Thursday, March 23, 2017

CUT TO BLISS (Directed by Moree Wu) ***

Geometric  circles and sharply lined triangles frame fashion figures in an abstract manner. High colour accents the collage aspect of this 2-minute animated film.  A graduate thesis creation from the filmmaker. (Screened at FIFA)

FEMMES ARTISTES (Directed by Claudia Müller) ***

Katharina Grosse goes around the environment putting huge splotches of paint everywhere. Even her bed is not excluded from being painted.


 Filmmaker introduces us to several female artists whose work is on the cutting edge of surrealism and absurdism. Grosse recreates mini-mock ups of some of these artists works inside a small doll-house type wall. These women are radically inventive and most courageous. (Screened at FIFA)

MALI BLUES (Directed by Lutz Gregor) *****

MALI BLUES presents four exceptional musicians who, with their music, fight for a new awakening in Africa. These are the musicians in the diaspora. They recount their personal angst, their own amazing stories of courage and the will to fight radical Islamism and those who hate.

Fatoumata Diawara – AfroPop’s shooting star, who tells in her singer/songwriter ballads of life as an African woman, and of obsolete tradition. One touching scene is when she returns to her village in mail and sings to a group of women about the horrors of female circumcision.

Bassekou Kouyaté – the griot and Grammy-nominated world musician integrates traditional African instruments into modern rock music.

Ahmed Ag Kaedi – his rough and rocking Tuareg guitar riffs tell of a longing for the desert.

Master Soumy – the rap singer, voice of Mali’s young generation, whom corrupt politicians listen to alike.
 (Screened at FIFA)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

WHO IS ODA JAUNE (Directed by Kamilla Pfeffer) ****


A close up intense interview with artist Oda Jaune. She paints women in rather grotesque poses and mutilated features. She’s an interesting woman whose art is truly exceptional.

 Honest and gentle, Jaune remains true to her feelings and her own mysterious process of painting. She is preparing for a Paris exhibition.  She is a successful painter. (Screened at FIFA)

LINE BY LINE (Directed by Hauke Harder & Viola Rusche) *

What is sound space. As the cello plays long dark notes, we see the composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler being rowed by a gondolier in a boat down some tree-lined wild river that looks like the Bayou. 

He explains his views on slowness, space, resonance and emotion referring to Mozart – his favourite composer and other  masters. This is a pretentious film of intellectual doublespeak. (Screened at FIFA)

AYAHAM AHMAD- THE PIANIST OF YARMOUK (Directed by Carmen Belaschk & Günter Attein) *****

Forced to leave his refugee camp, Ayham, a great pianist ends up in Damascus where bombs force him out of Syria. He misses
Yarmouk where music became his gift for children and his way of living in the refugee area.

 He makes his treacherous journey, ending up in Germany where he wins the Beethoven award for his contribution to refugees through his music. Ayham is a great man, a great composer whose love of life can not be killed though everything around him is. (Screened at FIFA)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REZA DERAKSHANI - The Breeze at Dawn (Directed by Macha Tsarenkov) ***

This 8-minute film showcases multi-talented painter, poet, musician and performance artist Reza Derakshani invites us into his house and studio in Austin, Texas.

His world is one of abstract and ethereal connections expressed in his colourful art. A lonely soul, Reza feels his uprootedness contributes to his depth. The many places he has lived and worked, including Iran, United States and Italy, have played a major role in shaping his work. As the artist prepares for a retrospective exhibition at the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, he outlines his artistic vision, stressing the importance of freedom of expression. (Screened at FIFA in Montreal).


Billsville (Directed by Maisie Jacobson) ****

In a Montreal apartment, Bill Anhang is working on his latest creation of tiny lights flickering on images, casting light on bizarre portraits and fantastic machines. He believes he has seen the Gods, and his Jewish and Buddhist pals believe he truly is the spreader and giver of light; he works to “bring new light to mankind.” At age 85, he has been invited to New York for his first-ever exhibition, at the prestigious American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan.


