Friday, May 30, 2014

Mixed Shorts: Local Heroes

I liked how the programmers described this, my fourth screening at Inside Out (the Toronto LGBT Film Festival), as "locally-produced short films that showcase the diversity and talent of Hogtown homos."   

This must have been one of the most popular programs, because the line up filled the inside of the theatre and and continued outside around the block!  (the other screenings I had been to could easily accommodate the whole line up within the theatre).  Later I'd discover that all the directors were there, as well as most (or maybe all?) their actors and crew, and very possibly friends, family, fans... no wonder it was so packed!

Anyhow, indeed, what a pleasant whirlwind around diverse Toronto:  

FAG Feminist Art Gallery Video (Canada, 2014)

A musical manifesto from FAG (Feminist Art Gallery), touching on equality, critiquing (gay) Pride as a consumerist affair, pointing out privilege.  I've never been to this gallery, but you can tell this is one feisty activist group, as the style of their musical manifesto showed. 

Whatever happened to Jackie Shane? (Canada, 2014)

Who knew that in the 60's a black cross-dressing soul singer from Nashville became a hit in "Toronto the good" and that one of his songs became an anthem at underground gay clubs.  Only to announce his leaving the town at the end of the 60's and disappearing altogether? 

My Father: Francis (Canada, 2013)

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, the director pays homage to her father, to his creativity with scraps he collects at the factory he works, to his devotion and love.  Though this isn't mentioned in the film, the director also mentioned, during a very brief presentation in the theatre, her father's acceptance of her.  It's one of those films where you know one of the central themes is the embracing of a child by her parents despite her orientation, but that such acceptance is so natural and full that it doesn't need to be explicitly spelled out.  Sweet. 

Ivy (Canada, 2013)

A young person transitions genders.   A woman faces infidelity.  And the first intersects with the last in a way that shines light unto who people really are like.   Transgender people pose questions, challenge preconceptions and ideas and, personally, I think they are a real boon to society.  Glad to see a short hinting at this. 

Gaysian (Canada, 2013)

In Toronto's online gay dating world it's an easy thing to find ads that, somewhere, say " No Asians".  Though this short is a comedy, I enjoyed how it smoothly packed a number of conflicts Asian Canadians may face, like having heard/read at least once " No Asians", not being " Asian enough"  or being " too Asian", and facing strange expectations from others.  Not really deep, but it was certainly fun to see someone putting that on film! 

Waack Revolt (Canada, 2013)

Numerous queer love stories through dance.  The story is pretty basic - couples fall in love with each other, through time, and express that through dance.  It was a joy to watch, especially the main stars.  

All Over Town (Canada, 2014)

This was the only one I wasn't too happy with.  I loved it showed parts of town I've been to.  And it tells a story of a breakup where one of the parties is proven more interested in making an artistic performance about making up than in actually making up.  Interesting, yes.  Maybe I lack similar experiences in order to appreciate it better? 

Run Rabbit (Canada, 2013)

There's this valley in Toronto, the Don Valley.  I don't know if this is the case nowadays, but the film is set in the director's youth when the Don Valley seems to have been used for random gay hookups.  Anyhow, what happens when you spot a cute guy, he looks back at you, smiles, and suddenly sprints away?  A hookup version of catch me if you can.  Sexy, and yet very innocent.   

Sebastian (Canada, 2014)

Always hopping from place to place, this one had to resonate with me.  I mean, meeting someone who's visiting or in a country you're visiting, developing a great connection, and then facing goodbye shortly thereafter?  It's a simple short, it's shot nicely, I loved its constant switching between Spanish and English (one character is Argentinian and knows English, the other is Canadian and knows Spanish), it's an honest story, and it shows my wintery Toronto.  Awesome.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gay Shorts: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

So, what did my third screening have in store?   A bunch of stories about loss.  Though the program announced it as more of a seeking of human connections and missing what's already there, I think the theme really was as pure as loss...

The Light (Ljósið; USA, 2013)

Music by Sigur Rós (specifically Varúð, from the Valtari album) and two dancers approaching, intertwining, separating... Short, no words, and just the lingering thought of parting and, maybe, death.  

Stay (USA, 2013)

Never trust someone who asks you how far you'd go for them, and who asks you for proof.   Blind love, passion and a gun - a recipe for an unhappy ending.

