Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Directors are many in this 4-part TV PBS series that started in 2001. The fascinating up close testimonies and presentations of art explores various innovative artists as they explain their philosophies and show their art. It focuses on artists in four different cities: Mexico City, Chicago, Vancouver and Los Angeles. These artists choose totally subversive ways to distinctly express their visions and talents  as they attempt to overthrow staid conventions and restrictions that society imposes.  Both photos display works by Mr. Ortega (FIFA presentation).

a work by Mexican artist, Damian Ortega

Monday, March 27, 2017

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (Directed by Lone Scherfig) *****

In 1939, Poland –  the safe zoo and home for Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski – suddenly turns into a nightmare. Their Warsaw Zoo has flourished under Jan's stewardship and Antonina's incredible love and care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are forced to report to the Reich's newly appointed chief of the zoo, Lutz Heck. He is a snake in the grass, and not the kind the couple wishes to have at their zoo that has now been turned into a pig farm where they can hide Jews in a clandestine plot: the committed couple covertly begin working with the Resistance and put into action plans to save the lives of hundreds from what has become the Warsaw Ghetto. This true story shows the fearlessness of the couple, the  Nazi horror, and how they were able to get Jews out of the jaws of these monsters.  In the end, they hid over 300 Jews, mainly children, and saw to their escape. 

An amazing film that once again shows the power of goodness over evil. The brilliant acting of Jessica Chastain is undeniable.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

BROKEN (Directed by Lynne Spencer) *****

Simone Orlando, a magnificent principal dancer with ballet BC is about to discover

what it's like to give up everything she does and loves because of a dance injury during rehearsal. In denial about her pain and worsening state, she continues to dance, and her final bow is taken in her role as Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire”. The film travels with her as she undergoes physic, two surgeries and unendurable mental stress as she comes to terms with the fact that her point shoes will forever be relegated to the closet. This film presents a professor from Oxford University who studies trauma in performers and what they experiences as the fall from grace. What we discover in this film is how cold and unsupportive Simone’s ballet troupe members are during her ordeal. No one visits her at the operation, and Ballet BC tries to hide the fact that their lead dancer has been injured. She never receives a formal adieu from the company. She eventually ends up as CEO and Artistic Director of Ballet Kelowna. Her hip replacement rids her of pain, but her left leg is longer than the other. She limps but still continues to choreograph. Finally she is able to resume a normal life of daily activities, but performance dancing is done. Dancers unfortunately are so wrapped up in masking pain and being the best that their self-absorption can be their very down-fall. Support is a two-way street.  She is sad and angry that no one seems to be in sync with her emotions, but then again, she never shared her pain with anyone. (Screened at FIFA)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

BRAILLE MUSIC (Directed by Michael House) *****

An intensely fascinating look into the development of Braille as six blind musicians bring to life the poem “Hope” written by Emily Dickinson. The director travels to Paris and England to uncover the various schools that invented systems of reading for the blind. Valentin Haüy was the founder, in 1784, of the first school for the blind, the Royal Institution for the Young Blind in Paris.  In 1819, Louis Braille attended the prestigious institute. 

Now Braille has the name of the school there.

We meet all the artists and witness them talk about the effects of being a blind musician, and how the technological advances of Braille allow for inter-global sharing of music via the Internet and Braille music.  The immense legacy of Braille culminates in a work written by the clarinettist in the group in honour of the master. They learn the piece and record it the same day. This film is in 4 “bars” explores the development of teaching music to the blind, (House travels to discover how this started and where it ended up); meeting blind piano tuners, meeting the musicians, and following the challenges each has to bring “Hope” to its musical recording. An excellent documentary that all should see, and hopefully it will be transposed into Braille so that the blind can actually hear and “watch” this film too. (Screened at FIFA).

Friday, March 24, 2017

BUSTER KEATON, UN GÉNIE BRISÉ PAR HOLLYWOOD (Directed by Jean-Baptiste Péretié) *****

What a genius! His fluid movements, acrobatic antics incorporating trains, cars, falls out of windows and so much more mark Keaton as a perennial mime treasure. But when he abandoned his own production company that had unparalleled success to go to the giant Hollywood machine of Louis B. Mayer, he falls on hard times. He eventually is fired from Mayer’s company and becomes an alcoholic.  If only he had not caved over to the wrong side, who knows how long his creative genius would have impacted on us. A great film with oodles of clips from his films, including home movies. (Screened at FIFA)


A great writer – Victor Hugo, but most don’t know that in May 1856, he fled Paris in search of peace and freedom. In Guernsey, he bought a stunning house and renovated it. The décor was full of antiques; walls were laden with tapestries and paintings and sculptures were in every nook. Dark and full of oak, the house became his inspirational spot for writing. He looked out at the seaside town and eventually responded to the poverty other than through his writing. He took in children and started a school. Hugo was a fascinating genius; his legacy lives on through his writing and this museum house. The film did not explain how he amassed his fortune, where he got these antiques, nor anything much about his writings. (Screened at FIFA).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

LE VIOLONISTE DEBOUT (Directed by Sabastien Ventura)

The brilliant Montreal violinist, Alexandre Da Costa return to Vienna to play with the string section of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He is a super talent who has performed all over Europe. At the age of 35, we learn about his dedication to his 1727 Stradivarius violin. We hear him talk about his reinterpretations of works by the masters and watch how he bonds musically with the string section. His ambition and clarity of where he wants to go with his own career is most impressive. (Screened at FIFA) 

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


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)