Oscars 2021 – International Features

They used to call this foreign language films, I believe, but now they’re International Features. This year there were 5 nominees. Four were excellent, one was a turkey. They gave the Oscar to the turkey. And that makes me mad, so I’ll do it last.

First, “Better Days” is a Chinese film about bullying. Two young bullied protagonists, both very alone in the world, find and comfort each other until things get very complicated and someone (a bully) dies. They stick together and lie for each other, but ultimately the truth comes out and both do time in prison. Their loyalty to each other never wavers. It’s a brutal but sweet film that flashes forward into their post-prison life, teaching and protecting kids against bullying.

Still image from Better Days

Collective” is actually a documentary, but was nominated also as an International Feature, and deservedly so. I’m tempted to plagiarize the Roger Eberts review which spells it all out in riveting detail, but the long and short is that there was a big nightclub fire in which many people were killed, but many more were injured — burned, specifically — and many of them started dying in hospital. Why? Infections. Why so many infections? Improperly diluted cleaning products, which meant the hospitals were unsafe for everyone, not only burn patients. Why? Contracts. Corruption. All the way up and down the power structures of hospital and government. We learn all of this bit by bit, revelation by revelation. The government falls, a provisional government comes in to try to clean things up, but … wow. A really powerful film, not to be missed. You can watch it on Netflix or Online.

Still image from Collective with subtitle: “another 37 die after the fire.”

Quo Vadis, Aida?” is another one to challenge your worldview. This one is set in Bosnia towards the end of the conflict, when the UN tries, but ultimately fails, to protect Srebrenica from Serbian occupation. The lead character is a woman who has been working as a translator for the UN forces throughout the conflict, and tries to trade on that service to win safety for her family members as things come crashing down. It has infuriating and heart-stopping moments, and the impending sense of doom is palpable. She survives although her family members do not. And then, what does one do? One has to live, after all … Watch it on Amazon Prime or ???

Still from Quo Vadis, Aida?

The Man who sold his skin” tackles another confict zone, Syria this time, and the story of a young man and his girlfriend who are parted by conflict and social pressures. He flees to Beirut, she marries the man her parents have picked out for her. Then he meets an artist who “makes worthless things valuable just by signing them” — and he wants to sign the young man’s back. Is selling his skin the same as selling his soul? He doesn’t think so, and then he does, then he doesn’t. Through plot twists, humiliations and dilemmas, the story unwinds and in the end nobody dies. The main “villain” is the art-buying world of super-wealthy collectors who can and will buy whatever they want, including a human being if that’s where the art is. This was a very entertaining and well-made film. There are various ways to watch it.

Still from “The Man who sold his Skin”

And now for the turkey. “Another Round” is a Danish film about how much Danes love alcohol. Four male high-school teachers facing mid-life crisis make the decision to experiment with the theory of some “philosopher” that people have an alcohol deficit in their blood, and that in order to cure life’s discontent and boredom, all that is needed is to bring that alcohol level up every day, starting with breakfast. We were introduced to this film by TIFF artistic director, Cameron Bailey, who loved the film — and we really like him and trust his judgement, but on this one, he totally missed the mark. If you enjoy watching films about people drinking themselves senseless, there are better ones out there with more insightful characters behaving more thoughtfully. These guys just get plastered and pissed and justify themselves doing it. They like alcohol better than their wives, better than their jobs, better than their children, better than — well, anything. One ends up dead. The other three are among his pallbearers. And after the funeral they have to decide — keep drinking or stop? Of course they choose to keep drinking, and we’re supposed to think that’s not only okay but praiseworthy. But I couldn’t shake the face of Brett Kavanaugh declaring his love for beer during the hearing prompted by Christine Blasey-Ford’s accusation of sexual assault. And I couldn’t forget the story of Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan in A Promising Young Woman, whose best friend died after a drunken party at university. And I couldn’t help thinking about commercials from MADD, all the people missing from birthday parties and important life events because some jerk decided to drive drunk. Did it deserve the Oscar? Absolutely NOT. In my humble opinion.

Well, that’s a downer note to end on, but I wanted to get it out of my system. Now I’ve done it and I’ve earned the title of grumpy old baptist!! And I don’t care. I don’t really think it’s my baptist background, but I don’t find it funny, charming or interesting, so that’s that.

I won’t write up the main-stream movies, so I’ll wrap up my Oscar wrap-up there. Not sure what I’ll find blog-worthy next, but do stay tuned!

And if you’re not vaccinated yet, get vaccinated!! (Catherine and I got the Moderna shot. Hurrah!)

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Oscar thoughts and reviews – The Shorts

Did you watch the Oscars this year? (Those of you who don’t like movies or movie reviews can skip this post!) Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about every film in every category, just touch some highlights and warnings.

Most people would start with the “big” films, but I’ll start with the shorts, since they are my favourite feature of the Oscars every year. They’re almost always made with so much passion and so much heart, and yet they are so neglected. In order for you to see them you have to go to “Shorts TV” and pay to see them packaged in two separate films, which you can bundle for $20. to see the Live Action Shorts and the Animated Shorts.