Reveille (Canada, 2013)

I liked this short film, about dreaming of a partner lost in war, about that state where you're half asleep and part of you knows what's lost and part of you reminisces about days past.  Sweet, simple, touching.

Human Warmth (Chaleur Humaine; Belgium, 2013)

Guess what, this one also had music by Sigur Rós, also from their Valtari album.  I guess that speaks well to the power of their music to transport and transform.  Some images are beautiful, the contrast of the bodies of the protagonists and the background of the forest (as well as the music) adds poetry to what would simple be a break up.

Nomansland (Denmark, 2013)

Finally, this Danish film is a good mix of loss, death, sex, rejection, and the earthshaking consequences of a positive HIV diagnosis.  Well chosen to be the last short in the screening.   And serves as a reminder that even the more open minded societies are still composed of people who, individually, may themselves be intolerant and unaccepting.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gay Shorts: Hook, Line and Grindr

My second screening at the festival was radically different from the first one.  It was a series of five shorts whose common theme was gay people and looking for a connection (the festival is showing a number of shorts showing many different orientations and genders, not just gay men, by the way):

Tap Tap Tap (Canada, 2013)

Using anti-gay Republican Senator Larry Craig's arrest in 2007 in a Minneapolis airport washroom for lewd behaviour as an excuse, this short presents a slightly amusing tap routine (Senator Craig tapped with his foot while sitting in a washroom stall to signal his interest in sex).  A bit funny, a bit entertaining, just the right length.

Short (Kort; The Netherlands, 2013)

This one was far more interesting, as it talked about a 17 year-old guy who hooks up online and travels to meet his date, realizing only once in the car that his night's hook up is not quite what he expected from the neck below.  We never get to know what exactly transpires after they have some fun drinking, dancing and smoking from a water pipe, but I liked this short for all the questions it raises about self-(mis)representation, discrimination, and embracing of the moment and of people.

Grind (USA, 2013)

A musical about hooking up via mobile apps, this had my eyes rolling up far more than physiologically healthy.   It was well produced, even funny, and it came with eye candy, but that didn't make the situations and dialogues less unbearable to me.  At first.  And then... a twist.  A chilling, sociopathological twist.  So, I stood corrected, and I liked it, eye rolling and all.   And just a reminder - you never know who you're meeting.  Creepy.

The Disgustings (USA, 2013)

Twelve minutes of watching mean, horrible, superficial, self-centred, clichéd a'holes.  May we all be spared of ever meeting people like this!  But the catch is they show the title at the end, not at the beginning, and that (what an apt title!) wrapped the short nicely.  Let's say it was like a long, annoying joke, but with a fun punch line.  

Ronny & I (USA, 2013)

This was a sweet short, about a young man who acknowledges his love for his best buddy, and his best buddy who accepts that love.  What I liked was that the sexuality of the buddy (or bro) is never clearly dealt with, and that the only thing that's clear is that he's completely accepting of his friend, and that he loves him.  The insistence of making the short as though filmed by the protagonists with their smartphones is strange.  But who knows, maybe there's people filming themselves almost day and night doing anything and everything.  Still, a sweet bromance where what matters is closeness and intimacy.

Watching shorts is usually quite a gamble, because you never know what you'll get in the mix.  But despite my complaints above, I think this was a good choice for my second screening.  And looking forward to the rest!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spring is finally, firmly, explodingly here

Finally, all sorts of flowers of all shapes and colours are blooming everywhere like there's no tomorrow, thanks to gorgeous sunny and warm weather.  It's exhilarating, to say the least!

These are just a few photos I took walking home early in the morning after partying all night out:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger

So, it's started!  The 24th Toronto LGBT Film Festival!  And what did I have as a starter?  Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger (USA/Canada, 2013).  Now, let's see if I can do this justice...  

First, Kate Bornstein... a transgender woman who knew she was not a man, who was deeply questioned by her intellectual lesbian friends about her identification as a woman, who ended up identifying as a gender outlaw (and wrote a book with that title), who defends the word "tranny" as a queer repossession of a slur (like "fag" and "dyke" in some gay and lesbian communities), and who's written about gender in such a way her books are used in a number of US universities.  In fact, one of her books, "My Gender Workbook", was an eye-opener for me and I don't see who would not benefit from it, whether straight, bi, transgendered, cisgendered, or whatever.  Seriously.  Go buy it. 

