Author

Melania Motta

Browsing

Staying strong on the Danforth

 

Like many Torontonians, I went to the Taste of the Danforth festival over the weekend. This year was a special celebration as it marks the festival’s 25th anniversary festival and it’s also taking place just three weeks after a deadly shooting on Danforth Avenue where two people were killed and 13 injured.  The Taste of the Danforth carried a message to stay stronger together to heal and show resilience as the Danforth and as a city. The spontaneous memorial, which was set up at the Alexander the Great Parkette after the tragedy, was moved to accommodate the Celebrity Stage. There visitors could pay their respects to the people who lost their life that night and the 13 that were injured.

The festival has typically attracted 1.5 million visitors each year. However, this year, it was predicted to host record numbers. On Friday night Prime Minister Trudeau and Mayor Tory opened the festival taking a moment of silence to remember that night and the victims including the two young women, Reese Fallon and Julianna Kosiz. T-shirts and buttons were sold saying #DanforthStrong and #TorontoStrongTogether. The proceeds will go to the Toronto Foundation set up to support the families of the victims. A benefit concert took place at the Danforth Music Hall where Billy Talent performed among other bands.

Many security prevention measures were in place this year. Security guards and police officers were on duty, garbage trucks were placed at major intersections, and street litter bins were sealed. It’s a sad reality we are all forced to face as a community to have to anticipate the next evil plan.

The festival featured three stages with live entertainment with Greek music and dancers as well as other cultural dances from around the world with teachers giving 15-minute dance lessons.

The Taste of the Danforth is a festival celebrating food, Canada’s multiculturalism and the Danforth’s Greek heritage—200,000 residents of the GTA are of Greek ancestry, the third largest Hellenic community outside of Greece. Here everyone has the opportunity to experience being ‘Greek for the Day’, eating chicken souvlaki, gyro sandwiches, and spanakopita.  Let’s not forget the smashing a plate in typical Greek tradition! Apparently, there are many legends that go around about this custom, one being why wash your dishes when you can break them? My favourite legend has it that the voluntary breaking of a plate is a form of controlled loss, and helps the person who breaks the plate in dealing with the death of a loved one. This is quite fitting and cathartic given this year’s circumstances.  So, as a Greek for a day, I ate chicken souvlaki, smashed a plate, and then shouted ‘Opa’!

Trade off? Canada’s delicate balance between trade and ethics

Canada and Saudi Arabia are in the middle of a diplomatic spat that is threatening the relationship between both countries including in the area of trade. How did we get to this point?

Whilst Saudi Arabia was praised in 2018 for giving women the right to drive, there is still a lot to do to bring the country up-to-speed on women’s rights policy. From the time they are born, women are forced to live under male guardianship. The first guardian is her father, even her brother, her uncle, or her son, then if she marries it’s her husband. It’s her guardian’s role at any given point in her life to grant her permission to do things like go to school, travel, work or get married. Although the guardianship rule is not a written law, it’s has been customary practice in the country for hundreds of years. Those in favour of the system state that guardianship offers women protection and love and see it as a form of duty, those against it state that guardianship is plain slavery. Over the last few years, a movement started that has resulted in the signing of a petition by thousands of people to end male guardianship.

Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who came to power in June 2017, by giving women the right to drive, positioned himself as a young modernizer. The whole world applauded the change, seeing it as a sign of a new policy direction. However, besides that, he has shown no intention to improve women’s rights and general human rights policy; in fact, he is proving to be just as cruel and intolerant as his predecessors through repression of religious minorities and public floggings.

The woman at the centre of the current political storm with Canada, is Samar Badawi, a young woman who has devoted her life to improving women’s rights in her country. Her fight started when her father wanted to stop her from marrying the man she loved which resulted in her arrest. Samar was at the forefront in the driving campaign which earned women the right to drive early 2018. Following winning the International Women of Courage Award in 2012, given by the U.S. State Department, for championing women’s rights, she was first banned from leaving the country in 2014, then arrested in 2016. Her brother is blogger Raif Badawi who was arrested in 2012 for condemning the government of Saudi. His wife and children live in Quebec and became Canadian citizens.

