A still from Éléonore Goldberg’s animated short film My Yiddish Papi (Picbois Productions/NFB).
On Jan. 25, the National Film Board of Canada released Éléonore Goldberg’s animated short film My Yiddish Papi (Picbois Productions/NFB). It can be streamed free of charge across Canada on nfb.ca, as well as on NFB’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The online release of the film marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which is observed on Jan. 27. With My Yiddish Papi, Goldberg has made a personal short film about filial love, duty and the transmission of memory by honouring a promise made long ago: that of illustrating the adventures of her grandfather, a resistance fighter during the Second World War.
Produced by Karine Dubois (Picbois Productions) and Julie Roy (NFB), the film was presented as a world première at the 2017 Ottawa International Animation Festival, and was also selected for the Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal and the London International Animation Festival, among others.
Goldberg is an award-winning Franco-Canadian filmmaker, animator and cartoonist. In My Yiddish Papi, using ink-on-paper animation, she relates the story of her grandfather, Georges (Josek) Goldberg, who became a resistance fighter at age 20 during the Second World War. “He saved many lives and he and his family narrowly escaped Auschwitz,” said Goldberg in an interview on the NFB website. He died, in Paris, in July 2009.
“He would sometimes share his wartime memories when we dined together during the time I lived in Paris,” Goldberg told the NFB. “He never bragged; he was a humble, shy person. He would have liked me to make a graphic novel or film about his resistance adventures, and I had committed to doing it. But time passed and I did nothing. At his death, my promise came back to me.”
Hart Snider has followed up his award-winning animated short The Basketball Game with Shop Class, one of four National Film Board of Canada shorts selected for the 2018 Spark Animation Festival, which runs Oct. 25-28.
“I wrote and developed Shop Class while editing the TV series Yukon Gold, Klondike Trappers and Ice Pilots – documentary/reality series driven by ‘manly men’ who would run into big problems in remote locations, but then they’d break out some tools, rock music would start playing, there’d be a montage, and the guys would ‘man up’ to fix the problem,” Snider told the Independent. “While they were very successful shows, it made me laugh to be a not very macho guy telling these stories. It reminded me about being 14 and wanting to take home ec, but instead being forced to take industrial arts class, where my teacher tried to scare us into becoming men. I was inspired to write the story, which, yes, felt very cathartic – especially when I shared it with friends who also had him for a teacher.”
Not only does young Hart have to endure the bullying of his shop teacher, but he and his friends are targets for their bullying classmates. In one scene, Hart and his buddies are hanging out at a convenience store, when the friend checking out the latest Supermensch comic receives a punch in the stomach.
“The comic is not just a reference to being Jewish,” said Snider, “but to my first film. Shop Class is actually a sequel of sorts, to my 2011 National Film Board of Canada animation The Basketball Game, another autobiographical story. It’s about being 9 years old and at Jewish summer camp for the first time, when ex-students of notorious Holocaust denier/high school teacher Jim Keegstra come to our camp in Pine Lake, Alta., for a ‘day of fun and fellowship.’ Early in the film, my character is reading a Supermensch comic (which is there mostly because of the unnamed villain in Supermensch, seen fighting on the cover, that ends up inspiring a nightmarish transformation later in the story).
“Shop Class has a documentary-type scene that takes place in a convenience store, so I added a teenager reading Supermensch, issue #18, the same comic, to show that both the stories actually exist in the same cinematic universe.”
Every single character in Shop Class is voiced by Corner Gas and Dan for Mayor star Fred Ewanuick.
“Fred went from listening to me imitating my old teacher’s way of talking,” said Snider, “to stepping into the recording booth and totally bringing that character to life – and he did it just by saying, ‘Sit down, Turkeys,’ over and over until he totally nailed it.”
As for the other characters in the film, Snider said, “I’m still friends to this day with people I met in kindergarten at Talmud Torah in Edmonton, and I included a couple of them in both of my films. The love interest is totally inspired by my wife, Galit Mastai.”
The couple lives in Vancouver and, according to his bio, Snider “can usually be found either in an edit suite or at the park with his wife Galit, daughter Leora and dog Wolfie.”
In addition to writing and directing Shop Class and The Basketball Game, Snider also wrote and directed the animation segments for I Am Sam Kinison, a feature-length documentary about the late comedian that aired on Spike television. “I’ve edited animated short films as well,” he said, “including Lisa Jackson’s The Visit and Elisa Chee’s Lucy. Most recently (outside of animation), I’ve written and edited the theatrical documentary features I Am Heath Ledger and Botero, which will be released next year.”
On the NFB media site for Shop Class – on which he reveals his plan to create a third short “in this trilogy of animated films about growing up in Edmonton in the 1980s” – Snider traces his love of animation “back to being a little kid on Saturday mornings, glued to the TV. I have loved animation ever since,” he says, “but it took attending a screening of adult animation shorts (which included the film Lupo the Butcher by Danny Antonucci) when I was in high school to make me realize I really wanted to write and direct animated films. After interning at Nelvana animation in university, I thought I was on my way, until a job in post-production on a doc series about Cirque du Soleil back in 2001 led me on a totally different path as a documentary editor and writer.”
So, while he still loves animation, he doesn’t do the art for his films. “I just love telling stories using the medium,” he told the Independent, “and I’ve gotten to work with some brilliant artists – Sean Covernton animated The Basketball Game and the team at Jesters Animation, led by animation supervisor Brad Gibson, brought Shop Class to life.”