Now, the documentary itself... it was directed by Sam Feder, who made it about... Kate.  It wasn't a biography, it wasn't strictly chronological (or so Sam explained), the music was there to compliment Kate's character and life and not to promote a mood... it's a memoir that shows us Kate and ends with a simple message which, were one not familiar with the tortuous road she's had to travel, would seem all too clichéd: do all you need to make your life worth living, and don't be mean.

A fantastic start, I'll say.  Looking forward to the other films!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

coffee and saké ice-cream at the Distillery District

Three really enjoyable things about the Distillery District:

- We got some few rays of warm sunshine today (sorry, there's no way to photograph the intense pleasure that causes).

- We had a good bowl of café au lait - because, you know, coffee must be served in a bowl to convey a full feeling of comfort and warmth - with some Turkish delight at Balzac's.

- We savoured saké ice-cream at Izumi, one of those treats you won't find just anywhere.

A fine, relaxed, enjoyable Victoria Day.  Ahhhh.

Monday, May 19, 2014

of sakuras, birds and water at High Park

Most cherry blossoms at High Park went into full bloom on Tuesday 13th, about a week later than last year.  And soon after there was rain, and wind.  And, on top of that, trees had about a half-half combination of flowers and green leaves, apparently an effect of the long winter, whereas in previous years many trees would be all flowers and no leaves.  Nevertheless, this being our last year here, I was not going to miss going for some cherry blossom watching.  

Well, the weather was cold: 8 ºC, with a feel of 6 ºC.  And the sky was cloudy, grey, without any sun.  Honestly, what a sorry spring this has been!   Anyhow, before we got to see any cherry blossoms we came across these very interesting flowers, heart-shaped with a funny bag-like thing hanging from them:

Farther down (we started at the north side of the park) we came across this beautiful duck!  Later I found out it's called a wood duck, and that this one was, on fact, a male (the clue: the colours).  I was getting excited now.  Funny flowers, a species of duck I'd never seen (yeah, yeah, it may not sound exciting to many, but these were beautiful things!).

Since I remembered last year there had been a gorgeous magnolia tree at the top of a hill, and having read that the cherry blossoms this year were not that nice, I definitely wanted to find that magnolia tree again.   And that was easy: it's huge, it's got hundreds of flowers, and instead of being surrounded by trees packed with cherry blossoms, it was surrounded by cherry trees with just a few flowers and lots of green leaves! (more on that later).   But the magnolia tree?  Ah... what a treat!

But we had supposedly come for the cherry blossoms, right?  Well, here's what happened.  The winter was so long, and so harsh, it caused a peculiar effect - instead of cherry trees being covered almost exclusively with cherry blossoms and basically no green leaves, like other years, this time they were covered with about half cherry blossoms and half green leaves.  So, yeah, there were flowers, but the visual effect of the flowers amongst the green leaves was incredibly different and, frankly, rather underwhelming.  Still, sometimes all it takes is looking at things slightly differently, right?  And so, instead of focusing on the whole trees and the paths, I focused more on individual flowers, on the trees against the water, and on the play of light through the trees (because, in the end, we got a few brief but precious rays of sun through the clouds! yay!): 

All that would have made for a very nice walk around the park.  Except that there was more!  Remember the wood duck?  Well, it seems that spring is indeed here, at least for birds, because we say more kinds than ever!  From Canadian geese with their chicks (they're hard to spot on the pic, they're in the bottom left corner, two of them):

To a yellow bird either drinking nectar from the cherry blossoms or eating insects inside them:

To quite a few of these fellows with the bring orange patch on their wings (by the way, these birds were strangely friendly, walking around and getting surprisingly close to you!)

To this super cute cardinal (a cardinal!) here:

To the pièce de résistance - at least experience-wise, because while it was amazing to see this bright red cardinal (yes! another one!), it was simply impossible for me to get a good photo of it (it kept moving around and there were too many branches).  Still, it was an incredible surprise and I'm willing to post a bad pic just because it was so nice.

All in all, a very good walk.  Happy.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2014

Well, Sunday, it was over.  Our last Toronto Jewish Film Festival.  With over 110 films in numerous venues, deciding what to see is always a daunting task.  As always, I managed to choose one fiasco, to learn about stuff I had absolutely no idea about, and to enjoy myself beyond my expectations.   As usual, too, I noticed most of the crowd was Caucasian and older - and, as usual, I kept asking myself why other demographics find no appeal whatsoever in this festival (which I consider a real treat).  