Samar’s activism continued and when she and her fellow activist Nassima al-Sadah were  arrested again, Canada’s response led to the current spat. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry tweeted “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” As a reaction or as some would call it an overreaction, the Saudis withdrew their ambassador, removed the Canadian ambassador, suspended flights to and from Canada, recalled Saudi students studying in Canada, barred the import of Canadian wheat, and suspended all new trade deals. The message from the Saudi’s is loud and clear and when it comes to human rights, they don’t want to be told off. Relationships with other countries are strictly business.

As the spat continued, in a statement this week Prime Minister Trudeau said “As the minister has said and as we will repeat, Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights.” Thus, Canada has made its ethical position clear even though it has already come at some cost. Meanwhile other major trading partners of both Canada and Saudi Arabia have remained relatively quiet.

The buck starts here!

 

Many People may have complained about the lack of details in Doug Ford’s campaign platform; however, one thing is certain, Doug Ford is planning to keep his promises. One of the key promises of his election campaign, “buck-a-beer” will be kept starting August 27 just before Labour Day weekend. The plan is to lower the minimum price of a can or a bottle of beer with an alcohol volume below 5.6 percent to $1 from $1.25. The announcement was made this week, conveniently before Civic Holiday weekend when Premier Ford didn’t forget to wish everyone a “responsible” long weekend “with your beverage of choice”. Being responsible does not always go hand in hand with alcohol. A spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who fear cheaper beer sends the wrong message, stated that “increased consumption can in turn lead to increase alcohol related problems, including impaired driving.”

Of course, the buck-a-beer approach is not new to Ontario. In 2008, the Liberal government scraped it to increase the minimum price claiming “social responsibility”. With the costs of making beer going up and an increase in the provincial and federal taxes, brewers could not afford to sell their product at the minimum price.

A few questions sprung to mind as I heard the news. Is a 25-cent reduction significant to beer aficionados? How is it even possible to produce good quality beer at a cheaper cost? Why show so much care for consumers’ pockets and none for the brewers who will have to somehow lower production costs while still keeping the potion potable? Premier Ford claims that “for too long beer consumers have been forced to pay inflated prices for beer in order to increase the profits of big corporations. We’re going to allow price competition for beer and this will save consumers money.” He also claims that buck-a-beer will increase the competition in the beer market. Maybe the program will appeal to those brewers that are willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of more sales. Whereas small brewers have already stated that they will not embrace the plan as too costly, large companies will benefit from the program as with a wide range of products they will be able to make a cheaper one at the minimum price and still make a bit of profit.

The Government has stated that this initiative will not cost taxpayers anything; it is all on the brewers’ shoulders to carry the weight of the price reduction. The plan is totally voluntary and to participating brewers, the Ontario government will offer “non-financial incentives” such as prime spots in LCBO stores, free ads in flyers and magazine among the rewards. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park, said that these incentives will come at a cost to the province as these LCBO promotions “have monetary value”.

What’s more, the buck-a-beer benefit to the people sits in stark contrast with the news of the scraping of the basic income project. Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod stated that it is too expensive. The basic income pilot started in 2017 and was being tested over a period of three years to help make a difference in the lives of people on low income. Unlike the buck-a-beer plan, the promise that Ford made to support people on basic incomes is not being kept.

Witnessing the monumental

 

Rebecca Belmore Facing the Monumental is an exhibition hosted at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and curated by Wanda Nanibush, Curator for Indigenous Art. Torontonians have until October 21, 2018 to check it out and browse over 20 pieces, among them sculptures, installations, photographs, and performance-based works: a window for works exhibited in the past as well as new ones by the artist.

Rebecca Belmore is recognized as one of the most remarkable contemporary Canadian artists. Her recurring themes are women’s lives, violence against Indigenous people, remembering the forgotten, speaking the truth, water, land rights, and homelessness. As a contemporary artist, she has positioned herself as a custodian of a truth to be narrated, never to be forgotten or silenced. Rebecca states, “For decades I have been working as the artist amongst my people calling to the past witnessing the present standing forward facing the monumental.”

