For the last 20 years Mongrel Media has played an important role in broadening the scope of Canadian film. Always beautiful, thought provoking and socially relevant, this year Mongrel Media’s Empire of Dirt premiered at TIFF and ImagineNATIVE. This weekend Empire of Dirt is at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema on Rideau Street.
Sunday, Dec 8, 4:15pm
Monday, Dec 9, 9:00pm
Tuesday, Dec 10, 4:30pm
“As in many Native families, Lena Mahikan (Cara Gee) grew up in the cycle of abuse.
Her father, a residential school survivor, was an alcoholic until he killed himself when
Lena was 10. Her mother, only 14 years her senior, turned to the slots and was
consumed. By the time Lena was 15, she was pregnant and, before giving birth, was
kicked to the curb by her mom. For 13 years Lena has been living, poverty stricken in
Toronto, struggling to make ends meet, being chased by her own demons. The
cycle continues and Lena is now watching helplessly as her own daughter, Peeka
(Shay Eyre) spirals out of control, landing herself in the ER following a drug overdose.
As her final attempt at survival, Lena decides to return home and face her own
mother and a past she’s tried desperately to escape. Empire of Dirt tells the story
of three generations of Mahikan women who are given a second chance to be family
and put an end to the painful legacy that has plagued them.”
ImagineNATIVE, Toronto’s Film Festival focusing on film / new media productions by local and international indigenous artists, starts today!
“The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, imagineNATIVE presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe. The Festival’s programming, cultural & social events, and Industry Series attract and connect filmmakers, media artists, programmers, buyers, and industry professionals. The works accepted reflect the diversity of the world’s Indigenous nations and illustrate the vitality and excellence of our art and culture in contemporary media.”Find out more…
This year’s international spotlight is on the Maori Nationhood.
“This year, we are incredibly pleased to spotlight the works of Maori artists from Aotearoa (New Zealand). The Indigenous film industry in Aotearoa has long been the envy of many Indigenous artists living abroad. Critically and commercially successful feature films are joined by award-winning shorts, ground-breaking new media works and an expansive radio network.
The Maori presence is prominent throughout Aotearoa and their population is roughly 673,500 or 15% of the national total. The Maori diaspora is also quite significant as more Maori reportedly now live in Australia than in Aotearoa. We welcome the Maori delegation to imagineNATIVE, to our shared territory with open arms, and invite you to enjoy and reflect on the Maori-made works.” Read more…
Catch the full line up of industry talks, master classes, art tours and of course screenings here.
It was a late night tweet from one of Toronto’s finest MP Kristyn Wong Tam that put MIXED BAG MAG onto this exuberant project – WAACK REVOLT A Dance Film.
Watching the video I was sold on the fact that this team has tons of talent.
Waack Revolt’s Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di (above) and Emily Law aka Em Fatale (left).
Already familiar with dancer Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di (MIXED BAG MAG almost had her as part of the MASHUP STYLE shoot – next time Diana 😉 ) and Emily Law aka Em Fatale from the incredible Toronto dance troupe Kaha:wi (check out MIXED BAG MAG’s post on Kaha:wi’s The Honouring) it seemed an easy decision to get on board to help spread the word!
MIXED BAG MAG’s interview with WAACK’s Director / Writer Sonia Hong was in a word ‘soulful’. At a time where there is ubiquitous imagery representing a too-cool-for-school vibe we often mask our deeper human qualities like vulnerability and the yearning we all have for connectedness behind that chill exterior. I appreciated that Sonia was an open book and ready to share her history as to how she became a film artist who focuses on LGBTQ issues.
Bullied for not fitting in, somewhere along the way and at a young age, Sonia reached in to that spiritual place that we all have inside to find her source. From hiding her light to shining bright, Sonia had done such a remarkable turnaround with her confidence that a teacher who noticed shared this with her then asked her to be the valedictorian at her Grade 8 Graduation.
She built on that confidence and started to attend theatre summer schools where she said improv helped her try on new characters, play around with identity, and continue to grow more comfortable in her skin.
She also spent time working at Legal Aid alongside her mother. “If I hadn’t of gone to film school I would have gone to school for social work.” A keen sense of social justice, she takes her role as an artist seriously developing projects that can help kids struggling with their identity and place in the world.
Writer / Director Sonia Hong (right) with Producer Allia McLeod(left).
“Community building and creating an inclusive community is what I have always been really passionate about. I want to help young people feel empowered and to know from an early age that it’s ok to be yourself.”
Somewhere in the interview we got to speaking about girl culture – for me coming of age with Madonna and Sonia coming of age with the Spice Girls. Whether we agree with it or not, pop culture is what meets kids where they are at. As a female, Madonna taught me that my sexuality was for me alone to own and to be aware of it and my decisions around it but not without having fun – Express Yourself!; for Sonia the Spice Girls belted out the message that she understood to mean be yourself in the most bombastic way you dare – Zig A Zig Ah!
Our musical tastes have matured (I think?!) but for both of us the concern is that in today’s hyper-sexualized Britney-Miley-Nicki world sexuality now is only about an act of ‘performance’ for another’s gaze (mostly young girls for the validation of males) and something is getting lost in the delivery along with the chance for youth to develop a strong sense of self.
WAACK REVOLT takes all that on and promises to be sexy short with a definite message regarding understanding, owning and standing up for your sexuality. Commissioned by the Reel Asian International Film Festival as a collaboration between dancers and filmmakers, WAACK REVOLT will be premiering at this year’s festival.