“If Anything Happens, I Love You”. Catherine captured these images on our TV
The final image is full of hope and healing.

The Oscar definitely went to the best film nominated in the Animated Short category, the brilliant “If anything happens, I love you” by Will McCormack and Michael Govier (USA). The mostly black and white shadow animations tell the story of two parents grieving the loss of their daughter killed in a school shooting. How an animator can tell such a gut-wrenching and heartbreaking story with such gentleness and compassion in such a short time and with such economy of means leaves me awestruck. The four other films in the category this year were worth watching, but less brilliant, in my opinion. “Burrow” was an amusing story about a rabbit who wanted her very own home underground, but kept encountering other animals who wanted to live there too. “Opera” was a concept of the top-down universal economic order, I suppose. “Genius Loci” was, I believe, about a kind of madness. “Yes People” was just too weird. Catherine didn’t even bother to snap a photo!

4 clips from the Animated Shorts: Top left, “If Anything Happens …” Top right: the busy pyramid structure of Opera; Bottom left: from Burrow. Bottom right: from Genius Loci, a wild-haired wild-eyed woman hugs a wild wolf.

In the category of Live Action Shorts, the competition was really stiff!! They could have awarded any one of these five excellent stories and it would have been okay with me.

Feeling Through” was the first film ever to feature a Deaf/Blind actor and I hope it won’t be the last. A late-night chance encounter between a young homeless man and a disabled guy ends up being (just a tiny bit) uplifting for both of them.

Still from Feeling Through

The Letter Room” is about a guy who works in a prison mail room, looking for a way to do good for a lifer and his devoted girlfriend who writes him lovely, erotic letters faithfully, but the results of his well-intended actions are awkward to say the least.

White Eye” features an Israeli guy trying to recover his stolen bicycle from an Eritrean immigrant who bought it on the black market, with tragic results. His white privilege blinds him to the lives he ruins through his single-minded pursuit of “justice”.

The Present” of the title is a refrigerator — a surprise for his wife on their anniversary. His little daughter goes with him to get it and bring it home — shouldn’t have taken more than an hour or so. But there are checkpoints and detentions, and barriers that the fridge won’t fit through. Checkpoint guards indulge in an exercise in pointless cruelty and humiliation. The day is eventually saved by the daughter’s quick thinking, but damage has been done. This Palestinian story was illuminating and infuriating.

Two Distant Strangers” takes place in an American city, and features a handsome young black man and his casual lover waking up after a night of pleasure. But he wakes up with a nightmare of being shot by a cop. And then it happens again. And again. He tries changing his behaviour at several points in the script, attempting to lead to a different outcome, but it seems inevitable.

The Academy awarded the prize to Two Distant Strangers, and I don’t disagree with their choice, but I would have liked to see either The Present or Feeling Through win. I didn’t notice until I was writing it up that the program this year was mostly male stories, but that didn’t affect my appreciation at all.

Finally, the Documentary Shorts featured 5 really strong contenders, and all deserved the recognition that nomination confers. The good news is, you can find these films to watch for free online — just click the link under the name of each film. They’re all about 1/2 hour long.

Colette in conversation with the researcher

The Oscar went to Colette, although I probably would have chosen one of two others. It was an extremely moving story about an elderly woman (90 yrs. old) who goes with the filmmaker from her native France to Germany to visit the concentration camp where her older brother, a French resistance fighter, died at the hands of the Nazis. The film avoids unnecessarily maudlin or graphic details by focussing on Colette herself as she encounters and remembers.

Other nominees:

A Concerto is a Conversation” features another 90-year-old gentleman, grandfather of Black composer Kris Bowers. (Bowers wrote the score for Greenbook.) His grandfather was born in the Jim Crow South and decided as a young boy that as soon as he came of age, he would not stay and let himself be humiliated as he saw his father being humiliated. He left as soon as he could and wound up in Los Angeles, opening a successful business that he still owned and ran as the movie was shot. His steady support for his musically talented grandson was unwavering. He has since died, which makes the film even more poignant. Would have been my first choice, I think.

The Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong

Do Not Split” covers a series of events in the 2019 Hong Kong struggle. Young pro-democracy activists try to come to terms with having been “given away like a sack of potatoes” by the UK to China. Pro-China demonstrators jeer on the sidelines, but they seem to have been hired by the authorities. The demonstrators, so hopeful and idealistic at first, exhibit sadness, exhaustion and a hopeless feeling that the world is not coming to their aid. Heartbreaking. China boycotted the Oscars because of this film and the nomination of Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. One of the protesters, a university student as are most of them, says there is no use planning for a personal future now, since all plans have to be about the resistance to authoritarian rule.

And speaking of heartbreaking, “Hunger Ward” takes us inside a hospital in Yemen dealing with starving children. Upsetting of course, but also informative. One little girl is starving because she has developed gluten sensitivity from all the wheat-based food aid delivered by the UN. This is becoming more common, apparently. She is treated successfully. Many are not. The two women doctors featured are stoical and patient with all, including a grandmother who follows tradition rather than their guidance then blames them when her grandchild dies.