Rebecca, a member of the Anishinaabe, has reached international recognition through multidisciplinary artistic expression: sculpture, installation, photography, and video.  An artist rooted within the Indigenous communities and established within the Canadian artistic landscape, Belmore’s use of natural materials, clay, wood, fabrics, nails, and mundane objects like shopping carts, men’s suit jackets, chairs, draws attention to not only Indigenous issues but pressing and timeless issues such as homelessness and migration.

One of the works in the exhibition, “The Fountain”, consists in a video footage projected onto a screen of real falling water. The artist is seen in a lake struggling in the waves while trying to fill up a bucket. When she finally fills it up, she walks to the shore and throws the content of the bucket (red liquid supposedly blood) toward the viewers. The effect created by the real waterfall in the room including its sound enhances the corresponding image and sound of water in the video. What’s more, as a viewer I felt taken aback by this provocative action.

Belmore came to performance art in the late 80s. She says, “Physical labour has a way of clearing the mind and turning trees into lumber was very much a part of my immediate families’ livelihood back then.” In this spirit, in 2014 in a 12-hour durational performance in Toronto she hammered 1181 nails into a log. This was the number indigenous women the RCMP reported as missing or murdered up to that year. With each nail hammered into the stump, a piece of her red dress was hammered too, disappearing from her body and becoming part of the artwork. Visitors can see a video footage of this powerful performance at the exhibition.

Another highlight of the exhibition, “Tower,” is a 15-feet tall sculpture made of clay and shopping carts, and created on site at the AGO. As the artist explains herself, the idea for the artwork came after staring at the construction of a new condominium. On one hand condo development is business as usual, on the other, homelessness is a fact and demographics show that many people cannot afford to own a home. “I understood the severity of land as real estate – everything owned, everywhere for sale, and how, in our so-called great cities, the reality of owning anything is out of reach for most of us, with no solution in sight.”

In 2005, Belmore was Canada’s official representative at the Venice Biennale and in 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize by the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Banking on Banksy

To say that the Art of Banksy is one of the highlights in the Toronto visual arts’ landscape of this summer is perhaps an understatement. With 65,000 tickets sold to date and a rate of 14,000 visitors a week since its opening on June 19, this travelling exhibition, unauthorized by the artist, has generated such an enormous amount of interest in the city that it has earned an extension of another month. Torontonians have until August 19 to feast on the artwork of the artist who hides his identity and covers his face with a paper bag.

I personally was lucky enough to see some of his artworks in their original locations when I lived in Bristol, Banksy’s home turf, in the mid-2000s. Back then, I witnessed his art in its pure state: street art there where it is birthed. Leaving aside the debate of whether it is right or wrong to bring street art into an enclosed space and make people pay a ticket to see it, this type of art stays for a period of time and then it disappears. Therefore, the work of Steve Lazarides, curator of the show, has the merit to bring the work of this secretive artist to the general public.

In the absence of a real name, a face, and an obvious identity to reference to, a visit to the Banksy exhibition is a great way to learn about the most famous graffiti artist of this and any era through photos, paintings, and prints as well as the narrative of Steve Lazarides, who was part of his entourage for ten years.

The idea for the show to come to Toronto originates from a personal visit by Corey Ross (President of Starvox Exhibit Inc.) to the exhibition in Amsterdam last summer with his family. After the visit, a discussion ensued about what they had just witnessed. Any form of art makes viewers peel the layers off the surface of an aesthetically pleasant and entertaining experience. “You see the works of a mesmerizing artist and his political messages at the same time,” Corey says. Truly, underneath his pictures, Banksy’s political and social activism—opposition to wars, anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-establishment—is loud and clear.

Corey thinks that Toronto is the right place to test drive a new idea. What made Toronto win the bidding war against Athens and Stockholm are the following factors: the space at 213 Sterling Road, a former transformer factory; the neighborhood, a once industrial area, but soon to be home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, has developed a creative vibe; the public: “Toronto has the right public for this type of show” Corey says, “as demonstrated by the enormous success of the Kusama exhibition, totally embraced by the city at the AGO earlier this year.”

