career, relationship, strengths, weaknesses - and how damaging are they in the long run?

Katrin Bowen and I talked about this and more during our interview amidst the madness of TIFF; she's enthusiastic, passionate, and, like the many filmmakers I interviewed this year, really articulate about not only her own work but the themes she deals with, notably the way women are treated in Hollywood. We spoke on September 13th, just days after the film's premiere, when "Amazon Falls" was receiving a boatload of buzz:


Katrin Bowen & Amazon Falls by CateKusti

The movie screens one more time as part of TIFF, at the Yonge-Dundas AMC at 9:15pm. The fest -indeed, the entire film industry -might look a little less glam afterwards, but any dearth of faith in the power of film will be swiftly, powerfully restored. Thank you Katrin, and thank you to all the Janas out there, toiling, fierce, and ever-glamorous.

Sep 17, 2010

Magical Modra


Modra was among the many movies I screened during the 2010 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

It tells a simple story of two teenagers on holiday in Slovakia and features members of director Ingrid Veninger's own family, including her daughter (Hallie Switzer) who plays the lead, Lina. I adored the movie for a few reasons: its clean style, its intriguing story, and its strong, natural performances. No sappy, swelling score or predictable outcomes here; this is an honest, honestly-told tale about intimacy, family, and the stretching, flexible nature of identity. No wonder it generated so much buzz at the fest, and received such positive reviews.

I really enjoyed my interview with Veninger (audio below), originally broadcast on CIUT's morning show as part of my TIFF coverage. It was truly fantastic learning earlier today that she'd struck a deal with Mongrel Media for Canadian distribution rights. Yay! Today Canada, tomorrow the world!

Ingrid Veninger And Modra by CateKusti

If you happen to be in the Toronto area, you can see it one more time as part of TIFF; it's screening tomorrow at the Yonge-Dundas AMC. If you're not in the city, look out for Modra at a cinema near you soon. It's a gem.