Saudi, supported by the US bears much of the blame for the situation in Yemen. Please support
hungerward.org if you can.

And finally, “A Love Song for Latasha” which you can watch on Neflix if you subscribe. Made by her childhood best friend, this film commemorates the 15-year-old girl who was shot to death by a storekeeper in Los Angeles, sparking the 1992 LA riots. Who was she as an individual? What were her hopes and dreams? “She didn’t want to become just another statistic,” and yet that is what happened. The filmmaker herself had looked into the barrel of that storekeeper’s gun once, and all the kids knew it was a dangerous store, but it was their neighborhood store, so they went there. They were going to become lawyers together. They were going to start a business where the kids didn’t need to be afraid. Latasha was a straight-A student, confident, ambitious. And dead over a $1.79 juice that she had the money to pay for but didn’t get the chance. Oh, the madness of America and its bloody 2nd amendment!!!! Maybe this would have been my first choice after all.

Latasha Harlins

Good thing I didn’t have to choose!!

I’ll wrap up here. The next post will be about the foreign films, about which I have pretty strong feelings — stay tuned!

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Seasonal Thoughts and Wishes

I wrote a Christmas poem and thought I’d share it with you in the form of a video — something I haven’t tried before but will try now. (I can almost hear the groans and see the eyerolls of the kids born knowing how to do this stuff!)

Okay, it worked — Amazing!!!


It’s a bleak COVID Christmas, and all through the house
Kids and adults alike can do nothing but grouse.
They’re mad at each other, they’re mad at the bug,
They’re mad that they can’t give their grandma a hug.

They’ve written to Santa, but haven’t heard back.
They’ve all shopped online, but no colours, just black.
The Amazon boxes are piling up high
The dog and the cat can do nothing but sigh.  

The schools that aren’t closed are reporting new cases.
The schools that are closed are bored with Zoom faces.
The doctors and nurses are way past the point
The public health skeptics are passing a joint.

A few folks put lights up, but most just won’t bother
They don’t look so pretty all soggy with water.
Decorations from last year just sit in their box.
The climate’s a wreck, Uncle Bill’s in detox.

Bells, carols and movies that cheered in the past
Seem dumb and old-fashioned, sentimental and daft.
Hot chocolate and cookies still smell and taste nice
But the kids won’t help bake, won’t get off their device.

So it’s Christmas again, and my wishes are many
Though I’ve not hung a stocking, I’ll share for a penny.
I still wish for world peace, I still wish for joy
I still wish for children to have a new toy.

I wish for more health workers, more PPE.
I wish that American health care was free.
I wish every face would be sporting a mask
I wish for the times Santa bent to his task.

I wish for a myth, a right jolly old elf.
I wish i could laugh hard, in spite of myself.
I wish that eight reindeer could visit my roof
With a vial of vaccine strapped to each hoof.

Now I’ll strap on my bonnet and head off to bed
I’ll hope for some plums dancing round in my head.
I’ll listen for sleigh bells, I’ll sing Peace on Earth.
This pandemic Christmas, I’ll toast to the birth

Of a brand new phenomenon, old as the hills,
A sense of community health and good will.
A spirit of loving, a spirit of giving
A spirit of caring for those who are living

A spirit of mourning for those that we’ve lost.
A spirit of holding them close at all cost.  


The other thing I want to do is share a beautiful song sung by Renee Fleming with Yo-Yo Ma accompanying her on the cello. I find it deeply moving. It’s from an album called Songs of Joy and Peace, featuring a variety of other artists, some that you would know, on different tracks. I want to send this song out to everyone but in particular to four people I know who are each grieving the loss of a husband this sad year. My thoughts go out to Ena, Laredo, Janet and Brenda.

Updated December 20, on hearing about the death of yet another husband, this one the celebrated and internationally renowned Leo Panitch, husband of our dear friend Melanie. Our thoughts are with her in her grief and loss.

Turns out I can’t paste it in here for you — the picture is a screenshot — but I can give you a YouTube link so you can go and listen to it. We learned from the original broadcast of this a few years ago that a magical thing happened in this recording. There were other musicians, bluegrass mandolin artist Chris Thile (pronounced Thee-lee) among them, in the studio waiting their turn to play their piece with Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo invited Thile to play mandolin behind Fleming, then in stroke of genius, to contribute a high vocal line above Renee Fleming’s gorgeous voice, and Thile obliged, even though he doesn’t do this kind of music. The effect was heartbreaking! Listen for him at 1:40 in the YouTube audio track. Follow the link to hear it …

So that’s it for this Christmas post. Catherine and I are well and enjoying our home and location, our peace and joy, our two lovely contented black cats, and our occasional contacts with family and friends on Zoom or Skype or email or whatever. It’s a pandemic. There are vaccines but it will take a while for any feeling of safety to be based in reality. I hope you can find a way to make the holiday beautiful, meaningful, special in whatever way you can. See you next year!