“The feedback received from the visitors is vastly enthusiastic,” he continues.  People are polled via email after their visit and the positive feedback addresses largely three elements contributing to the success of the show, one being the space which perfectly fits an art show; next is the size and breadth of the exhibit—with sculptures, prints, paintings, photos of Banksy’s work and at work; the third is Lazarides’s own perspective with his inside stories on how Banksy established himself as an artist, how he created certain works, how he managed to get through security and so on. Lazarides’ narrative adds a layer of mystery around an artist whose art begins with an offense, trespassing of private properties, to leave his signature mark on a wall.

The 80 pieces—79 following the theft of one piece caught on video camera—were carefully curated by Lazarides.  None of what is at the show was taken off the street. His original works are still there unless the landlords painted over them, or the police removed them, or another artist tagged them.

Lazarides, who started by taking photos to document Banksy’s work on site, then acted as his agent, ran his shows for art collectors to buy his pieces. So, the exhibition is a collection of pieces for shows mounted by Lazarides from 1998 till 2008. The second last room of the exhibit contains the Flag Wall and other pieces that were part of the ‘Barely Legal’ show Lazarides mounted in Los Angeles in 2006. These pieces were created for art collectors, then ended in private collections; therefore, only seen by a limited number of people. Some of the pieces were sold during Christmas parties at $35 and some were sold to movie stars. The final piece Forgive Us Our Trespassing was seen in a small art gallery in Los Angeles by no more than 2,000 people. It’s a giant 21-foot-high piece that was sitting in a warehouse for ten years because the collector did not have space in their house.

Judging by the sheer number of photos of Banksy’s pieces that cover social media these days—if it is ever appropriate to use social media as a barometer to reflect users’ preferences—Flower ThrowerGirl with the Red BalloonFlying CopperFlag Wall and Forgive Us Our Trespassing are among the most popular pieces of the show. Apparently, a couple had their photo taken with the latter piece in the background while the man went down on his knee to propose to his fiancée.

Lastly, on the way out, visitors are confronted with one of Banksy’s quotes. Much like Dante’s warning before descending into the underworld “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” Banksy warns: “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime, we should all go shopping to console ourselves.” I faced this dilemma myself as to whether I needed to console myself as I exited through the gift shop.

Female Eye Film Festival handles tough topics

In the city that holds the record for the highest number of film festivals per capita, the Female Eye Film Festival (FeFF) is not a festival to be missed. Coming to the Carlton Theatre from June 26 to July 1, the FeFF marks its 16th edition this year. Since its quiet inception, the “little festival that could” to quote Angela Argento, Chair of the FeFF, has come a long way. What’s more, in light of the most recent events that hit the film industry and the subsequent viral spread of the #MeToo movement, this independent and thought-provoking festival is perhaps even more relevant.

In a recent interview with Lesley Ann Coles, Founder and Executive Director as well as an accomplished film director herself, she summarizes very well the rationale behind such lack of morality: “Regardless of gender, if you pursue a career that is a dream, the film industry is a killing field for perpetrators who will take advantage of people’s dreams.” As festival director, Leslie Ann sees many films, reads many scripts, and knows all too well that gender identity, gender imbalance, sexual abuse are constant themes in women’s films. The short Cross My Heart by Jamaican Director, Sontenish Myers, is just one of the films in the program which features this uncomfortable truth.

Leslie Ann is very proud of the Female Eye. Beyond the obvious fact that the festival is a window for independent female writers and directors to showcase their work, she says “it’s a relationship building festival, a networking opportunity for directors, writers, and producers coming together and creating friendships.” One of the films showcased this year, The Plural of Blood, is a testimonial of the sisterly spirit that forms at the Female Eye and generates work partnerships: Mary-Lyn Chambers, director, and Roxy Shih, executive producer of the film met at the FeFF two years ago.

The festival begins on June 26 at 6:30 p.m. with a film by Valerie Buhajar, It’s Hard To Be Human, followed by a Q&A with the director. Valerie is a frequent visitor of the festival; her previous feature film The Anniversary, was screened at the FeFF in 2014. She is a living example of how the FeFF is a space where filmmakers’ talent is nurtured and encouraged through the years. Particularly noteworthy is the script development program, a “creative incubator for screenwriters” where panels of experts and aspiring writers and directors meet and discuss the potential of future storytellers and film directors. The script development program is free and open to the public.