Most of all, Bill wants to connect to people through his art. But he is more fantastic than the pieces he creates. His son is a wonder. (Screened at FIFA)

ZHU-XIAO-MEI: HOW BACH DEFEATED MAO ( Directed by Paul Smaczny) *****

It’s been 35 years since this great Bach pianist has returned to her homeland, China. During the Cultural Revolution, she was vilified and humiliated in front of 400 people at the public square in front of the Beijing Conservatory. But now, with much persuasion she has returned to give several concerts in China – the most significant one being right in front of that a conservatory where her life of music ended forever in China. 

This touching documentary combines her gifted lyrical interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg variations with her poignant story of her life. She reunites with her old teacher, and even meets the composer/pianist who worked under Mao. Zhu finds China to be a country full of energy and hope – mainly because of the young people who gave in the thousands to hear her perform last year in China. Residing in Paris, Zhu seems to have made peace with her past in a country she once called home. It is Bach that sustained her during her work camp years and during much of her life when she was forbidden to play. Her playing is gorgeous! (Screened at Montreal's FIFA)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

JOHNNY AND THE BEAR : my children's animal conservation story

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. Johnny was putting together the
last pieces of his moose puzzle when he heard his father shout,
And his mother shout, "Johnny."
And his sister shout, "Johnny."
"What?" he answered back.
"Come on downstairs," said his father.
"And hurry," added his mother.
"Why? I'm busy."
"There's a bear," yelled his sister.
"A bear?" Johnny echoed excitedly.
"A bear!" everyone shouted.
Johnny looked at his unfinished puzzle. "Well, Mr. Moose,
your other antler will just have to wait." Johnny rushed downstairs,
put on his coat, and followed his father, mother and sister outside.
Everyone on his street was walking in the same direction. At the end of the street, there was an enormous crowd. Johnny could see that almost everyone from the town was there. What's going on? As he pushed his way through the crowd, dodging elbows and arms, he heard cries of "Oooh...Ahhh...Wow!"
Finally, he reached the front. There, lying in a small snowdrift was a polar bear. It was very, very large, and very very dead.
"What a beautiful bear!" somebody exclaimed.
"It would make a lovely carpet," commented another.
Johnny overheard a man in a uniform saying that the bear would be removed from the street and buried in an out-of-the-way garbage dump, the next morning. Johnny stood there for a long time – even after everyone had left. He stared at the lifeless eyes of the bear and felt very sorry for it.

He went home for supper. His family was excited about what they had seen. They talked and talked about the bear - about how beautiful its fur was and how big its body was. Johnny's father even said that the bear's head would make a good trophy. "Not in my house," joked his mother, and everyone laughed - everyone, except Johnny. He didn't feel like laughing or talking. All he could think about was the bear lying so cold and still in the snow. The more he thought about it, the sadder he became. When his mother served dessert, Johnny excused himself and went upstairs. But he couldn't sleep one wink. Finally, his eyes closed and he began to dream.
He saw the bear alive and roaming in the forest. In the distance, he could see the bear's mate and children - little cubs waiting for their father to come home, just the way Johnny waited for his dad. He thought about what it would be like not to have your dad come home one night. It would be lonely and scary. His mother would cry. Johnny knew the bear would never come again. He hoped the little bears with their mama could find enough to eat without their father's help. It was a sad dream. Saddest of all, Johnny knew he couldn't help them.

