TIFF Doc Conference 2017

It's a good thing to continue learning. I have been in the documentary industry for more than three decades. This past week I had the opportunity to refresh my thinking and learn some new perspectives about the craft, the business and documentary education.

The occasion was the 9th annual TIFF Doc Conference, part of the Industry component of the Toronto International Film Festival. Moderated ably by programmers Thom Powers and Dorota Lech who is also associated with Toronto's Hot Docs festival, the day featured a swift moving and well paced series of interviews, panel discussions and key note speakers.

Anjali Nayar, director Silas

Anjali Nayar, director Silas

Anjali Nayar a Canadian filmmaker now based in Africa presented a keynote address on ethical considerations surrounding appropriation. She rhetorically posed the all important question: how do I as a first world person of privilege tell stories out of Africa? In a thoughtful way, Nayar, whose current film Silas premiered at TIFF17, both defended her story telling liberty and underscored the collaborative approach, empathy, listening, open mindedness and respect that she must be sure to employ abroad. She called for telling each other's stories "with imagination and skepticism." Without backing down from her right to free speech, she drew attention to moments in her own work where she thought she might have done better.

Nayar examining her conscience about representation of the so-called developing world

Nayar examining her conscience about representation of the so-called developing world

Filmmakers Brett Morgan Jane & Kurt Cobain - World of Heck ,Denis Côté and Sam Pollard traced the arc of their careers and motivation in interviews. Pollard who had a distinguished career as an editor with the likes of director Spike Lee and who teaches at NYU is now primarily a director. His latest film I Gotta Be Me about the singer-dancer-entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. had its premiere at TIFF17 and will be seen on the American Masters strand on PBS.

TIFF17 Pollard.jpg

Morgan Spurlock who rose to fame with his Supersize Me doc was joined on stage by the team from his company Warrior Poets, Entertainment Weekly and A&E network that are responsible for a new pop culture doc series that will launch soon across A&E media platforms. Spurlock emphasized his creative and entrepreneurial bent. He and his colleagues stressed that the digital space provides documentary producers with unprecedented opportunity.

Moving beyond specific projects, financier Geralyn Dreyfous of Imact Partners and the film & TV career consultant Peter Broderick proffered useful tips about private financing for documentaries and the approach one might undertake to ensure longevity and a decent income in the independent documentary production industry.

Consultant Peter Broderick

Consultant Peter Broderick

As a filmmaker and educator at Toronto's Seneca College, I felt my time at the 2017 TIFF Doc Conference was well spent. Each year's conference has its strengths, but this one avoided transparent, shallow promotional gambits that can sometimes mar such industry affairs. Each session was distinctly thoughtful.

As for improvement for the 10th annual TIFF Doc Conference in 2018, one might suggest a better mixing up of American-Canadian-international speakers. As in other years at this particular event, it occasionally seemed we were attending a conference in New York or Los Angeles because Canadian or international context was missing for significant stretches of time. That being said, it was an informative day and I look forward to next year.

Côte-Nord et la Gaspésie 2017

August is travel time for many Canadians.  Last month was no exception for myself and my wife the writer and communications maven Li Robbins in Québec. It surely was salve for this bilingual soul to speak and hear French on a daily basis for a few weeks.

We had a splendid journey from la ville de Québec up the north shore of the St Lawrence River past Tadoussac, where the Saguenay River flows into le fleuve Saint-Laurent, to the village of Godbout where we got on a ferry over to Matane on the Gaspésie (Gaspé Peninsula.) It is a road and ferry trip not to be missed.

Once on the peninsula we continued our camping and hiking ways. The highlight was Parc national Forillon at the tip of the Gaspésie. It features tremendous hiking trails, good camping and simply breathtaking coastal views.

Here are a few snaps from the le port de Québec, Saguenay fjord near Tadoussac, crossing le fleuve, from magnificent Parc national Forilllon and the extraordinary Jardins de Métis near Grand-Métis.

Canots QCPort.jpg
Gaspé Sag fjord3.jpg
Gaspé Tad lgths.jpg
Gaspé Fleuve1.jpg
Gaspé Forillon site.jpg
Lune Bout1.jpg
Gaspé musicien.jpg
Gaspé Li JardMétis.jpg

Teme-Augama Anishnabai Territory August 2017

Over the past three decades I have paddled throughout much of the traditional territory of The Teme-Augama Anishnabai in the Temagami region of Ontario, Canada. I've also had the opportunity to learn a great deal about its environment, history and politics through my work as a documentary filmmaker, historian, print journalist and radio producer. Recently, I was fortunate to be back in the beautiful area with a few paddling mates. Here are some photos from the old growth trails near Shish-Kong and Obabika Lakes, the Nokomis Rocks (Grandmother Grandfather) on Lake Obabika and evening on the northwest arm of Lake Temagami.

Tem17 old growth sun.jpg
Tem17 oldfolks.jpg
Tem 17 NW sunset.jpg

Francis Fukuyama “Political Order and Political Decay”

Political Order and Political Decay: From Industrialization to the Globalization of Democracy

By Francis Fukuyama

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

The prolific political philosopher Francis Fukuyama has essayed again, this time with a weighty (in all respects) tome that outlines his understanding of political development in the west in the modern era. It’s the second and final installment of his treatise that began in 2011 with The Origins of Political Order.