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Wrapping up our TIFF

For those of you who have hung in with me, I’m planning to wind up with this final post. Three days, nine films! So here we go:

Day 8:

Wildfire was a very compelling story about two sisters in “post-troubles” Ireland. One has been away, living a marginal, perhaps homeless, life. Her return is big news in her town and profoundly important and disturbing to her more settled sister. The focus is on their personal story which, while embedded in the Irish Troubles and deeply affected by them, would have been traumatic even in calm political times. The old unspeakable childhood secrets of their mother’s mental illness intrude relentlessly into their adult realities. I would strongly recommend this film which is dedicated to one of the two lead actresses who, sadly, succumbed to cancer after the film was made.

40 Years a Prisoner is a documentary by and about a young man who has dedicated his life to getting his parents and seven of their friends out of prison for “crimes” that might have been dealt with so much differently but for the element of race. His parents had joined a kind of urban hippie commune back in 1960’s Baltimore. There was a cult-like adherence to the beliefs and teachings of the commune founder, and all of the members changed their surname to Africa, so they could all be one happy family. They were all black. Things started going downhill, as happened in so many other communes, urban or rural, black or white, back in those days. The neighbours got nervous, cops were called, a cop got killed, and things came to a hideous end. Loyalty amongst the commune members was absolute and unshakeable, and thus they were ALL convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The young man whose story this is was actually born in prison, then raised by his grandmother on the outside. Love and faith abound in this touching, infuriating story! Highly recommended if you can find it. (It was an HBO production.)

Day 9

Good Joe Bell. In the opening scene, a man walks along the side of a narrow but busy highway,
pushing a baby carriage.

Good Joe Bell was a story about a man trying to do the right thing, trying to make social change, trying to make change inside of himself, trying so hard to come to terms with his own homophobia and the reality of his gay son. It was not the best film of the festival, but it was important and worth seeing. We had a guest for that one.

Our friend Nancy, now from Halifax, used to attend TIFF with Catherine in the olden days. We were delighted to have her company for Good Joe Bell.

True Mothers was a beautiful, poetic, emotionally intense but slow-moving film about motherhood and adoption in contemporary Japan. I would have enjoyed it more had I been fresher and less prone to sleepiness! The lead adult character and her husband had gone through every kind of fertility treatment without success, and they made the decision to explore and eventually to build their family through adoption. The lead adolescent character fell deeply in love with a boy at school, but her pregnancy ended what had seemed like a solid relationship. Her parents are adamant that a 14-year-old must not attempt to raise a child. Six years later, the story unfolds, as the birth mother attempts to reconnect with her child. The pace is glacial, but a warm heart beats at the centre of the story.

Shadow in the Cloud was an impulsive last-minute add-on that we did not regret one little bit. We are NOT pulp fiction or horror fans — this film was both and neither. A very beautiful and plucky young pilot does her damnedest to find a way through some pretty terrifying events at 20,000 feet despite sexist scorn from fellow pilots and some heavy duty enemy bombardment during World War II. There’s a monster and everything!!! As long as you’re in the mood for a movie like this, I would highly recommend it. It’s feminist to the core. Good fun! Could not have been a stronger contrast with the previous film!

Day 10 – Final Day!

Daniel Oyelowo’s debut film, The Water Man, is a sweet adventure movie about a pre-teen youngster coming to terms with a difficult situation. An only child, Gunner is close to his mom and not-so-close to his dad, who would have liked to have a more conventional child, rather than the artistic day-dreamer his son is turning out to be. Mom’s not well, though, and Gunner tries to find a way to make her well through magic. The adventure turns quite dangerous and he and his friend have to be rescued, but in the end, we arrive at a sweet, very sad resolution. A lovely story, well-told. The Q&A was a great way to end the festival.

But then we tacked on Underplayed and learned a whole lot about women, mostly but not all young, who make electronic music but face massive sexism in the music industry — surprise!

And finally, Limbo, a quirky off-beat film about refugees, all single men, from several different countries and cultures being held on a little Scottish island in the middle of nowhere, awaiting processing of their claims. The characters grow on you as the film goes on and you’re really hoping that they’re all successful, but wondering exactly what success is going to look like in each case. Sad and hilarious moments.

Refugees in a Scottish limbo

Thanks to TIFF for taking the big risk of putting the festival online! And thanks to you for joining us on our TIFF journey. I hope you’ll find some of my notes helpful when choosing your entertainment over the next long winter months of relative seclusion as COVID19 rages on.

I’ll be back with new and noteworthy events as they occur. Please stay safe and well!

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TIFF Continued

Thanks for the encouragement! OK, here are some more festival highlights for your enjoyment.

Day 5 began with a fascinating glimpse into a real world phenomenon about which I had no idea. Concrete Cowboy was a story about a young teenaged boy headed for a life of delinquency sent by his desperate mom to live with his absent deadbeat dad in urban Philadelphia. He discovers that his father lives in a run-down tenement with a very strange room-mate — a horse! And that he spends his time caring for horses in an equally run-down stable, then hanging out with his run-down stable friends, drinking too much and engaging in foolish conversations. As the story unfolds, we learn that these urban stables are commonplace remnants of a time long ago when horses were important players in urban life — milk delivery, taxi services, etc. Abandoned stables, tenements and animals were kept and maintained by their abandoned keepers, all black, incidentally. The story is fiction, but the phenomenon is real. Eventually of course, the land is wanted for development, and the story unfolds further. Based on a novel, Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Nerihey, they couldn’t go far wrong with Idris Elba in the lead role! My expectations were low, but far exceeded! The Q&A was very good.