Shop Class screens Oct. 26, 11 p.m., at Vancity Theatre (19+). The NFB’s Animal Behaviour, by Jewish community member David Fine and Alison Snowden (jewishindependent.ca/animated-therapy-session), screens Oct. 25, 7 p.m., at Scotiabank Theatre. For the full festival lineup and tickets, visit sparkfx.ca.
David Fine and Alison Snowden wrote, directed and animated the National Film Board of Canada animated short Animal Therapy. (photo by John Bolton)
They’re baaaack! And with another funny – and thought-provoking – National Film Board of Canada animated short. Jewish community member David Fine and wife Alison Snowden, who co-created the NFB’s Oscar-winning Bob’s Birthday 25 years ago, have returned to the genre with Animal Behaviour.
Animal Behaviour, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this week, will be part of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s True North Shorts program, The Curtain Calls, on Oct. 1 and 8. There are further screenings scheduled for other festivals across Canada.
The 14-minute short, produced by Michael Fukushima, executive producer of the NFB’s animation studio, is written, directed and animated by Fine and Snowden, who are currently based in Vancouver. In addition to countless other projects, the pair also created, and contributed in many capacities to, the adult animated series Bob and Margaret, which was based on Bob’s Birthday.
“We had worked in series and missed making a personal film and doing the animation ourselves, directly,” Fine told the Independent about what motivated Snowden and him to make another animated short. “We really thought it would be nice to get back to the type of filmmaking we started our career with and our producer, Michael, had suggested that he would be keen to see any ideas from us and we happened to have one, so we thought, why not have a go. It’s very different to make a personal film like this than a series.”
The couple humorously tackled some of the issues of being middle age in Bob’s Birthday. In Animal Behaviour, they explore – also with much humour – some of the pros and cons of following our natural instincts versus doing what is socially acceptable. They do so using the vehicle of a weekly group therapy session led by Dr. Leonard Clement, a Labrador retriever.
Lorraine, the leech, has attachment issues and experiences panic attacks; Todd, the pig, has an eating disorder and suffers from insecurity; Cheryl, the mantis, hasn’t had a lasting relationship, and the fact that she has 1,000 kids is the lesser of her two main problems; Linda, the Tabby cat, has obsessive compulsive disorder and doesn’t ever feel clean enough, despite constantly licking herself; and Jeffrey, the blue jay, has some serious guilt issues as a result of something he did when he was a very young bird. The members of the group seem to know one another well and there is a rhythm to their session. Then walks in Victor, the ape, with his anger issues, who believes that everyone else is an idiot and that people in therapy are navel-gazers who just need to get on with their lives.
“The notion of going to therapy to change seems like a tall order, so we thought it would be fun to look at therapy and have a character who comes in and questions its validity,” explains Fine in an NFB interview online. “At the same time, we’re careful not to go for the low-hanging fruit or make fun of the process. We don’t want to answer the question (‘Is therapy valid?’), we want to pose the question and start the discussion.”
“It was quite a difficult script to write,” says Snowden in the NFB interview. “We thought it would be easy, because it’s in one room, there’s one conversation, but there are so many possibilities with all the animals, and if we did it wrong it would get boring.
“At first, there were a lot of characters, but you couldn’t get attached to any of them, so we honed it down. Really, it’s about the ape and Dr. Clement – that’s the showdown. Then they all came together. The others are in the room, they’re observers, and they’re there for comedy. But the key characters are those two and their drama.”
“From idea to final film was probably about five years,” Fine told the Independent, “but there was a development period, which was sporadic and took time to get to the green light. Once in production, it took about 2.5 years to make, in terms of pure working time.”
About working in animation, Fine said, “We like controlling every frame and effectively being both directors and actors, because we pose and make the characters act. We also love working with voice actors and then being able to edit the track in a way you can’t really do in live action. It’s really about all the nuance and control, which is so much fun.”
The creative process starts with the writing, he said, “with the idea and the script,” which they “work to refine…. After that, the voice record was key. We interviewed about 300 voices to cast this group. All the actors are Vancouver-based, which we are very proud of.”
Among the credits, thanks are given to the animation programs at Capilano and Emily Carr universities, and the film is dedicated “to the wonderful doctors, nurses and staff at Vancouver General Hospital.”
“During the production, near the end, Alison was struck with a very sudden, serious health crisis and was in intensive care and recovery for five months,” explained Fine. “VGH saved her life, so, when we were finally able to finish the film together, it was very important to us to make that dedication to show our appreciation.”
For tickets to The Curtain Calls and the full film festival schedule, visit viff.org.
Lili Tepperman is one of five kids featured in Beauty. (photo from NFB)
It’s fine to be who you are,” says Bex Mosch, who turned 9 years old last year, when Beauty was released. Since the age of 3, Bex – formerly Rebecca – says he has known that he is a boy. He and the other “gender-creative” kids interviewed in Christina Willings’ 23-minute documentary have been forced by circumstances to become more mature than most kids their age. And they have more nuanced views on what it means to be human than many adults.
Beauty has its local première during the Vancouver Queer Film Festival’s first short film program, called The Coast is Genderqueer, which takes place Aug. 17. In addition to Bex, Fox Kou Asano, Milo Santini-Kammer, Montreal Jewish community member Lili Tepperman and Tru Wilson are interviewed. Interwoven with the interviews, footage of the kids being kids and meeting their families briefly, parts of Beauty are animated. These illustrations depict some of the kids’ favourite interests and tie together some of their common experiences. None of the parents is interviewed.