Honestly, stumbling upon this festival 2010 was one of the best things that happened to me in this city (I must say, though, there's been a ton of good things that happened to me here, a TON).  I've said it before - I feel the Jewish experience is incredibly rich in that, after all, Jews live basically everywhere and, though there is a common thread running through that experience, there is also incredible diversity involved.  We've seen films that have had to do with France, Germany, Russia, Argentina, dictatorships, relationships with Islam, Ethiopians, homosexuality, orthodox Judaism, popular Israeli culture, war, love, comedy, self-acceptance, sumo...  This has been one fun ride.  But before I digress further, let me tell you about my TJFF experience this - our last - year:

Golems, Dybbuks and other Movie Monsters: The Search for a Jewish Horror Film

An interesting talk about a different way of looking at some horror films.  Beyond the obviously Jewish ones, like Der Golem and Der Dybbuk, Mikel Koven prompted us to think about new questions, like... Is there a "Jewissance" moment?  That is, a moment where we realize the Jewishness of a character or situation, like in "An American Werewolf in London", where the main character has a nightmare and we see a menorah in his home and we recognize a Nazi air to monsters that attack him and his family.  Is the horror film within a Christian or a Jewish cosmology?  Like in the film The Possession, where the main characters face a Dybbuk, they have to request the help of a rabbi, and there is simply no Christian reference in general.  Can we gain additional insights from a Jewish perspective? Like in Hostel where, when one takes into account that the director is Jewish, a location and certain actions take on a concentration camp semblance...  All in all, a very interesting talk.

A New Life on the Land (2014, Canada)

Expecting to watch a documentary about kibbutzim in Israel, we realized right at the theatre that we were going to watch a documentary about Jewish farmers in Canada!  Which was a nice surprise, as we - as well as most of the audience - had no idea of the arrival of Jewish settlers to Canada.  Particularly interesting was to hear about Jewish people arriving from Eastern Europe to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta - on one hand, you had land, cheap land, lots of it, and the chance to begin a new life away from urban poverty.  But on the other hand, you had horribly inclement weather and bugs that would make anybody insane.   But hey, 160 acres for 6 dollars or so?  Worth a try!

From Russia with Falafel: a Short Film Program

Our second screening was, for me, quite a delight.  Four shorts reflecting the Russian experience regarding Israel:  Pur (2013, Israel); Welcome and... Our Condolences (2012, Israel); Guard Hut (Budke; 2012, Israel); and Pinhas (2008, Israel).

Though "Pur" was interesting in as much as it showed glimpses of Russians in the Soviet Union doing in secret some Jewish celebrations, "Welcome and... Our Condolences" is a hilarious short, superbly done documentary style, about immigrants who discover, on arrival to Tel Aviv airport, that an old aunt passed away during the flight.  Believe me, the short is seriously funny.   As for "Guard Hut", it's a simple, but nice, story about a Kievan older man who works as a parking lot guard in Israel and who writes short stories while at work.  This is a real story, and the actor is actually the Kievan himself, whose stories have actually appeared in Haaretz (an Israeli newspaper) and who's about to publish his second book, and who's still working as a parking lot guard!  Finally, "Pinhas" is a nice story from the point of view of a Russian kid in Israel living in the world of his non-religious, ham-eating secular mother, and his rather religious neighbours.  It's a story about belonging, with Pinhas (the child) wanting to "be religious" and enter the world of his neighbours, and the not unexpected clash this causes with his mother. 

Unfortunately, for such an interesting selection of shorts, the audience was minimal.  Was this plain lack of interest? Or an active boycott because of the present Ukraine situation?

The German Doctor (Wakolda; 2013, Argentina/France/Norway/Spain)

This was not just a thriller about Doctor Mengele in Argentina.  It was a thriller about a whole situation, where little by little you realize, in horror, that not everybody is who you thought they were.  It's superbly done, you're kept at the border of your seat the whole time, and it was absolutely terrifying for me.   We definitely hit the bullseye when choosing this film.  

