October 23, 2014

imagineNATIVE 2014 Spotlight: Documentary SOL

In 2012, 26 year-old Solomon Uyarasuk died while in RCMP custody in Igloolik, Nunavut. The authorities reported Solomon killed himself using a shoelace while in his cell. Suicide is unfortunately a much too common occurrence in Nunavut; especially amongst the Inuit community. Solomon's family and friends just could not accept the fact he had killed himself; not in the circumstances described by the authorities.

How does an entire community make sense of such loss? And how can the rest of Canada pay more attention to this very serious issue affecting one of its communities? These are some of the questions raised in the documentary SOL directed by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Susan Avingaq. The filmmakers have set out to tell Solomon's story while raising awareness about the high numbers of suicide in this Northern Inuit community.

Deeming this a very important issue, I posed some questions to director Marie-Hélène Cousineau about Solomon, this documentary, and how she and co-director Susan Avingaq gathered a community to talk about their history, losing their loved ones to suicide, and wishing to keep their traditions alive.

HM: My understanding is that you knew Solomon Uyarasuk, the young artist we come to know through your film. Could you please share how telling Solomon's story has opened up the community of Igloolik to talk about suicide?

Marie-Hélène Cousineau (MHC): Yes I knew him since he was first 6 or 7 years old; a little boy, very cute and gentle. I was afraid people would not want to talk about suicide but as we went filming I realized they were open to share their pain and drama and hope and solutions because they want the situation to change. Young Inuit men have 13 times the suicide rate than other Canadians. It is not acceptable. Now we will bring the film in the communities and we will see how people react and how they talk. It is scary a little bit but …it has to be done, I believe it really. People need to talk because they are holding all this pain in.

HM: How did co-director Susan Avingaq become involved with the film? Her warm presence in the film seems to help in getting community members to talk more candidly, in my opinion.

MHC: She is the one who shared her concerns with me at first. She was very confused by the different stories she heard about Solomon's death. She felt a lot of compassion for his family, for his biological mother (he was adopted).

HM: In the documentary, we meet other community members, friends and family of Solomon. What were the main themes, in your opinion, when they shared with you and Susan, their very personal stories?

MHC: They wanted to say that suicide was too prevalent, too common, too normalized. That was the most shoking thing for them. It became clear that everyone was touched by suicide, every one knew someone, of someone else [who had killed him/herself]. They also talked a lot about the role of the whole community to solve the problem.

HM: Besides honouring Solomon's life, the documentary touches upon the topic of suicide in Nunavut and the North of Canada - a topic often neglected by the rest of Canada. I have read the Nunavut coroner will hold an inquest into Solomon's jail cell death next month. Any thoughts you'd like to share on this development?

MHC: It was too long to have this inquest, too long a wait; there will be tensions, there will be sorrows and a feeling of having been disrespected. At the same time, there might be a feeling of closure; I hope so. But this wait was really, really too long. (more than 2 years). If it was not that complicated a situation , why wait so long? People will be suspicious. The justice system might not seem worth of the family's trust.

HM: Outside of the festival circuit, and educational screenings, how can more people see this film?

MHC: [People] will be able to see it on SuperChannel in 2015.

This documentary may be about Solomon. But it deals with topics and problems present in Canadian society that many have turned a blind eye on. I encourage you to attend its premiere screening at imagineNATIVE tomorrow, Friday, October 24th - 5:30pm, at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

For my picks of what else to see and check out at imagineNATIVE, click here.

5 Reasons To See Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera

The Toronto theatre scene is one that offers a vast array of types and styles of theatre. Outside the mainstream theatre districs, we, as a captive audience, are practically spoiled in the many choices we have with the many theatre companies whose work grace the stage almost every night.

For this reason, I am giving you 5 reasons to get out of the ordinary and make your way to Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Saturday, October 25th.

Reason 1
This is a non-stop, high energy, one man show starring Sébastien Heins as two brothers living the Hip Hop Life. It uses original music and physical theatre to tell this parodied story. Key word: Parody.

We are taken from the 1970s and into the future, as Sébastien mixes Hip Hop and R & B, Rap, Soul, Funk, and Gospel to share a raw yet touching story of family and brotherly love. And be sure that Sébastien's performance as all characters does not disappoint. Not to mention he has great stage presence.

Reason 2
This afteRock Plays production is more of an "immersive experience"; akin to being at a live hip hop concert. From the pre-show performances to the music playing as you enter the theatre we are already part of the journey, so to speak.

Reason 3
The music. For those of us who grew up listening to hip hop and rap along with some older music genres, the music will literally resonate with you. It may even take you back... way back.

Reason 4
It is an opera. By definition, an opera is "a dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists." This show has all of these. The highs and low of any and every opera can be found in Brotherhood...

Reason 5
It is diverse. It is great to see theatre from companies reflecting the many cultures of our city, as is bcurrent. As audience members, and as theatre aficionados, we need to support companies like this so that we can see more of the stories that reflect our society as a whole on stage.

Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera
Directed by Karin Randoja
Dramaturgy by Jodi Essery & Karin Randoja
Set Design: Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design: Jacynthe Lalonde
A co-production with Sébastien Heins
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Ends Saturday, October, 25th

As well, do not forget to check out the other afteRock Plays production, The Femme List. This isa  multidisciplinary work, directed by the 2014 Ken McDougall award-winning director, Gein Wong; starring Catherine Hernandez. It reveals what it is like to be sexy and proud, slutty and loud, queer and brown. It also plays until Saturday, October 25th. Buy a Combo Set and catch both shows the same night!

October 21, 2014

What To See And Experience At imagineNATIVE 2014

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival begins next week, running October 22-26, showcasing some of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe.

This year's festival includes: 130 films and videos; nine Radio Works; seven multi-platform New Media works; four art exhibitions featuring 19 media artists; 11 industry panels and public workshops; and 17 commissions. Continuing to expand its line-up, imagineNATIVE will feature 175 artists representing more than 70 distinct Indigenous nations from 12 countries, including a special International Spotlight on the diverse and remarkable work of Indigenous artists from across Australia.

Opening Night
Wednesday, Oct 22nd, 7pm
What We Do In The Shadows
Bloor Cinema

I cannot tell you how much this choice of opening film makes me smile from ear to ear. This vampire 'documentary' screened at TIFF's Midnight Madness in September, which is where I saw it. It also won TIFF's MM Audience Choice Award. It has been doing the festival circuit since and has garnered some excellent response. No need to tell you what it is about because I sincerely hope you make it out to this one. I laugh every time I think of scenes from the film. As well, co-director Taika Waititi will be in attendance.

Thursday, Oct 23rd, 8pm
Drunktown's Finest
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 4

Set among the landscape of the Navajo Reservation, the film will takes us on a journey of exploration into the lives of three young Navajo people. The film focuses on three protagonists – who represent three genders – which to me, make for a progressive move in terms of filmmaking, in general. Definitely curious about this one.

Friday, Oct 24th, 11am
Coded Territories Book Launch
Ryerson Image Centre

Aside from films, imagineNATIVE has now published its first anthology of essays written by leading Canadian Indigenous new media artists, edited by Steven Loft and Kerry Swanson. Attend to hear about the book and enjoy some light refreshments.

Friday, Oct 24th, 5:30pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 4

A documentary about Solomon Uyarasuk, a young Inuk man filled with talent and promise, who was found dead while in RCMP custody in 2012. The police claim suicide but the community suspects murder. I'll have more about to say about this film and Solomon's story in the next few days.

Friday, Oct 24th, 11:15pm
FREE Admission
The Witching Hour: Late Night Shorts Programme
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 3

This is for those of you who like late-night films and are looking for a little sci-fi, horror, and more. The line-up looks diverse and interesting.

Saturday, Oct 25th, 2:30pm
Available Light: Shorts Programme
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 3

Short films that sound like a complete sensory experience. There is something to be said about experimental films, and thus, I suggest you check out the line up for this shorts programme.

Saturday, Oct 25th, 4:15pm
FREE and Open to the Public
The Future of Indigenous Social Justice Docs
Panel with Filmmakers incl. Alanis Obomsawin
TIFF Bell Lightbox

Documentary filmmakers, producers and advocates will engage in a discussion about the vital importance of documentary films. They will also talk about how the industry might and should respond to the need for creating opportunities in order to bring these stories to wide audiences.

Saturday, Oct 25th, 4:15pm
The Pa Boys
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 3

Three Maori flatmates decide to form a band and embark on a pub tour “Down North” to Cape Reinga in Aotearoa. Boasting a "hot reggae soundtrack", I am keen to see where this tour takes us.

Saturday, Oct 25th, 9pm
imagineNATIVE 15th Anniversary Party
Hart House

Celebrating 15 years is no small feat, and why not join in the party? Be part of it and groove to the sounds of Bear Witness of DJ collective A Tribe Called Red. The party will also feature Cris Derksen and Red Pepper Spectacle Arts.

Sunday, Oct 26th, 11am
Sumé -Mumisitsinerup Nipaa (The Sound of a Revolution)
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 4

A rock band from Greenland? Indeed! This Indigenous band, Sumé, recorded three albums in the early 1970s. This documentary should be a great introduction to the band, their politics, and music.

Closing Night
Sunday, Oct 26th, 6:30pm
The Embargo Collective II
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 1

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, imagineNATIVE commissioned five short films created by five female Indigenous Canadian filmmakers. The screening will be followed by an in-depth, in-cinema panel featuring the artists and executive producer and project manager Danis Goulet. The line-up looks very strong.

On-Goin until Fri, Oct 31st
Ice Fishing
Art Exhibit At 401 Richmond

imagineNATIVE is the world’s largest Indigenous festival showcasing innovation in film, video, radio and new media. For full film and festival listings, as well as ticketing and box office information, visit imaginenative.org.