“In a way, the concept of this film came to me in the early ’80s,” says Willings in an interview on the NFB media site. “I was thinking a lot about the deconstruction of gender at that time, as were many others. We examined it from every angle, but what’s new now is that it’s children who are leading the conversation, who are saying, ‘Hey! Something’s wrong here!’ Some compassionate, and I would say enlightened, parents are hearing them. The new conversation isn’t ideologically driven, it’s experiential, and there’s a profound purity about that. It’s a breakthrough that I have felt very moved and honoured to witness and, by 2012, I realized this shift was going to be the subject of my next film.”
All of the five interviewees have had to face serious challenges, from being laughed at to being bullied. And, of course, they have had to talk with their parents about how they see themselves, versus how their parents initially viewed them.
“Sometimes, it’s easy to think it would be less stressful just to fit in,” says Lili in the film, “but then I’m not really being myself, and I find that’s an important part of living life because, if everybody’s trying to be like everybody else … it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Another NFB film being screened in Vancouver next month is Wall, which is based on British playwright David Hare’s 2009 monologue on the security fence/wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Wall is not the first extended exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Sir David, who was knighted in 1998. Written in 1997, his Via Dolorosa monologue premièred in London in 1998.
The film Wall has been a long time in coming. According to the NFB media site, in 2010, NFB executive producer and producer David Christensen “had a three-hour drive ahead of him when he chanced upon a podcast of Wall.”
“‘Listening to David Hare’s take on this wall Israel had put up gripped me visually,’ recalls Christensen.
“Riveted by Hare’s reframing of the issue and struck by how he could visualize the piece as an animated film, Christensen immediately called his producing partner Bonnie Thompson, who had the same reaction he did upon listening to Hare’s piece.
“‘For many of us, the issues around the Middle East, Israel and Palestine are complex and polarizing,’ says Thompson. ‘We thought making an animated film was a way to better understand this wall.’”
Canadian filmmaker Cam Christiansen is the animator who brought the concept to life visually, using 3-D motion-capture footage and other “cutting-edge animation tools.”
Wall has been the official selection of six film festivals to date, so it has captured critics’ imaginations. However, most Jewish community members will find it hard to watch, as Hare pays lip-service to the complexity of the situation but never veers very far away from blaming Israel for pretty much everything. When he says, “words become flags. They announce which side you’re on,” anyone with a basic knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only has to look at the title of this work to know on which sides he falls. But then he goes on for 80 minutes about it.
There are a few instances when Hare seems about to offer the Israeli side, or at least condemn Hamas, but then he retreats. When he is told about a Hamas torture tactic, he is at first repulsed but then suggests it’s a metaphor for how Palestinians must feel at the hands of Israel. When he sees a poster of Saddam Hussein in a Ramallah café, he wonders about the appropriateness of such a man as a hero but then concludes it’s OK because Israel put up the wall, after all. And, then there’s his exchange with a Palestinian who says that Britain is to blame for all the problems: “Of course it’s your fault. The British were running Palestine in the 1940s. When they ran away and left everything to the Israelis, they didn’t care what happened to everyone else. There was a life here – a Christian life, a Muslim life, a Jewish life – and that life was destroyed.”
This ridiculous statement – and so many others – is not only left unchallenged by Hare or any of the filmmakers, but gets nods or words of understanding. With Israeli novelist David Grossman as the predominant voice defending or explaining Israel’s motivations and actions in Wall, most Jewish movie-goers will know before seeing it just how limited are the views expressed in this film, no matter what complexity it proclaims to convey.
Wall screens four times between Aug. 17 and 21 at Vancity Theatre. For tickets, visit viff.org.
Ryan Sidhoo’s new docuseries, True North, looks at the youth basketball scene in Toronto. (photo by Yasin Osman)
“Wherever I travel, I go play pickup basketball and I always make friends, and maybe end up at someone’s house for dinner … you go ask to play basketball on someone’s court, there’s always that moment of, ‘Who is this guy?’ but, once you get out there and you start playing, it’s an inviting, universal sport that you don’t need a lot to participate in,” filmmaker Ryan Sidhoo told the Independent in a phone interview from Toronto.
Sidhoo is the creator and director of True North, a nine-part online docuseries produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Red Bull Media House about the youth basketball scene in Toronto.
“More and more young Canadians are playing basketball – over 350,000 according to the 2014 Canada Youth Sports Report – and the trend is particularly pronounced in and around Toronto, where a wave of second- and third-generation Canadians are shaping Canada’s new game,” notes an NFB blog about the series. It also notes that, “Canada now has over a dozen players in the NBA [National Basketball Association], more than any other outside country.”
In episodes ranging from 15 to 23 minutes, True North examines “the rise of the Toronto hoop dream through the stories of five young athletes.”
The series – which was three years in the making – “has a multigenerational appeal,” said Sidhoo, who spoke with players, coaches and families. Given the subject matter and format, he said younger viewers enjoy it but that, also, people closer to the age of the parents of the kids featured get something out of it from a parenting point of view.
In the series format, he said, we can tell in-depth stories, “but then that 15-minute episode has to be focused on one kid and their journey. I think that’s an appeal of the series, because they’re highly personal episodes and they’re not trying to do too much at once.”