Next on the day’s viewing was an interview with Ava Duvernay who did NOT make Concrete Cowboy, but who made several films dealing with a bunch of things we thought we knew but did NOT know about racial inequality in America.

For example, her latest movie called 13th, about the 13th amendment of the American Constitution, which outlaws slavery EXCEPT for “criminals”, opens a door for discussion of the fact that the US is the country most likely in the world to control black people through incarceration, often for trivial offences. She also made Selma and The Way They See Us. She’s always worth listening to, in my opinion.

Third on the list today were a series of shorts, which I have often enjoyed in the past, but I struggled to stay awake through this collection, and didn’t regret it when the urge to sleep took over. Spotty internet did not help, but alone could not be held responsible. It was just a really ho-hum programme.

And last but not least was a 13-minute film featuring the work of Autumn Pelletier, Canada’s 15-year-old Anishinaabe Water Walker of the film’s title. We should be as proud of her as Sweden is of Greta Thunberg!

So, as film festival goers know, by Day 6, things start to blur and swirl in disconcerting ways, and memories that you were sure were indelible slip into the blender of history. However, this day’s films, 76 Days and Beans, were both very memorable. Both were outstanding accounts of real events told through unexpected eyes.

In 76 Days, anonymous hand-held video creates a documentary record inside a hospital during the Wuhan lockdown beginning in January 2020. This was a remarkable feat of film-making, editing and production, but what stays with you is the sheer humanity — the fear and panic of the people on the outside of the door waiting to get into the hospital at the beginning of the ordeal; the fortitude, discipline, humour and love offered to those people once inside the doors, and the never-ending effort to keep order amidst the chaotic reality of events beyond anyone’s control. I don’t know what your chances of seeing this one will be, but do see it if you get the chance.

We watched this one masked, with our friend, Margie. All other socializing has happened outdoors during this strange, strange time!

Beans, the film’s title, is the nickname of the central character in this gripping autobiographical story by Tracey Deer that takes those of us old enough to remember it back to the 1990 Oka Crisis, the blockade of the Mercier bridge in Montreal, and the shameful displays of racism and hate that threatened the indigenous folks living their lives on the land that settlers decided they wanted to build a golf course on. Oddly, the duration of this crisis was 78 days — almost the same as the Wuhan lockdown documented above. This film, too, takes the viewer inside the crisis in a way most of us could never have imagined. The 12-year-old Beans juggles all the normal decisions and pressures of pre-adolescence with the complicated realities of being an indigenous person with educational ambitions and a foot in both worlds. Traumatic scenes, both inter- and intra-cultural, from Deer’s experience are re-created with uncompromising intensity. What an amazing performance by the young actress, Kiawentiio Tarbell, who plays Beans! Another one NOT TO BE MISSED!

Day 7 — that’s one whole week of films and it’s still not over!

First up is Greta Thunberg in I am Greta. We all know the story by now, but this film gives us insight into the lonely little person who has changed the world already in such important ways. Why on earth are we not ALL out there on the street every day that the world continues to be sullied and destroyed!? Because we are “blessed” with an ability she lacks — the ability to know and not know at the same time; the ability to carry on as if everything’s normal and OK, even though we know it’s not. The pandemic is changing that, to some extent — we have to be more aware than ever about our personal space and behaviour — and maybe we’ll learn something that turns out to be useful towards saving the planet. Or not …

And for a complete change of pace, American Utopia. Wikipedia says “American Utopia is a 2020 American concert film directed and produced by Spike Lee, from a screenplay by David Byrne. The film is a live recording of a Broadway performance of a modified version of the album American Utopia by Byrne, featuring Byrne alongside 11 musicians.” In other words, it’s complicated. The most amazing part of the show, a fact that took a while to truly notice and appreciate — was the fact that all of the musicians were un-tethered — no wires connecting them to sound equipment or interfering with their free movement on the stage, due to the miracles of modern technology. Brian Tellerico offers this: Byrne’s music and Lee’s craftsmanship work together to shake people out of complacency in multiple ways—find your joy, find your outrage, find something. In a year in which apathy has been easier to slide into, just seeing something this vibrantly alive feels like a miracle. Now imagine watching such a film in 10-second bursts and stutters through utterly inadequate internet reception and you can perhaps get a rudimentary sense of my frustration. I mean the music is ALL about rhythm and connection!! And yet, against all odds, I found it even in that jerky form to be utterly mesmerizing. And the songs stayed in my head for weeks!! I will definitely see it again under better conditions as soon as I possibly can.

The curtain opens on David Byrne singing to a human brain.