Russian Disco (Russendisko; 2012, Germany)

The idea was promising: three young Russians emigrate to Berlin around the time of the collapse of the Wall.  What I felt I ended up with?  Three Russian characters who speak perfect German from the get go, who speak German with their Russian parents (who speak perfect German too) and with every single Russian they meet in Germany, and who go from silly situation to silly situation making the film last excruciatingly long.  My life would indeed have been better if I hadn't watched this.     Wait, no, I'm wrong.  I got some pita bread with hummus while waiting in line.

Sex and Secrets: a Short Film Programme

We were shown four shorts:  Summer Vacation (2012, Israel); Setup, Punch (2013, USA); Nightswimming (2013, Israel); Auschwitz on my mind (2013, Israel).  There's not much to say.  They were well done, well filmed, one of them was actually rather funny (Setup, Punch), and one of them feature hunk Oded Leopold (Summer Vacation).  But besides that, I'm afraid I can't say much about it.  Not bad, not good, just ok.  Oh well.

Kidon (2013, Israel/France)

A comedy about the Mossad and an assassination in Dubai supposedly carried out by them.  Very well made, very funny, with enough twists to keep your mind busy restructuring the story as more and more information is revelaed, and all in all very enjoyable.  I'm very happy we chose this one, and you should try to see it if you ever have the chance.  

Fading Gigolo (2013, USA)

This was the closing film.  It featured Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara among others.  We arrived a full hour early to line up... and there were so many people already in line that we could barely secure seats on  the second floor of the theatre!  The place was as full as it could physically be.  A light dramedy, well paced, charming, slightly erotic.  It was a nice finish to  the festival.  Mazel tov!  

Toronto Jewish Film  Festival, a sheinem dank, toda raba, and mazel tov!

Whitebrow at Cameron House

Sometimes walking into a place and not expecting anything is a good policy.  Out and about a Saturday night and not sure what to do, I remembered we were not too far from The Cameron House, a small bar on 408 Queen St W.   We went in, got a couple of draft stouts (yeah!), and wondered if the group on stage would be any interesting.  Well, they definitely were!  

It just so happened that this was Whitebrow, and the following hour we enjoyed, live, the kind of music we could only have heard in movies before:  southern, folksy, bluesy...  That was good fun! And I loved the singer/violinist Rosalyn Dennett: she had the look, the style, the stage presence.  

They completely changed my opinion on American folk music. Loved it. And love getting my opinions flipped by experiencing something live, like this awesome group.  I must make it my policy to just go and try new places and see who's playing! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Noodles! Noodles!

It seems we discover Toronto's food in waves.  There was a time when bagels were appearing constantly in my life.  And now it's noodles!  

Ryu's Noodle Bar

On Baldwin St.  The chef is Japanese.  So was the waitress (who loved my "Battoman", that is, Batman, T-shirt).  And the menu is bilingual.  So you can count on it being authentic.  And to make it more fun, there's plenty of options for noodle bowls (including TWO vegan options) AND you get to choose one among 5-6 different sauces that you're supposed to pour AFTER you're done about half your bowl, thereby adding a new flavour and changing your dish a bit halfway.  Mine was good and unbelievably hearty.  Must definitely go back!  

Touhenboku Ramen

And then, one late night, this place on 261 Queen St W provided the perfect end of the day meal.  True, there's only one vegan option.  But it was super tasty, it was big, and we got to choose an extra ingredient because we followed them on Twitter right there!  Cute strategy!   Of course, if you worry too much about your figure, maybe eating at a place that leaves you feeling you're as round as you can get is not such a great idea.  But sometimes pleasure must take precedence, eh?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spring knocking on the door!

Sunday was GORGEOUS.  It was sunny.  It was warm.  And we're finally getting to see little green buds or leaves on the trees!  And some - just a handful - are showing flowers already!  Woohoo!

We had a fantastic walk along Queen St W (one of my favourite streets), we lied down on the grass at Grange Park, and we had another stroll looking for flowers around the OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) and University Ave.   It was SUPER good.   Ahhh...   Welcome spring!  Finally!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Touching Strangers

Being in touch with strangers is enriching, is risky, it forces us to reflect about who we are by presenting us with an otherness we may or may not understand.   

I know these kind of experiments, of making strangers get in close proximity (like a recent viral video about strangers kissing, which ended up being fake), may seem sort of superficially trendy.  But I myself find them fascinating and, if you think you might too, you'll find these series of photographs by Richard Renaldi on John St and King St W, as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography festival