Sidhoo has worked on various projects, including for Pulse Films, MTV and NBCUniversal, and he has produced and directed content across various VICE platforms; he was the creator and executive producer of Welcome to Fairfax, a 10-part docuseries for Participant Media about a group of young entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.
Born and raised in Vancouver, he’s since lived in California and New York. It was in New York that he earned his master’s in media studies, with a focus on documentary filmmaking, from the New School, in 2013.
“The seeds of the project were really planted at that time,” he said, referring to True North. At the New School, he wanted to do a project “on this old streetball legend named Fly Williams, who I’d read about in a book my dad had given me as a kid called Heaven is a Playground.”
In his search for Williams, Sidhoo ended up at a few different basketball tournaments. At the time, YouTube was just taking off, he said. “What I was seeing at these gyms in New York were these parents marketing their children as the next best basketball phenom. You started to see this cottage industry around youth basketball.”
Fascinated by this, Sidhoo said he kept his finger on the pulse of that world. He noticed that Canadians were having a lot of success getting into the NBA and the question of how basketball became significant in Canada led him to Toronto, “the epicentre of it all.”
“For me,” said Sidhoo of his love of basketball, “growing up in Vancouver, and, especially, having immigrant roots on both sides – my mom is Ashkenazi, they came from Poland and Winnipeg and eventually Vancouver, [while] my dad’s side of the family is from India – I just think that the popular sport in Canada is, obviously, hockey, and winter sports in general have more of a built-in tradition … [but] basketball lends itself to newcomers to a country, so my dad gravitated towards basketball as a kid. For me, growing up, basketball was always in the house, it was always on TV, it was something that I was around and I, naturally, through my dad, was introduced to the sport…. Of course, I like hockey and Wayne Gretzky and all that, but basketball was the thing that was a part of my identity … I always felt comfortable in the niche community of basketball in Vancouver because it was really diverse and it was very multicultural. As someone who had these mixed backgrounds, I felt at home in that world.”
Sidhoo played in various leagues in Vancouver, as well as participating in more than one JCC Maccabi Games. He described as “pivotal,” the Kitsilano Youth Basketball, run by Mel Davis, a former Harlem Globetrotter. Davis’s son, Hubert Davis, directed Hardwood, a documentary (also produced by the NFB) about his relationship with his father and basketball. When Sidhoo saw that film, he said he had two thoughts: “one, that’s amazing, because I know Mel and remember Hubert refereeing the games but then, secondly, it’s projects like that that plant the seed that, hey, maybe I could be a documentary filmmaker, too.”
As a kid, Sidhoo and his brother were encouraged to do what they wanted creatively. “I’d go out back and make videos of myself playing basketball,” he said. “My dad was always showing us films that maybe he shouldn’t have been showing us at that young an age, but explaining why he was showing them. So, basketball was always there and these offbeat films, or films that were aged above my viewing in terms of age appropriateness, that was always a constant, too.”
Growing up, he was also exposed to books, art shows and other culture. Sidhoo recalled his father taking him to one of the first Slam City Jams, a skateboard competition, in the early 1990s, when Sidhoo was 5 or 6 years old. “Back then, skateboarding wasn’t as corporate as it is now, it was still pretty punk,” he said. And, while it was a bit different to be at such an event, “at the same time, it’s normal because I’ve been consuming this kind of content and going to different, what you could call counter-culture, events, with my dad. So, the fascination with subculture was always there, along with basketball.”
True North is Sidhoo’s first project with the NFB. He called the film board with his idea while in Vancouver, and spoke with Shirley Vercruysse, executive producer of NFB BC & Yukon Studio. “She was open-minded,” said Sidhoo and connected him to the paperwork he’d have to submit for the NFB to consider producing the documentary.
“What I think attracted the National Film Board,” he said, “was that basketball is shaping Canadian identity, because we’re exporting so many amazing basketball players to the south that the perception of Canada is not just hockey anymore … basketball is part of the shifting Canadian identity. On a global, macro picture, that resonated with the film board. And then, also tapping into the human, story-driven documentary approach that I wanted to take is what the film board has been doing for a really long time. It spoke to a story that was big, but then also was told through the intimate, personal narratives of these kids. It was a nice combination for them, I think.”
In The Mountain of SGaana, sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat is abducted by a killer whale and his lover, Kuuga Kuns, must try to save him. (image from National Film Board of Canada)
One of the highlights at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival will be the animated short The Mountain of SGaana, presented by the National Film Board of Canada.
In The Mountain of SGaana, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter tells the tale of two lovers, sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat and Kuuga Kuns. When Naa-Naa-Simgat is abducted by a killer whale (SGanna, in Haida), Kuuga Kuns must negotiate a supernatural undersea world in order to save him. If she doesn’t succeed, they will both become part of the spirit world forever.
The film starts in the present-day, with a thoroughly modern fisherman, Skipper, ignoring all that is around him; his focus being solely on his cellphone, until a small mouse catches his attention and, literally, knits the supernatural tale. Auchter notes in an interview on the NFB website that SGaana also means “supernatural” in the Haida language.
“The Haida are an indigenous people whose island territories lie off the West Coast of Canada and in the southern regions of Alaska,” explains Auchter in the interview. “The modern name for the archipelago is Haida Gwaii, which best translates to “people’s island.” There was a time when the islands were called Xaadlaa gwaayee, which means ‘coming out of concealment,’ appropriately named for its location in the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest.