Unlike other film festivals, the Female Eye is very keen on ensuring that women are firmly seated in the director’s chair. The director has the “key creative control when it comes to films, especially independent films” says Leslie Ann. However, the script development program is also open to male writers whose screenplay’s protagonist is a female character, and that is to address the gender imbalance and inequity on screen and behind the camera across the board. That is not to say that the Female Eye excludes men; on the contrary, men are involved in the making of the festival, men go and see the films. Interestingly, the tag line of the festival used to be “Female Eye, Flicks Not Just for Chicks” to help dispel the myth that women make films just for women. The festival stands at the forefront in the fight against the stereotype that wants women only watching fluffy rom-coms; women’s films are accessible to everyone and for everyone. In more recent years, the tagline has changed to “Always Honest, Not Always Pretty,” just like the truth, and as such it resonates with the films that women make where characters are complex, as are their relationships.

Finally, every year, the Female Eye awards an Honourary Maverick and an Honorary Director to women who have excelled and given a significant contribution to the film industry. The 2018 recipients are respectively, Debra Zimmerman and Liz Marshall. Debra runs a distribution company out of New York, dedicated to women documentary makers. Liz is a Toronto-based documentarian with a focus on social justice and environmental themes. These events take shape of intimate conversations with the recipients. All industry programs which include panel discussions with leaders in Canada’s film and television industry, script readings and the much-celebrated Live Pitch are free and open to the public.

The Female Eye Film Festival opens on June 26 and runs until July 1 at the Carlton Theatre. Tickets ($8 two-hour film program) are available for purchase online. $10 at the door. Audience Q&A with the directors follow each screening.

Don’t like camping? Try glamping

With summer around the corner and school coming to an end, it’s time to make some travel plans that fit everyone’s expectations: The nature and adventure junkie, and the comfort and luxury lover.

I’ve always liked the idea of camping and my experience of it in my 20s was positive so much so that I would have gladly repeated the experience if my other half were more agreeable with it. Camping is simple and inexpensive way to travel and experience a new place. All you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, a knapsack with clothes to last enough days, toiletries, cooking supplies, and off you go. Well, if you like that sort of experience, great! But what if your partner in life and travel is not into roughing it? No worries! If you don’t like camping, how about glamping?

Glamping is becoming popular especially with families, people with high income and the over 60 crowd. You can find glamping sites everywhere across Canada and around the world. The demand is high and so is the offer.

Simply put, glamping is glamour and camping combined. Glamping is the perfect compromise; the camping lover will not have to renounce their need for adventure, love of nature, and experiential travel while the luxury lover won’t have to throw a wrench by demanding style and comfort. Glamping is camping with the comforts of a four-style hotel. When you “glamp”, you ditch the traditional tent that needs assembling each time you use it. Instead the options are: A barn, a hut, a cottage, a lodge, a tent, a teepee, a yurt, a villa, a treehouse, or a wagon; in any case, a very comfortable, fully-furnished, often elegant and uniquely decorated unit. Proper beds, queen or king size, guarantee a good night sleep. Units come with electricity or battery powered outlets to charge your phone, use your hairdryer and so on. On another note, if camping evokes the thought of toilets located under the stars, put all worries to rest. Glamping sites provide fully functional bathrooms with hot and cold running water, showers and or tubs.

Like all respectable campsites, glamping sites offer entertainment to all heart’s content with activities such as zip-lining, axe-throwing, wine tours, to name a few. It’s all about connecting and embracing whatever the area has to offer. As for dining, some sites come with fully equipped kitchens if you don’t mind cooking, some offer the most demanding food junkie a fine dining experience to taste the flavour of fresh and local ingredients.

It’s good to know that just like all vacation options, glamping is for all budgets, from the most affordable to the most upscale. So, do your research and surely you will come up with the alternative vacation that works for you, your family or friends. I am doing mine and leaning very much towards a glamping experience. So, taking the liberty to conjugate the verb, I say: I am glamping this summer!