Add to this already emotionally loaded day an “unfortunately necessary sequel” to The Corporation, (2003). The New Corporation (2020) spells out, in a way that is impossible to deny, how unaccountable corporations are ruling the world in a way that is beyond governments’ power to control, and branding themselves as “stewards of the environment” to boot! Don’t trust them! Resist!!

That’s all for this post. I’ll polish it off on the next round. Hope you enjoy the read!

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We went to TIFF without leaving the lazyboy!

As much as I love living here in rural Nova Scotia, there are a few things I miss about city life, namely dance performances, concerts, theatrical events and film festivals. All of those things are cancelled this year anyway due to COVID-19 … but the Toronto International Film Festival, to it’s eternal credit, noticed that it is 2020 and we have remarkable tools through which cultural events can be shared much more widely than ever before. And Catherine, to her eternal credit, had faith in our spotty, slowish internet service to be able to handle a whole slew of streamed movies. She took the plunge, bought in and selected a fabulous array of fascinating films to ease us across the threshold of Autumn. And what a feast it was!

Her selection criteria were simple: films by women directors, featuring stories by or about women, racial or cultural minorities, indigenous people, disabled characters — folks we don’t hear from every day. And as we have for every film festival in the past, we strapped on our emotional seatbelts in preparation for a 25-film roller-coaster ride. But we never had to leave the house to do it! Better still, many films were watched from the comfort of our own bed, with cats purring on our feet. Heaven!

We kicked it off with Enemies of the State, a documentary with an unusual feature: the film-maker hadn’t made up her mind about her subject’s guilt or innocence before she started shooting the film, and thus the story turned out to be about the slippery nature of truth and the huge challenge of keeping an open mind in this age of social media (mis)information. There’s a Canadian twist to this story with many twists: the young American computer geek and his parents sought political asylum in Canada, believing the American State was out to get them. Many of the re-enactments were shot in actual Canadian courts and interrogation rooms. And the outcome may surprise you!

Settled into the Lazyboy for the first screening. The hummingbird feeder on the window was still in use, but within a couple of days, they’d all flown south.

Enemies was followed by Shiva Baby, an entertaining first feature by a very young Canadian director, Emma Seligman, about coming of age in an upper middle class Jewish milieu replete with characters who seem intent upon producing a living stereotype of themselves. Honesty and authenticity may be the first victims! The filmmaker used techniques from the horror genre to render the awkward everyday tensions of social life, to great comedic effect. Catherine found it hilarious!

Day 2 began with The Way I See It, about photographer Pete Souza, who was one of the house photographers to President Ronald Reagan decades earlier, but was then hired to be the chief photographer to Barack Obama during his 8-year occupation of the White House. I think it’s fair to say that while he respected Reagan, his respect and affection for President Obama and the office of the Presidency was way more profound. The film follows his transition from a strictly non-partisan journalistic observer to an outraged critic of the current occupant, using his powerful photos to “throw shade” on 45 and express his concern for the way the office has been cheapened and degraded. He never raises his voice or seeks attention for himself, but he just couldn’t stay silent in the face of what he was seeing. I love this movie and this quiet, fly-on-the-wall guy.

Second film of the day was No Ordinary Man, a truly fascinating look at a person with a secret carefully guarded until death. This Canadian documentary film is a portrait of Billy Tipton (1914-1989), an influential American jazz musician who was revealed after his death to have been transgender, to the shock of his wife and her children by a previous marriage. The film features current-day transgendered folks “auditioning” to play Billy Tipton in a film. The real achievement of this film is that it includes highly sensitive interviews with Tipton’s son, who loved his father without reservation, but had lived most of his life burdened with a sense of shame and confusion after his father’s gender became a subject of intense interest and gossip after his death. Meeting some of the transgendered folk involved in the film helped him to see his father in a whole new way. This was both emotionally and intellectually moving fare. Highly recommended!

Day 3 began with a really delightful film called Penguin Bloom, blending two of our favourite themes — disability and a very special animal, a magpie named Penguin. Based on a book of photographs by Cameron Bloom, the story follows his beautiful, athletic wife, Samantha Bloom (Naomi Watts), on her recovery from a traumatic spinal cord injury. The role played by their son, Noah, and his “pet” magpie that he rescues and raises saves this film from being “crip inspiration porn”. If you’re not charmed by this lovely film, you’re a rotten cynic!

The life-changing broken rail on the Thai balcony from which Sam Bloom fell while on vacation.

Second film on Day 3 was Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand as a woman who is “NOT homeless, merely houseless”. She lives in her van and travels here and there, from job to job, from trailer camp to wherever the spirit moves. Here’s a link to an excellent review: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/nomadland-movie-review-2020 Powerful, simple, moving, beautiful. Don’t miss it.

Catherine and I watched this film drenched in the recent memory of our own fantasies of RVing up the highway from Tucson and home through COVID-infested America. My favourite line from the review above is this: It’s honestly hard to figure out how Zhao has made a film that’s this beautiful in its compositions and somehow still feels like it has dirt under its fingernails. Seriously, don’t miss it!

Day 4 started off with Inconvenient Indian, an imaginative and powerful Canadian documentary based on cultural icon Thomas King’s writing, with Michelle Latimer’s images and characters that become lodged in the brain forever. The trickster coyote driving the taxicab provides an important frame for the enduring messages of indigenous wisdom and warning.