“Haida Gwaii was formerly named the Queen Charlotte Islands, after the ship of a British explorer who landed there in 1787. The lands of the Haida nation were re-named in 2009.”
Auchter first read the story told in The Mountain of SGaana years ago in an anthology. In subsequent research, he encountered various versions of the tale, but all contained the same fundamental elements.
In addition to directing the 10-minute short, Auchter co-wrote the film with Annie Reid and the film’s vivid and magical animation was created by Auchter, Tara Barker, Marco Li and Sitji Chou. Jewish community member Michael Mann is listed as compositor, VFX and after-effects animator.
“Chris Auchter designed and created this beautiful world of The Mountain of SGaana, which had this beautiful Haida iconography and told a really wonderful story,” Mann said in a phone interview with the NFB. “What I did is, I took this 2-D animation and basically added lighting, camera moves and visual effects. Say, I get a flat image of water, I make it feel more watery and rippley.”
Mann also colour-graded the film. He explained that certain parts of it needed to look aged, as the film contrasts an older world with a more modern one. He said, “My reading of the story is, it’s a modern-day character [Skipper] who’s lost connection with his stories…. For a long time, they’re very separate and by the end they connect.”
And Mann also had to unite the characters that inhabit the different worlds. “One thing that’s really fun,” he said, “is playing with sunlight and darkness and rain. And all these mythical characters, how do you make them feel they’re all in the same world?”
He said, “I think of myself as a visual sandwich maker sometimes because, basically, someone gives me one layer of the sandwich and then I add all those other layers up to it so that it looks like it’s all one meal, like it’s all one world.”
Mann mostly worked on The Mountain of SGaana remotely from his studio on Salt Spring Island, but came to the NFB offices in Vancouver at the end for an intense 36-hour session with Auchter to finalize all the film’s effects.
Mann’s work as a visual storyteller – using animation, illustration and graphic design – has been featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, on Nickelodeon, on PBS, in advertising campaigns, in documentaries, in video games, at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, the list goes on.
“Whether working on documentaries, commercial projects, government initiatives or collaborations with other artists,” reads his bio, Mann “loves using creativity to translate cultural concepts to new audiences.”
And The Mountain of SGaana certainly communicates, if only in a small way, something about Haida culture.
“I used Haida art to help frame the action and highlight key moments in the story, and to give those important moments an exclamation mark,” explains Auchter in the online interview. “I also use the Haida art as symbolism: at the beginning of the film, the character of Skipper is surrounded by multiple frames featuring various scenes from his environment. He ignores what’s going on around him, and doesn’t engage with his world. These scenes that surround Skipper are framed with black lines. This works in contrast with the other more complex multi-panel Haida formline shots we see throughout the course of the film. Skipper doesn’t get this more complex visual treatment until later in the story when he actively begins to engage with the world around him. His biggest moment comes when he throws the rope to Kuuga Kuns and Naa-Naa-Simgat and pulls them in. This symbolizes that he is pulling his culture closer to him.”
The Mountain of SGaana won the Young Audiences 6-12 Official Competition at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival and was an official selection for ImagineNATIVE 2017 and the Vancouver International Film Festival. It screens at VIFF on Oct. 5, 9:15 p.m., and Oct. 12, 3:15 p.m., at International Village 8, as part of the Strangers in Strange Lands shorts program. For tickets and the full festival lineup, visit viff.org. The festival runs Sept. 28-Oct. 13.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is very pleased to honour the decades of service of with a special Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rosenberg is a professor emeritus of computer science at the University of British Columbia and a member of the BCCLA for nearly 30 years. His work focused on the implications of the internet for such important civil liberties areas as privacy and anonymity, free speech, access and ethics.
Rosenberg has focused his work on the developments of national and international privacy policies, particularly with respect to electronic media, in Canada, the United States and Europe, as well as national and international approaches to the regulation of free speech on the internet. As such, his work has been critical to promoting and protecting privacy rights.
The award was presented at BCCLA’s annual general meeting on May 11 at Vancouver Public Library.
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The 2017 DOXA Documentary Film Festival awards were announced on May 13. Among them was Jewish community member Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky, which received the Colin Low Award for Canadian Documentary (presented in partnership with William F. White). Jury members Tammy Bannister, Lisa Christiansen and Josh Cabrita said of the film: “In 20 years, if someone asks you, ‘Tell me about Fort Mac,’ you can tell them to watch a documentary that is both timely and timeless….”
Limit is the Sky follows six young Canadians, including refugees from the Middle East and Africa, who come to Fort McMurray, the capital of the third-largest oil reserve in the world. “Fort Mac” becomes a testing ground for these young dreamers as they struggle with their own perceptions of money, glory and self-worth amid plummeting oil prices, an unpredictable economy – and then a devastating wildfire. Limit is the Sky is produced by Bonnie Thompson and executive produced by David Christensen for North West Studio. It also received the 2016 Multimedia Award from the Petroleum History Society in Calgary.
Presented by the Documentary Media society, a Vancouver-based nonprofit, charitable society, DOXA ran May 4-14. Those who missed seeing Limit is the Sky during the festival can now purchase or rent it from the National Film Board at nfb.ca or from iTunes.
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Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad of Richmond will be honoured by Oholei Torah Educational Institute, Chabad’s flagship Brooklyn school, on May 28 for his outstanding achievements in Jewish outreach and communal activity. The school has more than 7,000 alumni around the world.