The two-part series undertakes nothing less than an overview of the rise and fall of institutions of democratic accountability in western Europe, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States since the Industrial Revolution. In the current book, he picks up from the chronology of his inquiry in the first volume dealing with the governmental legacies of imperialist monarchies, the Enlightenment, and the important revolutions that took place before approximately 1800.

Fukuyama cut his scholarly teeth as an intellectual in sympathy with the so-called Reagan revolution that supposedly reasserted American dynamism and global significance following setbacks like the Viet Nam War. However, by the Iraq War he began to take some distance from the ideology and strategy of the George W. Bush administration — and a Republican party that he felt had lost its way. So, with the election of Barack Obama, Fukuyama had earned the uncomfortable distinction of facing criticism from America’s centrist and neo-conservative political thinkers alike. Perhaps such intellectual isolation fosters original work.

Fukuyama is famous, and in some eyes notorious, for the “end of history” theory that he first advanced in an article published by The National Interest in 1989. With Mikhail Gorbachev then championing perestroika and glasnost, and the Soviet system on the brink, Fukuyama posited that the imminent collapse of global communism, and the defeat of German fascism in the last half of the twentieth century, heralded humanity’s rejection of twentieth century grand schemes of social engineering and totalitarianism in preference for the ideals of liberal representative democracy. Fukuyama suggested that the world had taken Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini for a test drive, but opted for Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. His analysis elicited some very negative retorts; among many accusations, he was said to be blindly advocating a global system that privileged the USA and former imperial powers of ‘old Europe.’ Fukuyama insists that he was misunderstood, and accurately identified Hegel and Marx as originators of the ‘end of history’ analysis that describes inevitable (at least to the likes of Hegel and Marx) processes led by emerging bourgeois societies.

In Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama undertakes a further explanation — and perhaps a correction of sorts — of his post-Cold War argument. Its global scope is admirable, but the argument demonstrates its most evident strengths when Fukuyama focuses on the United States. (Born in Chicago, Fukuyama currently teaches at Stanford University.) In looking at the US, he advances some very unconventional thinking — at least for someone once considered to be an intellectual lion of the American right. Charting the historic role of a depoliticized civil service in fulfilling vital administrative tasks of government, Fukuyama makes useful comparisons between administrative institutions of government in countries influenced by either British parliamentary practice, or the American and French revolutions.

For instance, his analysis of the emergence of the US Forest Service, as an example of a body of professional bureaucrats at least temporarily decoupled from political expediency, patronage and lobbying, is fascinating and instructive. Also, his glance at attempts at railway regulation at the beginning of the twentieth century usefully foreshadows clumsy attempts in our own era to regulate telecommunication industries and the Internet. Fukuyama regards an independent bureaucracy — dedicated to serving all citizens — as a democratic bulwark. If he was once a Republican apologist, Fukuyama’s Republicanism goes back to the almost red Tory domestic policies and public duty of a Teddy Roosevelt. This ain’t no Tea Party.

Perhaps most thought provoking in his consideration of political decay in the US. He examines a system of checks and balances run amuck in which a surfeit of interest groups, lobbyists and lawyers create gridlock and stifle democracy while claiming to act in its name. His description of American “vetocracy” in which political actors, including the President, lack effectively representative (but reasonably constrained) decision-making power does not generate optimism in an age of climate change and Ebola outbreaks.

Francis Fukuyama is a contemporary political philosopher to be reckoned with. He has produced an intellectually valid yet readable work that draws on a myriad of examples — and a deep reading of his philosophical underpinnings. At times the book may suffer from being overly ambitious in its reach, but most readers, regardless of their political leanings, will find that Political Order and Political Decay challenges and provokes their thinking.

JAMES CULLINGHAM is a journalism professor at Seneca College in Toronto, and documentary film maker; his most recent film is In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey. James recently received his doctoral degree in history from York University, Toronto, with a thesis entitled “Scars of Empire: A Juxtaposition of Duncan Campbell Scott and Jacques Soustelle.”

This review first appeared in The Journal of Wild Culture.

 

Toronto Mayoral Debate 04/09/14

Toronto Region Board of Trade and The Globe And Mail newspaper sponsored the latest Toronto mayoral candidate debate yesterday. I watched it live on-line.

A bit of context for Canadians not living  in Toronto and those outside Canada:  many of you know of our city in recent years primarily because of Mayor Rob Ford.  His misadventures are well chronicled elsewhere. For immediate purposes know this.  Ford, whose political career would have ended in disgrace months ago in many jurisdictions, remains mayor of Toronto albeit with curtailed powers. He is also a viable candidate for re-election.

As for yesterday’s debate:

John Tory, an experienced broadcaster-business person-politician, did well. It’s as if he’s suddenly on political steroids. Good to see him being energetic and (amazingly) funny.

