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Posted in Downtown, Film
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10/22 2010

Who’s Got Time For Cancer?

Sylvia Soo at Toronto City HallI agreed to interview Sylvia Soo, left, because I thought it would be a nice change of pace to speak with the subject of a documentary rather than the filmmakers. Turns out not even Soo had seen I Don’t Have Time For This, which debuted at Toronto’s Regent Cinema on Wednesday before screening on W network tomorrow at noon (October 23). I Don’t Have Time For This follows five young women in their 20s and 30s and documents their struggles with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Sitting with the vibrant, seemingly tireless Soo, it’s hard to imagine the ringer she’s been through during the three years since she discovered a lump in her breast while taking off her bra one night. She was working in Korea at the time and decided to wait until she was back in Canada before pursuing a biopsy. The news wasn’t good.

But neither the surgeries or chemotherapy could truly slow Soo down; she became a cancer activist working with the “spunky” Re-Think Breast Cancer organization; she blogged about her journey back to health and is now working on a resource book for other young women affected by the disease.

“Sharing my story has been therapeutic,” says Soo. “I found myself telling my story over and over to my family and friends so I thought, well, why don’t I just do a blog and capture my reactions on video. From there it wasn’t such a stretch to agree to be filmed for the documentary.”

Although she’s got a slew of successful TV credits under her belt, Toronto-based executive producer Maria Armstrong says, “This is one of the most important projects we’ve ever undertaken. If it gets one woman, of any age, to get a mammogram, then we have accomplished what we set out to do.”

October is breast cancer awareness month; if you can’t see the doc on W tomorrow, click through and watch the moving trailer here.

Photo by Christopher Jones

Posted in Downtown, Festivals, Film
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10/18 2010

imagineNATIVE: A World of Indigenous Expression

ImagiNATIVE programmer Michelle LatimerActress, 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

Posted in Downtown, Festivals, Film
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10/12 2010

Water Fight in Focus

Filmmaker Liz MarshallLocal 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

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09/9 2010

A One Minute Film? That’s TUFF!

Sook Min Lee hangs TUFFThere’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.”

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Posted in Downtown, Film
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08/3 2010

Toronto Filmmaker Tackles a Playboy

Brigitte Berman at home in Toronto with her OscarFew filmmakers know how to kick start a movie better than Toronto’s Brigitte Berman: the Oscar-winning writer/director dives into Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel with an uproarious remark by rocker Gene Simmons (a world-famous womanizer in his own right) that hooks the viewer with star power, humour and insight . . . not bad for the first 15 seconds.

Fortunately, Berman is able to live up to the promise of her opening with this fascinating, if longish portrait of the father of the sexual revolution. Some reviewers have taken Berman to task for going too easy on Hefner but the film balances praise from the Playboy founder’s supporters with recriminations from feminist Susan Brownmiller and Christian activists Jerry Fallwell and Pat Boone; Mike Wallace, Charles Keating and Dennis Prager aren’t Hef fans either.

“Hef says his life is like a Rorschach test,” notes Berman. “How people react to his story says more about them than it does about him. The film is the same way; some people say it’s even handed others say it’s totally unbalanced.”

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