Notso loves all the movies, or is it the Lazyboy experience he adores?

Followed by I Care a Lot — a timely fictional horror flick about nursing home misuse and abuse in a capitalist system. Rosamund Pike is quite the study in evil, while Peter Dinklage competes for the title of evilest. Dianne Wiest is the hapless victim of the “guardianship” system at the root of the evilness, but her innocence is far from pure! It was a lot of fun and a great break from the seriousness of our other choices.

The day was completed by an interview with Saoirse Ronan covering topics from “humidity hair” to COVID to her roles in several memorable films, including Atonement, Lady Bird, Brooklyn and Little Women. No mention of one of my favourite roles — the voice of Marguerite Gachet in the lush hand-painted film, Loving Vincent. I still have to practice pronouncing her name (Seersha, according to her, in another interview about Little Women).

For those of you who have attended film festivals, one of the best parts is the Q&A, often featuring a performer or two along with the director and sometimes a producer or technical person. This virtual film festival couldn’t manage audience questions, of course, but most of the films had a pre-taped introduction, usually very short, then a 20-minute pre-taped Zoom call amongst the usual suspects. A moderator had a few great questions and directed them towards the different team members and it truly felt as close to a film festival experience as anyone could have wished for during this wacky time.

Q&A with cast and crew of Penguin Bloom, with the real Sam and Cameron Bloom in the lower left frame.

So, is this review worth doing for you, my readers? If it’s boring, let me know and I’ll give you a break, but if you don’t stop me, I’ll go ahead and write up the next six days!

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Hey look! I wrote a book!

Hey look, I wrote a book! Only one copy, no publisher, no isbn number — just my blog pages re-ordered chronologically. Feels good in my hands though!

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Fundy Fog

Today’s diptych from Catherine, taken as we were sitting on the deck listening to our audio book. Left hand picture at 4:25; right hand picture at 5:25 pm.

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Home Free!

Hello all! You already know we’re home, but you don’t know the crazy details. It was a day of extremes: 2 ambulances, a limo, a private twin-engine jet plane and new and old crew at every phase.

Leaving Ste. Hyacinth. Driven by Olivier, attended by his son Louis, with Jenny and Brad along for the ride. The picture was shot by Larry, who was scheduled to fly back to Vancouver, since we wouldn’t need his driving services with the new plan. Happy for him to go home, but sad to say goodbye!
Inside the ambulance we had to be masked and gloved, and Catherine was provided with a face shield, given that we were encountering new folks. The little bear, given to Catherine by Louis, promptly was named Louis Olivier Ste. Hyacinth, and then bequeathed to Jenny’s new granddaughter, Paisleigh, born while we were in Manitoba!
Transferring from the Quebec ambulance stretcher into our little jet using a “Number 9” sliding transfer pad! Freaking out? Just a little!

We had to fly high to avoid thunderstorms all along the route. 35,000 feet up, things were pretty smooth. We had a moment of suspense at the end of the flight. Because of ground fog in Halifax we were informed that the pilot might be re-routed to Charlottetown, PEI or Moncton, NB. Catherine momentarily thought, “That would be cool for the blog!” And was comforted to know that all of you out there would support us in our decision, whether it’s what you would have chosen or not! We agreed to Moncton, not PEI, because there’s a road that we know well from Moncton to Nova Scotia, whereas we’ve never driven the bridge and didn’t want yet another new experience. Enough already!

Brad, a man of many accomplishments, also holds a pilot license, so was fascinated and keen to get a few cockpit pictures. I just realized that I failed to register the names of the pilot and co-pilot!

On our second approach, the pilot successfully landed on a pretty foggy Halifax strip, and we were back in Nova Scotia! We were met at the airport by not one but two vehicles: an ambulance but also a limo from Woods Limousine in Wolfville, with Chris Woods himself booked to drive me, since I was not allowed to ride in the NS ambulance, by NS Public Health authorities COVID-19 rules; and also to drive Jenny and Brad back to Halifax after they safely delivered us home, since they weren’t allowed in the ambulance once the patient they were caring for was no longer in the vehicle. Complicated, eh?

From my limo, the NS ambulance on that particular spot on the road that visitors always report to us takes their breath away as they approach!
No longer masked and shielded, back in her own sweet bed!
Brad and Jenny, unmasked at last, having accomplished their mission of getting Catherine back from Tucson, COVID-free, on their way back to Halifax in the Woods Limo, behind the plexi barrier protecting Chris from them and protecting them from him. Another happy sad goodbye!

Then back into her wheelchair as soon as it was humanly possible!

And outdoors — YES!!

Home free COVID-free, and that was the goal!!

Yet my heart and mind spare a moment to remember the many thousands of people who don’t have the luxury of escape, don’t even have the luxury to stay off work and out of harm’s way! It is a luxury to be able to take oneself and one’s loved one out of a dangerously out-of-control situation — to hire ambulance and crew and private jet planes — all of this is not inexpensive. And I resolve to do what I can to support those who are stuck in that sorry mess, in whatever way I can.