“This cheeky love story, WAACK REVOLT. A DANCE FILM, sets the stage for a playful journey that opens during an audition in 1940s Hollywood. It is here that our two lovers first meet and begin their love affair with one another – which centers around their shared passion for “Waacking”. Outraged by their “Waacking” dance style, a visual metaphor for their unconventional love and identity, the public exclaim that they aren’t permitted to “Waack” in public, and must keep it behind closed doors.
In response, the couple escapes to different iconic time periods, sliding and interchanging between genders, ultimately blurring the lines entirely as they “Waack” their way to a full, vivid expression of themselves and their love.”
Using dance to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
The artistic medium of dance has given Sonia the perfect vehicle to investigate gender as it refers to sexuality.
Sonia goes deep into the exploration of how gestures sub-consciously communicate the assertion of power or an act of oppression and she explains that when they are thinking about the choreography they don’t want the dancer playing the male role to come across as a predator or the dancer embodying the female character as not without movements that communicate empowerment.
“I am really exiting about gender-bending with the actual choreography as music and dance are very gendered.”
Waack itself is a form of dance that evolved during the disco era and much like Voguing was embraced and developed by communities on the fringe of the mainstream as a way to own power around race, class and sexual orientation.
“To me, as a 12 yr old girl, the Spice Girls’ “Zig A Zig Ah” could mean anything you wanted it to much like this style of dance. You should be able to be yourself anywhere and you should be able to WAACK wherever you want.”
Emily Law aka Em Fatale
Professional dancer and founding member of the Toronto house dance crew Warehouse Jacks. Emily has been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore award and a Gemini for her work with Kaha:wi Dance Theatre.
Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di
Multi-disciplinary artist, who has appeared on several progams including MuchMusic’s “RapCity”, and CBC Music’s “How to Dance to Classical Music”. Diana is a member of b current’s prestigious rAiz’n ensemble – home to some of Canada’s most successful performing artists, playwrights and producers.
A dynamic and multi-faceted artist, based in Toronto, Maylee’s music combines organic and electronic forms, including elements of boogie, bossa, space funk, psychedelia and soul. She’s shared the stage with the likes of Janelle Monae, Lee Fields, Aloe Blacc, Little Dragon, and The Budos Band. SOCAN has recently nominated her for the coveted songwriting prize. Get into the ‘Waack Revolt. A Dance Film.” groove with some of her funky tunes. www.mayleetodd.com
In this short NFB interview with Canadian Director Deepa Mehta she comments that there is something about Canada, the physical and emotional space that gives the Indian born director “room to breathe.”
“Canada has its own values, which are very different from the values I grew up with and I like that conflict as well.”
Deepa speaks on how she uses the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian instructional text for artists and performers, as the base for her actors’ character development process.
A grid of the 9 “pure” emotions is drawn with chalk on the floor, silence being the centre that anchors all the emotions together.
“Then it’s very easy for the actors to actually walk through with their lines and interpret it through every different emotion and maybe put one foot in bravery and one foot in cowardice and how would you say your line then? One in hatred and one in love? Or one without saying anything?”
When watching her films you can see how this process allows her cast to add incredible depth to the characters.
“Heaven on Earth”, Deepa’s film on the subject of spousal abuse, is one where the characters utilize the emotion of silence to add an intensity that dialogue would not have been able to achieve. Through frustrated, awkward and often palatable silence something deafening is heard.
“All art is political. We all know that and it should be but it has to be about a story; it has to be about real people within that story that are maybe dealing with an issue. It has to be honed in and represented by something that is living, breathing, that talks,that stops, that decides to sit in a corner and weep. Issues are boring. Feelings are important.”
In the reality of each of our lives lies the potential for magic.
The stories of Salman Rushdie often centre around hybrid places and the impact they have on the psyche of their inhabitants. His characters labour with the problems that can arise with religious and ethnic pluralism. The characters in Midnight’s Children, a story set at the birth of India’s Independence, flesh out a history whose fecundity is ripe with possibilities but also all the pitfalls that come along with a diverse population in competition for their own interests.
The story of Midnight’s Children revolves around Saleem Sinai, a baby boy born at the precise moment of Independence, whose divine timing, as he says makes him “handcuffed to history.” Through his adult eyes we go back with Saleem to witness the importance of his birth and how it plays out in his life. Even the normal moments of his childhood that like so many of us involved bicycles, movie theatres and games of hide & seek, upon reflection become mythological in proportion. We join him in his search to connect the dots of a painful life that was not without its own beauty and his special gift that flips like two sides of a coin between being a blessing and curse.
In the book I enjoyed the twists and turns that the characters take along their migratory paths criss-crossing the sub-continent as well as landing in the newly formed Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rushdie’s tales are deeply layered and I appreciate the history lesson one gets when reading a Rushdie novel. I love his choice of using magic realism because the genre allows him to pierce the mystical qualities of life to show how simple moments, like a child born at the stroke of midnight, can be the stuff of legends.
In the movie I enjoyed Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s intimacy in her choice of shots. She allowed us to get very close to the characters which added a warmth to them that I missed in the book because it was so densely packed with historical details.
The other special elements in the movie was the choice to use Rushdie as the narrator and voice of Saleem Sinai as well as the moving musical score by the brilliant British composer Nitin Sawhney.
The book and the movie each stand on their own but MIXED BAG MAG recommends treating yourself to both. It is worth what you come away with – the idea that in the reality of each of our lives lies the potential of magic and the elements that myths are made of.
& considering how Indigenous Culture has a vital place in the current global landscape MIXED BAG MAG recommends checking out imagineNATIVE – Toronto’s film festival that focuses on Canadian & international Indigenous talent.
“imagineNATIVE is committed to dispelling stereotypical notions of Indigenous peoples through diverse media presentations from within our communities, thereby contributing to a greater understanding by audiences of Indigenous artistic expression.”