Lamentably, Ford did well (again.) He has the corporate, right-wing populist thing down to a T-dot. He’s overtly ant-intellectual, aggressive and refers to himself in the 3rd person like a professional athlete. His approach will continue to work with significant numbers of the disaffected and angry. The good news is that he did not flat out win this debate as he had done previously (very evident to those who watched.)

Olivia Chow who gave up a seat in the Canadian parliament to seek election as mayor seems about to make herself an also ran. She thinks being nice will make her mayor. Odd because her late husband Jack Layton, NDP leader and briefly federal opposition leader before his untimely death in 2011, was, among many other things, a tough, but usually fair and rational, political street fighter of the first water. Like Layton, Chow had a previous  career in Toronto municipal politics, the milieu where the couple met and first worked together.

Entrepreneur and former city councillor David Soknacki is smart and well informed but irrelevant.  Someone should tell him acronyms are meaningless to most people.

So…unless Chow throws her support to Tory in the next few weeks, it could shape up to a tight two person race. Team Ford clearly wants and expects a duel with Tory. Who better to slander with their ‘elitist’ tag?

 A poll from earlier this week showing Tory with a substantial lead is one of a kind. If that’s a trend, good. However, most polls that I have seen show Tory leading Ford by 3-5 points – that’s almost a statistical tie.

Scariest ‘take away’ from yesterday’s debate: addiction, homophobia, serial lying and misogyny are not at issue. Only in fordlandia.

It says here Ford can still win because he can out campaign and out bully Tory from here to the finish line.

Worth Repeating (1)

From Marcus Gee, The Globe And Mail, Toronto in regards to Rob Ford and the polity that spawned him:

“Despite everything that has happened over the past year, there have been few examples of open public outrage at the humiliation and turmoil Rob Ford has visited on the city. Where are the marches and demonstrations? Where is the outcry from leaders of the business, the universities or the arts?

A city like New York or Chicago would long ago have found a way to hustle a person such as Mr. Ford off the stage. In Toronto, we sigh and wait for someone to do something.”

Ontario Provincial Election 2014

This election provides further proof that campaigns matter. It was lost by the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives more than it was won by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Wynne’s Liberals had been been in power for 11 years. The government she inherited from former premier Dalton McGuinty was tainted by serial scandals.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP and humiliated, now outgoing PC Tim Hudak join the likes of British Columbia’s Adrian Dix and Québec’s Pauline Marois in the annals of Canadian PoliSci101 under the rubric ‘how not to wage a provincial election campaign.’

Says here that Ms. Horwath was correct to defeat the Liberals in the legislature. She then proceeded to conduct a thick-headed campaign. For example, her NDP once had some environmental credibility. Promising to reduce car insurance rates for urban drivers in the era of climate change? Good social democratic and environmental policy, Ms. Horwath!

Further, like the governing Grits and the diminished Tories, Horwath’s NDP stands for a separate, publicly funded, Catholic school system in Ontario. For the NDP, a self-described social democratic movement aimed at equitable use of taxpayers’ money, this is an aching policy contradiction. In Ontario politics, the silence around this issue, resolved long ago in some Canadian jurisdictions, is deafening. Former provincial PC leader John Tory (now a Toronto mayoral candidate) once proposed an ill-conceived, but much fairer arrangement. It cost him an election. No ‘major party’ leader has gone near the matter since. In this election, among significant parties only the Greens stood for a secular school system.

Other ‘takeaways’:

1. slightly more than 50% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s grim news. As an educator, I observed scant awareness and interest in the election among the college and university students I teach. Troubling.

2. I agree with those who are suggesting that Ontarians deserves a pat on the back for not making Premier Wynne’s sexual orientation an issue. Kudos.

3. As a bilingual Ontarian, I suggest that the lack of French in the campaign, in a province with a sizeable Francophone population, was lamentable. Neither Horwath nor Hudak bothered to say a word en français as they bowed out last night. Wynne’s efforts to use French, even though she speaks it poorly, are commendable. Keep it up, Ms. Wynne. One day you might speak it as well as Stephen Harper!

4. Speaking of Prime Minister Harper. Last night’s result could be good news for him. Like neighbouring Québécois, Ontarians often choose balance in provincial – federal power. As Ontario’s debt and de-industrializing realities continue to take hold in the next year or so, Wynne’s government could well make some unpopular choices. That might just provide an opportunity for Harper’s Tories in the 2015 federal election.

 

John Fahey documentary everywhere!

AVAILABLE AROUND THE PLANET!

As you might be aware, Tamarack Productions released In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey in 2012. I’m happy to report that the film is now available in various formats all over Planet Earth. This follows a fabulous Festival run in countries including Argentina, Australia, Denmark, France, Italy and throughout the Canada, the UK and the USA.

In Canada + USA on iTunes.

