Actress, filmmaker and programmer Michelle Latimer is a perfect spokesperson for the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, opening Wednesday. She’s articulate and enthusiastic and as the photo at left confirms, she’s also a whole lot of fun. Latimer and I met at A Space Gallery to chat about the festival and take in RE:counting coup, a group show curated by Cheryl L’Hirondelle for imagineNATIVE. Latimer posed for me beneath one of artist Lisa Reihana’s hairdryers, part of an installation called Colour of Sin: Headcase Version, 2005.
“We think that including contemporary art is important,” says Latimer, “because those are the artists who, in my opinion, are really pushing the boundaries for indigenous artists in this country.”
Now in its 11th year, imagineNATIVE is the world’s largest showcase of indigenous film and video work and the festival draws entries from First Nations communities around the world. Did you know that Nepal has more indigenous groups per capita than any other country? Or that Taiwan has a significant indigenous population, which also happens to be the subject of this year’s imagineNATIVE spotlight? READ MORE
Local filmmaker Liz Marshall, left, intentionally held back the cinematic debut of her documentary, Water on the Table, in the hope that it would be selected for Toronto’s annual Planet in Focus film festival, starting tomorrow. Better to be a big fish in a smaller pond, reasoned Marshall, than to get lost in the crowd at TIFF, Hot Docs or another major festival.
Given the high quality of her doc and its controversial subject – activist Maude Barlow’s fight to make water a human right – Marshall made a good strategic bet. Water on the Table is one of the marquee films showing at this year’s Planet in Focus, an 11-year old festival focused on videos and films about the environment.
Water has been on the table of Canadian public awareness since the trade of this natural resource surfaced as an issue in the 1988 Free Trade Agreement and again in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. So contentious was the issue that Canada, Mexico and the United States signed a joint position statement clarifying that “Unless water, in any form, has entered into commerce and become a good or product, it is not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement, including the NAFTA. And nothing in the NAFTA would oblige any NAFTA Party to either exploit its water for commercial use, or to begin exporting water in any form.”
A number of provinces would love nothing more than to start profiting from the export of their seemingly abundant water resources, which would trigger NAFTA clauses and truly put water on the trade table. Enter “water warrior” Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians and chair of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. READ MORE
Author/educator Priscila Uppal will be in Queen’s Park Sunday joining loads of her writerly colleagues and thousands of reading fans for the 21st annual Word on the Street celebration. Uppal is taking part in the Diaspora Dialogues literary scavenger hunt, a friendly contest in which participants make their way around the park collecting clues found in readings by a range of writers. Scavengers who correctly answer all the questions win prizes from the Diaspora Dialogues tent.
Uppal, a novelist and poet, has been working with Diaspora Dialogues for about five years, contributing to anthologies, giving readings and workshops, visiting local high schools. When program founder Helen Walsh initially called Uppal to see if she’d join the group as a mentor for emerging writers, Priscila had been jousting with her life partner about taking too many things on.
“But of course I said,’Yes,’ when Helen called,” remembers the writer. “If I was to design a program that I wanted to see take root in the literary community it would be Disapora Dialogues. It’s been an amazing process, I love working with them.” READ MORE
There’s a lot more than a vowel separating TUFF from TIFF. The Toronto Urban Film Festival will see its share of line-ups but they’ll be on subway platforms where the short-listed one-minute films will be looping for the next week and a half. Eighty films in eight categories explore the urban experience from a variety of perspectives: The City is a Poem, The Emotional City and The Medium is the Message, are three of the quirkier themes.
Each category was whittled down and in a sense curated by a filmmaker who then passed their top 10 picks on to this year’s guest judge, Deepa Mehta, who selected overall winners. “In the past, the grand prize hasn’t always been chosen from the shortlist,” explains Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Min Sook Lee, above, who elected to screen the Urban Ideas and Politics category.
“What struck me was the populist messaging and I thought that was kind of cool,” says Lee. “There’s something about the platform itself that is really appealing and I think some people made work with that in mind.”
Labour Day weekend might seem like an unfortunate time for a culture fest but like other long-weekend fêtes, Toronto’s biennial Ashkenaz Festival brings loads of visitors into the city, which helps to counter the exodus of outbound cottagers.
Now in its 8th iteration, Ashkenaz is the largest festival of Jewish culture in Canada and its co-founder, David Buchbinder, left, is back this year to perform with one of his many projects, Odessa/Havana, a jazz ensemble helmed with Cuban/Canadian pianist Hilario Duran. The band, which features some of Toronto’s very best jazz performers (including Rick Lazar, Mark Kelso and Roberto Occhipinti), will preview work from its forthcoming disc.
The melding of traditional Jewish music with Cuban jazz is more natural than the description suggests. While Buchbinder’s music is deeply rooted in Klezmer – he’s a founder of the long-popular Flying Bulgars – he is presently exploring the Sephardic musical traditions of Moorish Spain, which the conquistadors took with them to Cuba and other new world colonies. (The name Ashkenaz refers to a branch of the Jewish family originating in Eastern Europe, as opposed the Sephardic branch prevalent in Spain and the Mediterranean.)