When he woke up, Johnny could think of nothing but the bear. He wanted
to find out everything about it...where it came from - what it was doing in
town - why it ended up dead!
He quickly dressed, ran downstairs and made for the door, shouting to his mother on the way out. "I'll be home late tonight, because I have some important homework to do."  In a way, he was telling the truth.
The first thing Johnny did was visit the police station. When he asked a policeman why the bear was killed, the policeman answered, "Because it wandered into town. You can't have a bear walking all over town. Why,it would scare everyone!" This policeman wasn't helping Johnny
understand any better.
"Why was it in town in the first place?" Johnny asked.
"Why? I don't know why," replied the policeman rather impatiently. "Go
 ask Mr. Dithers, the taxidermist. He knows about animals.
So Johnny went to Mr. Dither's store. Outside he saw a large sign that said: "WE'LL STUFF ANYTHING." Johnny opened the door, and entered a big, cluttered room. He felt a hundred eyes staring at him, glaring at him from all directions...from the walls, the shelves, the tables - even the top of the cash register. Everywhere he looked, they looked too. Owls, cats, dogs, beavers, squirrels - even a wolf...all stuffed...all dead.

A man appeared. He had a big, bushy, black beard and a hooked nose, upon which sat a pair of dusty spectacles. "Yes," said Mr. Dithers. How can I help you?" "Well, I was wondering if you knew why that bear wandered into town yesterday?"
Mr. Dithers scrunched up his face. "No." he said sharply. "I can't say I know why. Hum, why indeed? Good thing it's dead, though. No telling what damage a bear like that might do. My, my, didn't it have a beautiful coat of fur? So white and plush!"
"Yes, but it would have been more beautiful if the bear were alive," Johnny added sadly. "Alive!" screeched Mr. Dithers. "What a preposterous idea! What's the use of having a bear alive? Really boy, what a ridiculous notion. Alive! Ha!"
Johnny left in a hurry. Mr. Dithers wasn't helping him understand, any better.
Outside, Johnny spotted a newspaper stand. In big, bold letters, the headline read: NEW AREA BEING BUILT...LAND AND ANIMALS BEING CLEARED AWAY FOR DEVELOPMENT. Suddenly, Johnny realized what was happening.

He took a bus to the new hotel site. On the site, he saw an important looking man giving orders He approached and said to the man who was wearing a construction hat, "Why are you building a hotel on the animals' land?"
I don't know," said the foreman." I don't make decisions. I just follow orders. "Did you know a bear was killed in town, yesterday?" asked Johnny. "A bear? Well, I'm just a foreman. I don't handle bears. Try the Mayor." Johnny felt he was really getting somewhere now. He hopped on a bus that stopped in front of the building where the mayor's office was. Johnny knew this, because on the building was a sign that said: CITY HALL.
Once inside, Johnny asked the guard where the 
mayor's office was.
Without saying a word, the tall man raised a gloved 
hand that pointed
to a flight of marble stairs. Slowly Johnny began to climb. With each step, a loud
echo was heard.
It seemed to travel up the stairs, down the hallway,
right to the mayor's office door - demanding to be 
let in.
Johnny finally reached the top of the long
staircase, and read the sign: MAYOR STERNDOLT. 
Johnny followed the sign's arrow which 
pointed to a desk. Behind it sat a little lady.
This must be the mayor's secretary.
"I want to see the mayor," Johnny boldly said.
"Do you have an appointment?" asked the lady, 
without looking up.
"well—not exactly but.."
"Have a seat," she interrupted.
She then got up and left. Five minutes later, she 
reappeared and sat down once again. An hour passed.
Suddenly, the silence was broken as
the wrinkled-faced lady looked up at Johnny, and 
announced, "Mayor Sterndolt will see you now."
Johnny entered the mayor's office, and sat down in
a big, big chair.

He felt very, very small.

"Yesss..?" the mayor smiled.

"W..we...well." Johnny was losing his voice. "I'm 
here to talk about

a bear... and..."

"Speak up, lad." Mayor Sterndolt said in a loud

Johnny found his courage. "Why was the bear killed
Mayor Sterndolt promptly replied. "The city is
building hotels and swimming pools in the new

The bears seem to be running out of
food, so they come into town and we kill them."

"It's not fair!" Johnny suddenly shouted.