Download elsewhere from MusicFilmWeb

http://musicfilmweb.tv/film/in-search-of-blind-joe-death-the-saga-of-john-fahey

DVDs with EXTRAS First Run Features USA

http://firstrunfeatures.com/johnfaheydvd.html

VTape in Canada

http://www.vtape.org/video?vi=7781

Reviews

“If you didn’t already admire Fahey’s music, you may be searching for more of it after seeing this documentary.” -The New York Times

“”Excellent! Newcomers and fans alike will find a lot to treasure here.” -Film Journal

“Eclectic, haunting, engaging.” -The Village Voice

“As spare and intimate and engaging as some of Fahey’s finest recordings.” -Willamette Weekly

“Mesmerizing.” -This Week in New York

“In Search of Joe Blind Death is an admirable success. John Fahey, heavy-lidded eyes and Muppet-like voice, stays weird (and weirdly fascinating) throughout.” -Cinema Sentries

“The documentary casts a lingering spell, drawing you into its richly textured reveries with gorgeous new cinematography, archival footage, current-day storytellers and even artful animation.”-Blues Rag

“This guitar master combined folk, blues, avant-garde, and ambient music into an otherworldly style, inspiring everyone from Sonic Youth to Sufjan Stevens.” -Pitchfork

Follow us!

Twitter @JohnFaheyfilm

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/In-Search-of-Blind-Joe-Death-The-Saga-of-John-Fahey/363977931483?ref=ts&fref=ts

Enjoy!

James Cullingham, director/producer

25 Years of Tamarack Productions 1989-2014

Greetings & Salutations from Toronto!

Pleased to let all know that 2014 marks 25 years for Tamarack Productions. The company began in 1989 to produce the documentary series As Long As The Rivers Flow about Aboriginal issues in Canada. Our current productionIn Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey has been screened on four continents, aired on BBC and will be coming soon to iTunes.

It’s been a good trip so far! To mark our 25th anniversary, we introduce a new website. Thanks to Jamie Chirico of Toronto for her design chops.J

Welcome to the Super Bowl - Richard Sherman

“I don’t hate it enough not to love it.” So said a wag about professional football earlier in the 2013-2014 National Football League (NFL) season. The remark followed a barrage of stories about concussions and the news broke of murder charges against one time New England Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez. The statement well expresses the love/hate relationship the thinking NFL fan (such as this writer) has with the sport. It features many of the world’s greatest athletes in a brilliantly marketed display of imponderable skill and sometimes frightening violence. On the field and off its young stars often behave as rich, absurdly privileged athletes who put their health at stake for their livelihood are wont to do. It’s not always pretty.

The incidence of concussions and the severity of other injuries underscores a fundamental truth about the NFL: if you play, you will get hurt.  Those of us who watch the NFL regularly live with an uneasy contradiction. We enjoy a brutal game which can inflict permanent physical and mental damage on its participants.

The NFL is far and away America’s most popular professional sport. Major League Baseball still lays claim to the moniker of being “America’s pastime,” but audiences for the NFL swamp that of both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). In the United States, the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) are sideshows in comparison.

On the eve of Super Bowl week, one name has cut through all the noise and chatter about the NFL for football fan and non-football fan alike: Richard Sherman.

A week ago, Sherman made an extraordinarily athletic and exquisitely timed deflection to break up what would have been a last gasp, game-winning pass from the San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick to his receiver Michael Crabtree. Watching that play in slow motion is like watching the athlete as Nureyev. With the game on the line, Sherman elevated himself far off the ground while running at full speed and artfully raised one hand to deflect the ball away from Crabtree and into the hands of Sherman’s teammate for a game winning interception. Sherman made a breathtakingly superb play. But the real drama was yet to come. Sherman, to use the vernacular, proceeded to go off on prime time TV. First he made a choke sign with his hands around his neck while glowering at Kaepernick the San Francisco star who had just been victimized – not by his own bad play, but by a superior one from Sherman. Sherman then visibly taunted a disconsolate Crabtree slapping him on the bum and screaming into the ear hole of his helmet. In return, Sherman received a poke in the face-mask from Crabtree. Sherman was penalized for his taunt, but with 22 seconds remaining on the clock, all his Seattle Seahawks needed to do was run out the clock to victory and a berth in the Super Bowl.

Things took a bizarre turn when the game ended. FOX television had angled to interview Sherman live on the field before the players returned to their dressing rooms. The play-by-play announcers introduced broadcaster Erin Andrews standing by in a mêlée of players, team officials and camera people with a dreadlocked, helmetless Sherman for his instant post-game comments. Instead of humbly thanking the lord and his teammates in the well rehearsed and terminally boring patter practised by many professional athletes, Sherman bellowed that he was the best defender in the NFL, that the 49ers were stupid to challenge him and that Crabtree was a chump who got what he deserved. A visibly shaken Ms. Andrews stepped back from the voluble Mr. Sherman and gave the spotlight back to the lads upstairs. It was extraordinary unscripted television. For what it’s worth, Sherman is African American. Ms. Andrews is Caucasian and considerably smaller. In their brief interview, Sherman appeared almost deranged, extremely angry, arrogant and, frankly, more than a little frightening. His appearance immediately sparked a firestorm in the Twittersphere and about 72 hours of blanket coverage in sports and news coverage across the United States, Canada and beyond.