Catherine wrote: It takes a village

It does indeed take a village, and in our case, it took a village that spans an entire continent.

The myriad ways in which Jenny Kok, Brad Glahn and Larry Moberg came to our rescue, above and beyond the call of duty, are only hinted at in the pages of this blog. Every day and every mile, every pitstop – planned and unplanned – they were there with us and for us. They kept us well fed, well informed, and well protected from every person, environment, or surface that might carry Covid 19. They absorbed all of the stress of our journey’s halting progress and setbacks, while never sacrificing their commitment to our comfort, our well-being, and yes, our enjoyment. That we were able to make this journey successfully, and to complete it with fond and lasting memories, says everything you need to know about these three heroes, and our deep respect and affection for each of them.

Brad, Jenny and Larry

Our village began to grow well before Jenny, Brad and Larry arrived at our doorstep in Tucson.

Carla and Michael and their extended family had welcomed us and kept us safely and happily sheltered for much longer than our usual southwestern sojourn. In the final, and wee-small, hours before our departure, Carla fitted us both for luxuriously comfortable masks and engineered custom cushioning for Catherine’s very long lie-down. And when it came to the final crunch, it was young Jett who did what five adults had failed to do, locating Notso in his hiding place and “persuading” him to surrender to captivity.

Patricia, Michael, Carla and Catherine with fashionable and safe masks by Carla

During our very long deliberations about what method of transport would be best suited to our predicament, Cher and Steve provided essential brainstorming and problem-solving support, boosting our confidence and our enthusiasm for a mode of accessible long-distance travel – the adapted camper van – that remains a very bright gleam in our eyes. If and when it happens, you will read about it here on this blog.

Dee and Kevin, vloggers and adventurers themselves, https://www.youtube.com/accessibleadventurers offered ideas and resources from their extensive network of experts in disability-friendly travel. Their offer to shepherd us home on the final leg of our journey in their accessible vehicle sets a high bar for crip solidarity that we appreciate greatly.

And still there were others who guided our deliberations and offered invaluable suggestions. Stephen, your caring and concern helped to keep us grounded and focused. Brenda, your observation that all of our options “sucked” made us laugh out loud, and feel comforted that our agonizing dilemmas were truly understood. Paul, your suggestion of a hybrid ground/air approach made it possible to commit to a plan without unbearable uncertainty. Jane, your first-hand experience of air ambulance rescue, complete with photos, helped Catherine to prepare mentally and physically for her experience. And Kathy, to our best recollection it was you who first pointed us toward LifeSupport, the medical transport and repatriation providers who offered our ticket to freedom, Canadian-style: orderly, compassionate and inclusive.

From our very first contacts with Patrick Hrusa and Graham Williamson at LifeSupport, we were made to feel as if our impossibly complicated circumstances could be handled as a matter of course and that both of us, along with our feline companions, my precious wheelchair and countless pieces of delicate equipment and luggage could be delivered safely, securely and swiftly home. As our journey took its many twists and turns, Graham and his entire logistics team at LifeSupport responded quickly and thoroughly to our every need and every question, and met their promise of service fully and faithfully.

And then there was Team Cat. Taking over from Larry when we needed him in the cockpit of our rig, Murray and Phil left the comfort and security of the Maritime bubble, and flew to Calgary in answer to our call. Over 5700 km of driving and dozens of text messages later, they delivered our van to Baxter’s Harbour, unloaded all of our luggage, and got Lucky and Notso comfortably settled in the Bunkie, each with private window views and room to roam. Now at home with their own domestic cats, they are counting down the days of their own quarantine, and we look forward in 2 weeks to a long and storied debrief.

The Catmobile, behind us with Larry at the wheel through America, then pulling way out in front and out of sight, powered by Murray and Phil through the provinces of Canada!

On the home front, thanks go to Richard for keeping our home carefully maintained all winter, for clearing out the fallen trees and winter casualties, and for keeping our property from going altogether wild. Thanks to Kelcey for giving our house a thorough cleaning, to Shelley for pitching in as Cat Mom when our bewildered boys waited for food and love, not necessarily in that order. And thanks to Krista for filling our larder and standing by for further deliveries if our provisions begin to thin. You are the best neighbours one could hope for.

Along the way, as you have read in this chronicle, there have been dozens of dedicated EMS professionals, hotel personnel, flight crew, and civic minded volunteers who have offered and provided needed support. Dear friends and family members have cheered us homeward, nurturing our spirit of adventure (a nod to Erin), making immense efforts to catch us on-the-fly (hugs, Jane and Hilary) and offering to rendezvous distantly, if at all possible (a la prochaine, Moon and Audrey). New friends from afar – Teri and Arlyene, children, mothers and animal companions of our A Team crew – you have waited patiently for the return of Jenny, Brad and Larry, and we are forever grateful for your support of their choice to come to our aid.

We are honoured to share this village with all of you.

There’s no place like home!

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Mission Accomplished!

So much to tell! Tomorrow, I promise. But for tonight …

We’re home!
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