"Fair?" bellowed the mayor.

"Why do you have to build hotels there, anyway?
 Why can't you build

somewhere else, and leave the bears alone?" Johnny

There was a long moment of silence. Then the mayor
took Johnny's hand and let him to an enormous 

In distance, Johnny could see
many buildings under construction. Making a 
sweeping motion across the window with his other
hand, Mayor Sterndolt proudly said, "This is
beautiful land!

The more hotels we build, the more people come to
visit. The more

people come to visit, the more money they spend. 
The more money they

spend, the better for our town. Now you can understand that; can't you boy?"
"All I understand is a bear died. There's no reason
to kill anything.

Even for money. Besides, why don't you build
hotels away from the bears' homes, and then people
could go and see the bears alive and free?
Mayor Sterndolt let out an enormous loud laugh –
right in Johnny’s face.

He then told Johnny, he was too busy, and Johnny
had to leave.

When Johnny got home, He felt sad. In fact, he went
right up to his room

He stared down at his unfinished moose puzzle.

“I know what I can do to stop this. I’ll go 
to college and study animal protection.

He put the antlers on the moose puzzle, and then 
stared at the

moose for a few minutes. 

“Don’t worry I’ll protect you when I get older".

(This story was written 20 years ago. I set it in Churchill Falls Manitoba, a place where polar bears began coming into town)

TIME TRAVELERS (presented by Gnarly Bay in collaboration w. Forest Woodward and Brendan Leonard)) ***


The goal of rowing down the Grand Canyon is audacious indeed, but to break the record of arriving at the end in record speed takes great fortitude. Eight men prepare for their water adventure, building and testing their boat, preparing the meals, equipment, training in the gym, but the true test is once they launch off. 

Battling wild waters, broken oars, fatigue and night’s darkness adds great stress to their feat. 179 miles and 21 hours later, the boats’ pontoon suffers a puncture – just at the last part. It takes 3 hours to fix it. But as one member says, it really is not about setting a record, but about doing it and finishing. They make it in 39 hours and 24 minutes. “It’s not about achieving greatness, but striving to make it through and experiencing companionship along the way,” says the team leader. Great photography and honest talk by members of the team during this 24-minutes film. (Screened at Montreal's FIFA  - International Festival of Films on Art)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Garza Blanca's Stunning Residency Reserve

Las Palmas can Escort you to this stunning 5-diamond development
Imagine staying in Puerto Vallarta’s most illustrious hotel.  Garza Blanca is a private residence club that offers membership through an innovative system.
gives you access to all Garza Blanca developments in the country: Puerto Vallarata, Cabo San Lucas and Cancun. 

I was taken to the Mousia Hotel to visit its studio. WOW! I also went inside another of its six spectacular buildings – each located in a cocoon of idyllic Pacific Ocean beauty.  I marveled at the infinity pool situated on the roof over a drop dead paradise view to the ocean and circular pools far below. It is said to be the largest on the continent. Walk inside the area, and you’ll feel like royalty. 

Mr. Fernando Gonzales Corona (not the same man who owns Corona beer) owns the Garza Blanca development. He has made ultra luxury accessible to the world.


 If you wish to visit the premises, simply see Jorge at Las Palmas Hotel, and he will accompany you there. You will be served a glorious breakfast high above the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.  

 A 75-minute personal presentation then follows to give you the opportunity to own your little piece of paradise year-round or for some weeks. 

 I wasn’t able at this time to purchase through their points program, despite the low price options presented to me by Alison who worked hard to make it happen for me; but I did hear the popping of champagne bottles, signifying some lucky people had become part of the luxurious Garza Blanca’s Residency haven. The Sierra Madres 450 acre- jungle setting surrounding the hotel sweetened by tropical birdsong is hypnotically tranquil. Unforgettable!