Hours later Sherman penned “For Those Who Think I’m A Thug or Worse…” an article for si.com, the hugely popular Sports Illustrated website. Sherman has been an occasional si.com contributor throughout the season. A calm, reflective Sherman explained his actions as part of the heat of the game, “To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.” The next day, Sherman held court in a press conference. He was rational, articulate and basically non-contrite. In contrast to his outburst with the unfortunate Andrews, Sherman exhibited some warmth and considerable intelligence. In sum, this is one complex and often extremely media savvy dude. I suspect he will have the charm offensive in full gear on media day prior to the Super Bowl.

I say thanks to Richard Sherman. He gave us a pull-back-the-curtains-on-the-Wizard glimpse into the NFL. It’s a tough game played by very tough men. However distasteful his triumphal, adrenaline stoked, macho outburst to Andrews was, it’s refreshing that he did not merely fall on his sword afterward in a pathetic, well-rehearsed apology. Sherman said in effect, ‘it’s all part of the game, man – play on!’ By accounts of those who work with him, including Peter King, Sherman’s editor at si.com and a justifiably respected dean of football writers, Sherman actually is an exceptionally bright young man who happens to be a great football player.

Off the field, management of NFL teams, the players themselves and television networks generally manage to present an image of fine young men that’s often at odds with the realities of a brutal, extravagantly financed game. Not all its athletes are stellar citizens. Imagine that. Whatever Sherman’s crimes are, surely they pale in comparison to other events surrounding the NFL this season. The aforementioned Hernandez stands accused of murder. Days prior to the Seahawks’ victory over the 49ers, former star defensive back and broadcaster Darren Sharper was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of rape. Reports state that New Orleans police are also investigating Sharper for sexual assault.

Oliver Stone’s feature film Any Given Sunday as well as the feature and seriesFriday Night Lights from producer/director Peter Berg illuminate the realities of football as an essential aspect of deep America from dusty high school fields in Texas to the professional gridiron. In his recent outburst Richard Sherman gave us a strong dose of the raw reality behind the usual NFL marketing and spin.

- This article was originally published by The Journal of Wild Culture. -

http://www.wildculture.com/article/richard-sherman-being-himself/1357

In Search of Blind Joe Death - year in review

It’s been a wonderful year. In 2013 In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey screened in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, the United States and Uruguay.

The film was broadcast in Canada by Blue Ant Media networks AUX and HIFI and in the UK on BBC Four.

Thanks to audiences everywhere for their amazing support!

The fun resumes January 9, in Cagliari, Sardinia as part of a tour of Italy with screenings and live music which began in early December.

DVDs are available in Canada from VTape.org ; in the USA fromFirstRunFeatures.com ; elsewhere please e-mail info.tamarack@rogers.com

For VOD outside Canada and the USA MusicFilmweb.com

from The Washington Posthttp://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/in-search-of-blind-joe-death-documentary-spotlights-legendary-area-guitarist-john-fahey/2013/10/24/fd22e8b2-3cc8-11e3-b0e7-716179a2c2c7_story.html

The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/nov/26/john-fahey-blues-folk-guitar-pioneer

http://www.johnfaheyfilm.com
Facebook http://on.fb.me/faheyfilm
Twitter @JohnFaheyfilm

 

Best of 2013

Presenting a somewhat random and certainly subjective list of stuff that moved and impressed me most in the past year:

Best rock ‘n roll moment – Patti Smith spits on the Massey Hall stage, Toronto

Best concert – Brian Wilson + Jeff Beck, Sony Centre, Toronto

Runner up – The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Villa Medici, Roma

Best performance – Wilco + Feist + Richard Thompson doing Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto

Best fiction films – Blue Jasmine; Gravity; Philomena; Prisoners; Unforgiven (Japanese version)

Best actors – Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis); Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners); Ken Watanabe (Unforgiven)

Best actresses – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Judy Dench (Philomena), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

Best nonfiction film – El Alcalde http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2248996/

Best Canadian Journalism – The Toronto Star for its coverage of Rob Ford

Best Canadian social sciences peer reviewed article – Ian Mosby,“Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952″ Histoire sociale/Social history, Volume 46, Number 91, Mai-May 2013

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014!

Thinking of Rob Ford

As Rob Ford careers along his disastrous course, people the world over ask themselves, ‘What the heck is going on in Toronto?’ How could a city touted as a global model of good sense, safe streets and multiculturalism elect an unsavory buffoon like Ford as mayor? As a citizen of Toronto for most of my life, I shall attempt to respond.

First an etymological note: a few days after the events of November 18th, by which time Ford’s powers and budget had been seriously contained by city council, I dare say the coast is clearing somewhat. BRAVO, city council! Consequently, I have personally chosen to restore to the city its proper name , Toronto. ‘otnorot’ – which I’ve employed for the last year or so as the Ford catastrophe gathered momentum was chosen to suggest the backward state of our politics. I hereby set it aside. Hopefully, for good.

A wee summary of events for international readers. Ford, a long-serving city councilperson, was elected mayor in 2010. He replaced the outgoing mayor by campaigning on a tax cutting, pro-automobile campaign. His rule has been controversial all the while due to his strong views and belligerence. He withstood a conflict of interest civil suit. In May 2013, a video was shown to some members of the media that seemed to show Ford smoking crack cocaine. He denied the allegation. In recent weeks, Toronto police acknowledged the video’s existence and revealed they had been investigating Ford’s ties to criminals. Within days, Ford admitted to smoking the crack and drunk driving. He instantly became an international news phenomenon. He refuses to resign, but Toronto city council has severely limited his authority.

The gong show that provided fodder to comics and, found its way to international newscasts and late night American talk shows has abated for now. However, the positive developments of the past week do not mean that Ford is gone. I’m somewhat disturbed that the mayor’s antics provided comic relief. There’s nothing funny about Ford’s record on public transportation and affordable housing. The fact appears to be that his core supporters are sticking with him even though city council, including the majority of his principal allies, have deserted him. He adamantly refuses to step aside, even temporarily. It would appear that unless he is charged with a criminal offence or his health fails, he will be running for re-election in October 2014. More disturbingly, polls released in recent days suggest that he retains significant popular approval. Huh? Yes, you read correctly. Rob Ford, now exposed as a serial liar, having admitted to smoking crack cocaine and driving a car under the influence of alcohol while in office, retains an approval rating of just over 40 per cent.

How do we make sense of this? Jerôme Lussier with l’actualité, a French language Canadian magazine, has argued that Ford presents a particular sort of political attraction. (http://bit.ly/1e95Doo) Rather than offering voters a vision of something bigger and better than themselves, Ford’s very appeal is based in his loutish, inarticulate, ill-disciplined, taunting, uncivil manner. His political essence perhaps encourages voters to subconsciously feel that their own weaknesses and their own anger at shadowy elites are OK. His banality appeals.

Ford taps a resentment of elites even though he personally is privileged. People don’t want to believe that strong man politics works, but obviously it can. In his bumptious way, Ford exhibits some of the bullying, resilient characteristics of right-wing populism that produces a Berlusconi or even Mussolini during his rise to power. Such politicians can muster enormous support and devotion among their followers. Ford is a Toronto mutation of the theme. In his 2010 campaign, Ford made false claims about the level of immigration in Toronto. He was caught in lies about previous problems with alcohol and marijuana and about a public confrontation at a professional hockey game. He won the election.

The mystery of his appeal may also lie in some other unpleasant truths about Toronto. Ford reflects powerful sentiments of anti-environmentalism. While teaching at the University of Toronto, the great cultural theorist and scholar Northrop Frye wrote about ‘a garrison mentality’ at work in the collective Canadian psyche. I suspect that the impulse remains operational in Toronto and can provide for political success. In that 2010 election, Ford campaigned overtly against the expansion of effective public transportation and improving conditions for bicyclists.

In fact, Ford’s overt campaign against above-ground public transportation is one reason for the support he continues to enjoy. Toronto is a city of car addicts. The use of public transportation is a marker of class distinction in a way it no longer is in London, Paris or New York. Even avowed environmentalists routinely use cars in the downtown area. Ford and his ilk stoke the perception that public transportation is for the poor. The message is simple: if you’re a winner, you drive a fossil fuel burning car. In this respect, Ford’s signature shiny black Cadillac Escalade sports utility vehicle means he’s not so much an exception as an exemplar of deeply held civic mores and economic ambitions.

Unlike Copenhagen or Montréal, Toronto is distinctly unfriendly to the bicyclist despite enjoying favourable weather for about eight months of the year. There is precisely one street in the downtown core with a safe dedicated bike lane. Like the solitary wind turbine just west of downtown, that lonely bike lane bears testimony to a city where environmentalism is often more marketing tool and political rhetoric than a lived experience. In that light, it’s not surprising that Rob Ford found fertile ground for his mayoral ambitions.

In addition to dismissing bicyclists as losers, Ford also made political hay in opposing a fully funded proposal for light rail transit (LRT) to Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto, in favour of a subway. The plan that Ford quashed would have seen that LRT already under construction with a proposed completion date of 2015. The new subway plan that he championed will not be completed until at least 2023, at a much greater cost and requiring a municipal tax hike. Yet, Ford is lauded by himself and his supporters a champion of the taxpayer’s best interest. Tellingly, Ford did not act alone in this subway fiasco. Council helped him reverse earlier plans. The same Liberal provincial government that now has taken its distance from Ford over his personal misbehaviour cynically supported his subway plan in order to win a by-election in the area. In 2013 in Toronto politics, that kind of thinking that says that  ‘roads are for cars and trucks’ is a winning strategy – with or without Ford.

First time visitors to the city who are  flying in from abroad are often surprised to learn there is no rail link between the airport and the city. As they enter the downtown area via limousine or taxi along a crumbling elevated expressway, they will pass by, to these eyes,  a rapidly expanding, hideous array of steel and glass condos and office towers that crowd the shore of Lake Ontario cutting the lake from sight of average Toronto citizens. Such developments are precisely the visible signs of supposed economic progress that fuel the politics of a Rob Ford. Garrison mentality indeed.

There is much to like about Toronto. We enjoy relative multicultural harmony. The arts scene is exciting. Our streets are extraordinarily safe and peaceful by global standards. Unlike some American cities, Toronto has many fine, diverse neighbourhoods in the downtown area. This was true before Ford’s 2010 election and remains so. What has been lost due to Ford? Meaningful progress on public transportation has been severely curtailed. A tone of civility and intelligence has been tarnished as a bullying, antagonistic style of leadership found a path to political success.

There’s no question that Ford is weakened…at least for now. Even the governing federal Canadian Tories have cut bait. Employment Minister Jason Kenney, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most trusted colleagues and an architect of the Conservatives’ successful wooing of voters in immigrant communities in the Toronto suburbs, asked Ford to resign. In his remarks en français, Kenney called the Ford situation “bordélique” which means extremely slovenly and inappropriate, but translates literally as ‘like a bordello’. A few days earlier, Harper had released a statement that called the Ford matter “troubling”.

Ford recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that he had experienced a ‘Jesus moment’ and that voters would be presented with a new man in time for his 2014 campaign for re-election. The potential redemption of Rob Ford will focus the challenge of the true meaning and real appeal of his politics. From my vantage point, the outcome is very uncertain.

-30-

This article was originally published in The Journal of Wild Culturehttp://www.wildculture.com/article/understanding-rob-ford-political-animal/1332

En

Brian Wilson + Jeff Beck, Sony Centre, Toronto 26/10/13

This was a marvelous, even astonishing, concert – a marriage of experimentalism and pure pop genius. Some delights: multi-part vocal harmonies layered in Beck instrumentals; and Beck’s guitar replacing lead vocal parts on passages of Wilson’s masterwork “Smile.” I suspect some critics will attack the concept as just too loopy. I wouldn’t agree.

Beck remains a guitar powerhouse. His “Little Wing” and “A Day in the Life” will reverberate in my ears and soul for many a day to come.

The erstwhile Beach Boys Al Jardine and David L. Marks added a distinctive flavour to sometimes  seven part harmonies by the 11 piece band doing BB classics. during the Wilson set.  This band just flat rocks out and sings beautifully. The late Dennis Wilson’s “Little Bird”, sung by Marks, and a heavy duty “Sail on Sailor” with Brian Wilson in full rock ‘n roll voice were highlights.

The bands combined for about 45 minutes of a concert that was well over 2 hours in length. The challenging material worked best. It would have been great to hear Jeff Beck on some of Wilson’s re-interpretations of Gershwin tunes. Also, it disappointed mildly that Beck did not essay the classic instrumentals from “Pet Sounds”.

Overall however, this was a musical night to remember. Two legends surrounded by brilliant musicians finding new means to challenge each other and satisfy a very appreciative audience.

 

John Fahey documentary UPDATE Autumn 2013

Autumnal Greetings from Tamarack Productions World HQ!!!

Pleased to offer this wee update on the continuing progress of In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey

This evening the film screens for a fourth time in the past year in London, UK  at Goldsmiths, University of London. The film will be followed by live music and a discussion with a music journalist and anthropologist.

The film appears at WOMEX World Music Expo in Cardiff, Wales, Oct. 23-27.

The doc is slated for broadcast by BBC4 in December.

The USA theatrical release continues with upcoming screenings in California, Massachusetts, New Mexico and North Carolina. (We at World HQ are particularly excited about the Albuquerque screening – that city is also the title of our favourite Neil Young song!) Our John Fahey film is screened in tandem with Approximately Nels Cline, a  fine film about the guitarist Cline.
http://www.firstrunfeatures/guitarinnovators

An Italian tour of the film begins in Rome on November 14 and Udine on December 13 with a Verona screening date TBA.

We will soon confirm dates for screenings in Pune, India. Stay tuned.

The film appears this month in Montevideo, Uruguay as it continues its journey with BAFICI Itinerante, a touring best of Festival from BAFICI 2013 (Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema) where the film had its South American premiere in April.

Closer to home, the film will screen at Toronto Reel Indie Film Festival RiFF on October 19.

The DVD with extras including performances by Fahey, Chris Funk of The Decemberists, vinyl maven Joe Bussard and an extended interview segment with Pete Townshend will be available in mid-November.
Canada – VTape
USA – First Run Features
Other territories –  Tamarack Productions

We salute you!

Happy trails,
James Cullingham
director/producer
In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey
http://www.johnfaheyfilm.com
Facebook http://on.fb.me/faheyfilm
Twitter @JohnFaheyfilm
http://www.tamarackproductions.com

John Fahey film opening in NYC 16/08/13

COME SEE OUR FILM IN NEW YORK CITY!!! “In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey” starts its American theatrical run at Cinema Village in Greenwich Village August 16-22. Our effort is twinned with a boffo film about guitarist Nels Cline.

If you’re in NYC, I hope to see you over the weekend of the 16th. If you’re not in those environs, please tell every living soul you know near NYC about it!!! If you’re aware of a potential USA booking, contact Paul Marchant paul@firstrunfeatures.com Please “friend” the page on Facebook http://on.fb.me/faheyfilm and Twitter away @JohnFaheyFilm Here’s the skinny on the USA release:

http://firstrunfeatures.com/guitarinnovators/

Ciao,

James Cullingham

director.producer,executive producer In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey

Tamarack Productions, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Planet Earth.

Blind Joe Death Goes Abroad

In Search of Blind Joe Death – The Saga of John Fahey, Tamarack Productions documentary film about the late American guitarist, composer, author and provocateur, continues to gain international attention. In April, the film will have its South American premiere at the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) and will also screen at the Belfast Film Festival in Northern Ireland. Last month, it was shown at the Glasgow Film Festival.

In the summer, the film will screen in Madrid at the Transmissions Film and Music Festival; at La chaise (les tabourets) in Paris; and in Copenhagen at the Danish Film Institute/Cinematheque. It will also be featured at the Revelation Perth Film Festival in Australia. Additional screenings are anticipated in Australia.

This follows a string of screenings in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Blind Joe Death had its world premiere at Raindance Film Festival in London; its Canadian premiere at Vancouver International Film Festival; and the USA premiere at Mill Valley Film Festival near San Francisco. The film will be shown on BBC next autumn. In Canada, it will be broadcast by networks of Blue Ant Media. The film was produced with the creative participation of  the School of Creative Arts and Animation of Seneca College of Toronto

Fahey (1939-2001) is known as the godfather of American primitive guitar. His approach to blues, Brazilian, Appalachian, European classical, Gothic industrial ambiance and Indian music influenced many musicians including Pete Townshend of The Who, Joey Burns of Calexico and Chris Funk of The Decemberists who all appear in the film.

Canadian distribution: V Tape. USA: First Run Features. UK/Europe/Australia bookings: a better noise, Newcastle upon Tyne.

For further information contact:

James Cullingham director/producer

James.tamarack@rogers.com (416)312-1841

www.johnfaheyfilm.com

Facebook http://on.fb.me/faheyfilm

Twitter @JohnFaheyFilm

Best of 2012

This is somewhat random in that the following is restricted to what I saw and read. So while this is hardly an exhaustive selection, I suggest all these works merit our careful attention.

If you’ll indulge me further, here’s the best of what I saw or read in 2012:

Best feature film“The Master”, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson; strong runner-up “Argo” ,dir. Ben Affleck (the new Clint Eastwood).

Best non-fiction film: “Cuates de Australia” dir, Everardo Gonz (“Drought”en inglés) – a documentary about a community in northern México besieged by drought and globalization; runner-up “The Law In These Parts” dir. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz – a courageous, intellectually rigorous film in which the director stages a devastatingly clever mock trial of the very Israeli jurists and military governors who have built ‘legal’ bulwarks to justify Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967.

Best Fiction Book: “War and Peace”, Leo Tolstoy. I finally read it this year. Having done so, I figure it would be the best novel any year since Leo coughed it up in 1869 except perhaps “Madame Bovary” or “Oliver Twist”. Tolstoy manages to describe the most intimate and sweeping epochal events of human experience simultaneously. He was a genius. His novel about Napoleon’s doomed invasion of Russia reads like an account of current events.

Best Non-Fiction book“A Geography of Blood – Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape”, by Candace Savage. The sort of  history/geography/environmental study Canadians and Americans generally don’t want to know about told with great verve. In this case, people are reading it. Ms. Savage is winning awards. Her slim, powerful, elegantly written and researched effort is truly mind expanding.  “There are a lot of things nobody talks about in the imposition of colonial power.” -Keith Bell, companion of Candace Savage-

Walter Lewis Robbins, 1926-2012 Long may he run!

Walter Lewis Robbins died on Wednesday, July 18 2012 in a Kingston, Ontario hospice. He was lovingly surrounded by his family.

Walter was my father-in-law. I admire him hugely. Walter was an unrepentant social democrat, a wondrous fiddler, an environmentalist, husband, father and grandfather.

Walt and the family moved to Canada from Washington D.C. after the election of Richard Nixon. He had served as a civil servant in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In Winnipeg, he first put his War on Poverty experience to work for the NDP government of Ed Schreyer. Walter Robbins was among those gifted, left-leaning Americans of conscience who came to Canada during the Nixon and Vietnam war eras. He made a significant contribution to Canada where he lived for 40 years.

He was a wonderful father-in-law to me. Thank-you, Walter. Peace and love.

Robbie Robertson "how to become clairvoyant"

Overdue, but what the heck, good music always deserves a nod:

Regarding Robbie Robertson’s CD from last year, “how to become clairvoyant” – after a careful listening or six, what’s revealed, to me, at least: “When The Night Was Young” just might be his best post-Band song; “Tango for Django” is great. I wish he’d make an instrumental album! At the same time, it must be said that his singing throughout is often quite affecting, even just right. For those who grew up with the tremendous vocal solo work by his mates and harmonization in The Band, who knew? Finally, I’m delighted to report that Robertson finally nixed the gauze-like production value that mars some of his earlier solo work. I can hear his guitars!!!! Pick on Robbie, pick on!