Celebrating their 60th year of excellence in Jewish education, Oholei Torah called on community members worldwide to nominate 60 alumni who have shown an exemplary dedication to implementing the school’s ideals, specifically in furthering Jewish education and strengthening Jewish life. Baitelman was nominated by his peers for his enthusiastic and unwavering commitment to his Jewish community of Richmond and beyond.
“Oholei Torah Educational Institute prides itself on its training of devoted rabbis and inspired community leaders,” said Rabbi Joseph Rosenfeld, director of Oholei Torah. “Rabbi Baitelman truly lives up to the school’s ideals, and has dedicated his life to furthering Jewish awareness and Jewish education.”
With his profoundly sincere, caring attitude and inclusive approach, Baitelman inspires countless Jews from all levels of Jewish observance, with his welcoming outreach programs and thought-provoking classes. He encourages those around him to continue learning and embracing their Judaism through a wide range of educational programs and services – weekly Torah classes; Smile on Seniors lunches featuring entertainment and speakers; six-week Rohr Jewish Learning Institute classes; Simple Truths women’s learning; Land & Spirit, Israel Experience; National Jewish Retreat; Mom and Tot program; Hebrew school; Light of Shabbat kosher meals delivered to the homebound; CTeens club for Jewish youth; Minyanairs Club; and many other programs.
Information about the dinner at which Baitelman will be honoured can be found at oholeitorah.com. The community of Richmond and all of Chabad wish him yasher koach!
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The Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, is pleased to announce that Abba Brodt is the recipient of JNF’s Education Award. We wish Brodt a hearty mazal tov on this well-deserved honour for his dedication and leadership in educating the next generation within the Jewish community. Brodt will receive the award at this year’s Negev Dinner on June 4 at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver.
Brodt is head of school at Richmond Jewish Day School, a position he has held for five years. Under his watch, RJDS has grown 40%; it is now a school of 105 students from kindergarten to Grade 7.
A trained social worker and former director of community planning for and campaign associate of the Jewish Federation, both in Montreal and Vancouver, Brodt switched into education in 2008. While working in a variety of roles in Jewish day schools, Brodt, or Mar Abba, as his students call him, completed a master’s at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration.
Brodt’s goals as a Jewish educator are to help educate and inspire the next generation of Jewish leaders and visionaries. He believes that the best Jewish education blends a love of Yiddishkeit, content and skill development, while promoting and developing the following three attributes in students: critical thinking, creativity and compassion.
In the very talented ensemble of The Road Forward by Marie Clements are Michelle St. John, left, and Jennifer Kreisberg. (photos from National Film Board of Canada)
This year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival features several films with Jewish community connections. They explore a wide range of topics: First Nations activism, Fort McMurray and the oil sands, real-life mermaids, bigotry against larger people, and being a freelance journalist in the Middle East. They will make you question your assumptions, ponder the various ways in which humans find connection, and introduce you to ideas, people and places you probably didn’t know existed.
Opening the festival, which runs May 4-14, is The Road Forward. In the very talented ensemble of this musical documentary by Marie Clements are Michelle St. John and Jennifer Kreisberg. As many of us do, St. John and Kreisberg have multiple cultural heritages that form their identity; in their instances, First Nations and Jewish are among them. In addition to performing, Kreisberg also composed and/or arranged many of the songs; the main composer is Wayne Lavallee.
The Road Forward began as a 10-minute performance piece commissioned for the Aboriginal Pavilion at the 2010 Olympics, and premièred as a full-length theatre show at the 2015 PuSh Festival. The documentary has mostly traditional components – interviews, archival footage, news clips – but these are broken up by a number of songs, which add energy and emotion to the film.
The documentary uses as its starting point the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, which were established in the 1930s, when First Nations people were not permitted to meet and organize. The groups’ “official organ,” the Native Voice, was the first indigenous-run newspaper in Canada.
“The idea was to honour B.C.’s history, so I started researching and reading online and came across the archives of the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the oldest Native organization in the country. Their parent organization, the Native Fishing Association, is located in West Vancouver, close to me,” explains Clements in the press material.
The Road Forward touches on many issues along its journey to current-day First Nation activists, who carry on in their ancestors’ paths. Though their goals are varied – some fight for particular legal or policy changes, others for restitution and reconciliation, yet others for their own voice and place in the world – they are all seeking justice, equality, understanding.
The songs highlight the immense struggles. As but two examples, “1965” is about the decades upon decades that First Nations have been denied the basic rights that most other Canadians have long enjoyed, and “My Girl” is a heartbreaking tribute to the aboriginal women who have been murdered along British Columbia’s Highway 16, the “Highway of Tears.” The Indian Constitution Express, a movement organized by George Manuel in 1980-81 to protest the lack of aboriginal rights in then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s plans to patriate the Canadian Constitution, receives somewhat more attention than other activist achievements, and the song “If You Really Believe,” based on a speech by Manuel, is quite powerful.
The May 4 gala screening of The Road Forward is the official launch of Aabiziingwashi (#WideAwake), National Film Board of Canada’s Indigenous Cinema on Tour. For the length of 2017, NFB is offering films from its 250-plus collection to all Canadians via [email protected]. The film also runs on May 10 and Clements will participate in a Q&A following both screenings.
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Limit is the Sky follows a handful of 20-somethings who have moved to Fort McMurray to follow their dreams. A few years before the price of oil plummeted in 2015 and the 2016 wildfire decimated the northern Alberta city, the average family income in “Fort Mac,” was $190,000 a year, according to the film. Working on the oil sands was where the real money lay, but others were drawn to the college or to places that serve the oil workers (and others), such as hairdressing salons and restaurants.
Most striking about the population we meet in Limit is the Sky is their diversity: they not only come from other Canadian provinces and the United States but from much further afield. The seven young dreamers featured include Max, from Lebanon; Mucharata, from the Philippines, who had to leave her 2-year-old son behind initially (for fours years); and KingDeng, a former child soldier from South Sudan, who had to help support his wife and children (in Edmonton) while at school in Fort McMurray.
“I was looking for young people who’d just recently arrived in Fort Mac, full of hopes, dreams and naïveté,” says filmmaker Julia Ivanova in the press material. “I wanted to walk the viewer through their ups and downs in a place where the men seem tough and the women even tougher. I wasn’t looking for tough characters, though: sensitivity and beauty – both inner and physical beauty – were important to me.”
Ivanova, who has Jewish roots, migrated to Canada from Russia many years ago.
“Being an immigrant myself,” she notes, “I could feel what was at stake for these young people and the challenges they face on a very intimate level.”
The main filming ran from fall 2012 to spring 2015. She felt welcomed by the people in the city, though not by the industry. “That was a brick wall I hit over and over again,” she says. “There was no filming of anyone allowed, anywhere, period.”
By the end of the film, most of the millennials featured had left the city, along with many others. “The town felt almost deserted, compared to how I had seen it in 2012 and 2013,” says Ivanova. “So many people were leaving. There was so much anxiety. I went to all the places I loved – and they’d all changed.”
Ivanova’s film shows the hope, the drive, the challenges, the loneliness of her interviewees. The dynamics are much more complex than one might assume of a city that relied on the oil sands for its prosperity. The environment is of crucial importance, obviously, but people matter, too, and this documentary shines a necessary light on that fact.
Limit is the Sky screens May 5.
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Falling into the who-ever-would-have-thought category, Ali Weinstein’s Mermaids introduces viewers to real-life mermaids, of a sort.
Rachel’s underwater job at the Dive Bar in Sacramento, Calif., helps her deal with a family tragedy. Vicki and a group of former Weeki Wachee Resort (in Florida) swimmers recall their mermaid days, including a show for Elvis and a 50th anniversary performance. Being a mermaid helps Cookie, who was abused as a child and has mental health issues, manage life, and she and her soulmate, Eric, who makes her mermaid tails, are married in a mermaid wedding, after being together for some 30 years. Last but not least, Julz, a transgender woman who was bullied as a child and disowned by her father, discovers acceptance and love in a Huntington Beach, Calif., mermaid group.
Weinstein intersperses these stories with brief summaries of long-told mermaid tales, “from the 3,000-year-old Assyrian figure of Atargatis to the Mami Wata water spirits of West Africa.”
It really is a fascinating documentary, showing just how resilient and resourceful the human spirit is.
Mermaids plays twice during DOXA, on May 6 and 13, and Weinstein will be in attendance at both screenings.
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Think of the cartoon villains and the hapless sidekicks. How are they often portrayed? As fat, dumb and/or oversexed? If those weren’t your first thoughts, think again. The documentary Fattitude convincingly shows how widespread bigotry against larger people is – so much so that it can be overlooked, until pointed out. Then, you wonder how you ever missed it.
From the old woman in the candy house that eats Hansel and Gretel, to Star Wars’ Jabba the Hut, to the evil squid in The Little Mermaid, these are just a few of the villains. Then there is the heavyset and dumb Hardy, sidekick to thin, smart Laurel; the stereotypical chubby best friend in so many movies; and the archetypal black nanny, forever cast in the caring, subservient role. Miss Piggy is a more complex character, both strong and confident in herself, but also sex-crazy over Kermit. And, in the entire Star Trek franchise – where have the larger people gone?
From the age of 3, the film notes, we are already programmed with negative stereotypes. When all put together, it’s quite depressing. However, Fattitude is a rather upbeat documentary, as its interviewees are spirited, determined and intelligent enough to effect some change, mainly via social media.
Filmmakers Lindsey Averill and Viridiana Lieberman speak to almost 50 people and, to a person, they provide an interesting perspective, connecting the body images depicted in films, television shows, cartoons, magazines and advertisements with their effects on viewers and on our perceptions of ourselves and others. The film discusses the links between race, socioeconomic status and weight, as well as the reasons why Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood obesity was misguided.
Fattitude screens May 9.
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Being a journalist in a war zone seems dangerous and frightening, and it is. But it is also tedious and lonely. At least this is what it seems from watching Santiago Bertolino’s Freelancer on the Front Lines.
Bertolino follows Toronto-born, Beirut-based freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld as Rosenfeld hustles to get story ideas and budgets approved, waits in sparse hotel rooms for fixers to connect him with interviewees, and ventures into Egypt during its post-Arab Spring elections, the West Bank during an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey and to Iraq, where they witness the fight against ISIS from the front lines.
Some of the more disturbing images are of the bodies of Palestinians gunned down in a home by undetermined executioners and the corpses of dead ISIS fighters dumped in the back of a truck, as well as tied to its back bumper. In another memorable part, Rosenfeld yells questions to a caged Mohamed Fahmy, when Fahmy and two fellow Al Jazeera journalists were on trial in Cairo. (Fahmy, who holds both Canadian and Egytian citizenship, spent almost two years in jail of a three-year sentence.)
Rosenfeld has strong views and isn’t afraid to share them, though he struggles to make eye contact with the camera when he makes his pronouncements. Some of the best exchanges in the film are between him and Canadian-Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, who hold different opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Freelancer on the Front Lines screens May 13 at Vancity and will include a post-film discussion.
For tickets and the full DOXA Documentary Film Festival schedule, visit doxafestival.ca.
On Aug. 29, the National Film Board of Canada released more than 60 films that now can be viewed free of charge on nfb.ca. Among the new releases is Chi by Anne Wheeler (2013). The documentary follows Canadian actress Babz Chula (seen in the background of the photo) to Kerala, India, where she is to undergo treatment by an Ayurvedic healer in an effort to manage her six-year battle with cancer. The bare-bones Indian clinic at first disappoints, but Chula is uplifted, as her condition seemingly shows signs of improvement following treatment and introspection. Returning home, however, it is revealed that her cancer has advanced. Amazingly, the actress invites Wheeler to continue bearing witness to her journey into the unknown. Chula died on May 7, 2010.
Making Movie History panelists during DOXA Industry Day at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on May 7, left to right: Michelle van Beusekom, head of the National Film Board of Canada’s English-language production branch, and filmmakers Mort Ransen, Bonnie Sherr Klein and Anne Wheeler. Panel moderator was Marsha Lederman of the Globe and Mail. (photo by Fortune Hill Photography courtesy of NFB)
When it comes to their own history, Canadians haven’t had a great track record for recording their success stories. So, when Michelle van Beusekom had an opportunity to produce Making Movie History: A Portrait in 61 Parts, an anecdotal history of the National Film Board of Canada, she was thrilled to jump on board. Told through portraits of legendary artists and filmmakers who have worked at the NFB since its establishment in 1939, the free iPad app was released last month at the DOXA Film Festival in Vancouver.
Present at the launch were B.C.-based filmmakers Mort Ransen, Bonnie Sherr Klein and Anne Wheeler, who participated on a May 7 panel with van Beusekom, who is head of the NFB’s English-language production branch. The panel was moderated by Marsha Lederman of the Globe and Mail.
It took five years to make Making Movie History, which consists of 30 profiles in French and 30 in English, and van Beusekom is hoping movie lovers will watch it.
“It delivers a fascinating look at the origins of cinema in Canada and insight into the stories of early founders of cinema craft in this country,” she told the Independent.
The portraits are of individuals who participated in the NFB from the 1940s through the 1980s, with a special focus on the earlier years, when the NFB was founded as a government-funded but independent organization with a vision to primarily create documentaries in the public interest. “It created this space where talented people could practise their art, develop a filmmaking tradition in this country and use this art form in the public interest,” she explained.
Over the course of working on the app, van Beusekom gained a keen appreciation of the role of women at the NFB from early on.
“As young men went overseas to fight in World War Two, it created opportunities for women in secretarial roles, cinematography, camera, editing and directing, and many were recruited to the NFB,” she said. “When people talk about women’s cinema in Canada, they talk about Studio D, which started in 1974. Until now, the 1940s generation of pioneers of women in Canadian cinema has almost been forgotten. I learned about Gudrun Parker, Evelyn Spice Cherry, Jane Marsh Beveridge and Laura Boulton, which was huge for me. These were names we didn’t know much about and it changed our perception of women’s roles in Canadian cinema.”
The intention of the app is not to be a comprehensive overview, but to provide a portrait that ideally captures the spirit of the individuals profiled and the spirit they brought to the organization. One of those individuals is Klein, who came to Canada with her spouse as a conscientious objector and worked at the NFB. One of her projects was Challenge for Change, where she used film to address social problems such as chronic poverty. Klein was also a foundational figure at Studio D, which operated from 1974 through 1996.
She recalls the NFB as “a Mecca for documentary films, the only place in the world with a government-funded but independent filmmaking agency” in 1975, when she became involved. “We were using films to give people a voice, people who hadn’t spoken for themselves before on screen,” she told the Independent.
Newly graduated from Stanford University at the time, Klein remembers that, back then, the only documentaries around were those made by National Geographic. At Studio D, Klein helped make films by, about and for women, training and nurturing filmmakers, including camera and sound women in this country for the first time.
Things have changed since then for women in the industry, but not that much, she said. “Now, it’s superficially better. There are a lot more women in the film world and graduating from film schools and a lot more diversity among those women. But, are women really getting a chance to tell their own stories, as opposed to just being in the workforce and working on the same old stories?”
Klein noted that nine out of 10 of the last Telefilm Canada (government-funded) films were directed by men. “Women will tell you there’s still a glass ceiling,” she said. “They can only make films up to a certain budget, and they’re not making series, so it’s not great. But the NFB just made a historic commitment for gender equity across the board in all its projects. That commitment sets the bar and challenges other agencies who have lots of money, to do the same.”
According to the Women in View On Screen Report (October 2015), of the 2013-14 fiscal year’s feature-length films by Telefilm Canada, women represented 17% of directors, 22% of writers and 12% of cinematographers credited; in the under $1 million category of film investment, women directors constituted 21%; in the over $1 million category of film investment, women directors constituted four percent. Of the English-language drama TV series between 2012 and 2013, 17 of the 29 series did not have a single woman director on any of their 151 episodes, and not one of the 293 episodes employed a female cinematographer.