                            Unpack your bags and live the Las Palmas experience
I’m not big on all-inclusives, but Air-Transat’s complete package at the 4-star Las Palmas by the Sea Hotel was a delightful surprise. This immaculately clean, personable hotel is just the right size, has just the right number of swimming pools, eateries, bars, sea-view rooms and cute nighttime stage shows to satisfy any discerning stress-filled traveler. The staff is adoptable!
Thirty-eight years old, Las Palmas has 225 rooms on four floors. There’s enough space between each room to give you comfy privacy.  The two pools – one for the kids and for us older folk – are warm and both offer expansive sea views of sunny Banderas Bay sparkling in front of you.

 It’s sparkling right in front of you. The spread of soft sand holds a bounty of hotel lounge chairs with space and umbrellas between each one.

I loved the enormous palapa-covered Aire del Mar Restaurant. It boasts an enormous buffet with its endless constantly fresh international cuisine. A delectable array of choices, including Mexican dishes are presented in dashing style. By the way, get David at the Coco Lobby Bar to make your drinks; he’s an expert. All drinks, like the food, is free.

Guakamajazz, à la carte restaurant is equally lovely, and like its buffet partner, it straddles with a view the sea. Fish, meats, lasagna and more are graciously served.  Order a Spanish coffee at the end of your meal and watch the waiter prepare it using his fire torch. It’s the real thing!
Las Palmas is like a spacious home-away-from-home haven where friendliness, fun and a variety of excursions put the best of Vallarta only a bus-ride away.
Warning: avoid booking during spring break for college students!
The website is:

Puerto Vallarta’s Excellent Excursions
Staying at Las Palmas by the Sea Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, I was able to directly book some great excursions. Let the adventures begin! I took the Trio City and Tropical Tour (really low in price but high in variety sightseeing). The guide was a walking historian, only we were on a bus! We stopped in the neighborhood of Pitillal to enjoy its highly acclaimed Saint Michael Archangel Church.

 It looked old but its construction started in 1967 and ended in 1983. The town definitely had that real Mexican flavour –  distinctly different from Vallarta’s famous Malecon downtown area where over 2-kilometres of boardwalk boast wonderful statues with great names: Nostalgia, Millenia In Search of Reason, Teachers and more. 

Stores and markets abound

 We then headed near Mismaloya where Night of the Iguana was filmed; the more ominous site we ended up in was in the jungle spot of Kawitu where a scene from the movie Predator was shot. 



 A lesson on organic tequila was given to us before we sat to lunch at a series of rocky waterfalls.

                                                  Yelapa ‘s idyllic hippie feel
From Vallarta’s romantic zone, I hopped on a water taxi heading for the tropical island of Yelapa. On the way, we spotted several humpback whales. Captain Gama took me to a lovely waterfall in Yelapa, and then we descended little winding lanes – cobblestone gems that harken back to a time gone by. At Rogelio’s, a makeshift beach restaurant, I enjoyed a fantastic seafood soup and guacamole. Then, Gama took me to Lagunita where about 25 palapa huts become your accommodations. The beach is so lovely. Free and natural, Lagunita is a primitive paradise where simplicity flows. Owned by Luke Donahue, this unique place is a yoga and tai chi retreat, but one can simply stay here and watch the calm ocean waters whisper to you outside your cozy room.
The website is

                                            Beach Boy Boat Day is the Best
This is a wonderful day of snorkeling at Los Arcos – two enormous rocks jutting out of the ocean (oodles of fish to discover), and then being taken to silky sands of quiet  Animas Beach – certainly the most beautiful in the entire area. You can stay on the boat and travel by donkey up to the waterfall, or after enjoying your free lunch at Animas, take a sneak peek at the stunning Hotelito Mio. For a minimum of 500$ US/night, you stay in your own luxury palapa- covered glass house. The views are beyond description. The boat guys are hilariously entertaining. Before hopping on the boat, the port serves you coffee and cookies. I loved this excursion.

Garca Blanca:

Botanical Garden: