Thursday, 12 September 2013

Biindigaate Film Festival and Art Show

     In its fifth year this annual film festival and outreach program features 40 short films, a few feature films, a few documentaries, and an art exhibition at the Definitely Superior Art gallery. Locations for events vary. You can download a detailed program with all the times and locations, here: Biindigaate/Program.  
     The festival was put together by a group of film lovers made up of students, journalists and community members who saw the potential for film lovers and film-makers to get together and bring in films from all over the world. One of the organizers, James Monastyrski, say’s, “We hope the festival inspires young people to make films and get involved. All you need these days is a camera, a Mac, a good idea with a story, and you can make a film.” James is enthusiastic about the spirit and intent of the festival, which is sure to inspire. “These films are a mix of local, regional, and global films. We have films coming from across the world; Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, the U.S., and from all across Canada.”
          A couple generations ago European descendants to this land tried to beat out and replace the culture of the indigenous population. The indigenous might have lost their culture had it not been for one cultural aspect that was and is still stronger than that of our European descendants, their memory.
     As a distinct and much celebrated aspect of the heritage of indigenous cultures, storytelling lasted much longer in its oral tradition than it did for Europeans. Europeans invented technologies and laws that made memory unreliable, unwanted and unnecessary. As a result, Europeans also wrecked the sanctity and trust placed in those who held memories for wisdom, tradition, science, culture, etc. – the elderly.
     “Elders” is a term native peoples use with reverence, because the memories of elders can stretch back for many generations. European descendants use the term “elder” with some derision, where senility is most commonly associated with growing old.
     However, the differences in our cultures make for Variety, with a capital V. This diversity adds to the many ways we have of viewing our world, and the Biindigaate festival is certainly one way to let the light in, especially when we open our eyes and witness the lives of others. Although it can be difficult for some to look beyond entrenched stereotypes, attending a film festival such as this can do much more than entertain; it can bring people closer.
     Great examples of worthwhile indigenous productions in our region can be seen regularly on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. Incredible talents in music, acting, directing, singing, dancing, animation, etc. are featured and explode on the screen. The humour is unusual and surprising, the pacing different, the methods of storytelling often so subtle as to be mystical and at times unsettling. Even children’s animated cartoons, both traditional and computer generated, contain artistic elements that are at times as corny as our own, and yet simultaneously make deep humanistic statements. The variety is awesome.
     And variety is what you will get at the Biindigaate festival. These films come from people who are Navajo, Metis, Cree, Tewa, Six Nation, Tsilhqot’in Nation, Mapuche, Weenusk First Nation, Inupiat, Algonquin, and more, each with a story to tell.
     And if you haven’t already inferred from the above list, stories come from local talent and from as far away as Peru.
     The art show at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery features the multi-media work of Lisa Myers with two new media works and a performance. Louise Thomas of the Ahnishnabae Art Gallery will be showing an international collection of Aboriginal artists. The gala opening is on Friday the 27th, from 9 – 12pm. The show will be open from 12 – 6pm and runs till October 12. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Value of Comparative Studies

    Last month I took a two-week trip to Barcelona and Tarragona, Spain. Supposedly I was on vacation, but I couldn’t get Thunder Bay out of my head. It seems to be the prerogative of every artist to compare, to be aware, and to want change for the better. 
     Change for the better was for Northrope Frye, our once eminent literary critic, a key element in determining the value of literature as every writer (whether they were conscious of it or not) to improve society in some manner. Frye said one way you could determine an artist’s worth was based on how much positive change they made in society. Not easy to do.
     Thunder Bay has lots of advantages over other cities in terms of our closeness to nature, to the waterfront, to great parks, campgrounds, small lakes, great hiking, fishing, hunting and on and on. In terms of attracting tourists and keeping young people here and making our city more community based we could be doing better. We need more public spaces to congregate and interact. We need to better beautify our downtown cores. We have great waterfront property that could be put to amazing use with some thought and effort. Happily, Thunder Bay is well on its way. 
     Twenty years ago Barcelona was known as an unattractive port for the shipping industry. The port is still filled with thousands and thousands of cargo containers where massive cranes sit on an extensive rail systems. You can see it all from Monjuic’s castle. It’s an amazing sight.
     Everywhere in Barcelona I saw opportunities for Thunder Bay. Although Barcelona is a much bigger city, has a better climate (if you’re not a fan of long winters) and is much older (which attracts tourists), there are similarities to Thunder Bay. Like Thunder Bay, Barcelona is close to nature and has an extensive waterfront. Albeit the natural surroundings have different properties, the sea is warmer than our lake and pigs roam around like our deer on Mission Island (so you shouldn’t feed the pigs), we are like a mini-Barcelona of the North.
     My father was a professor of political science at Lakehead University and he did extensive comparative studies of northern health care systems in Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia, in order to learn what might improve health care in our region. 20 years on his research papers are still studied by students at LU. When he got the job as founding president of the University of Northern British Columbia he worked with an architect to design a university that would be more appropriately suited for the northern climate. He had to ditch Joseph Cardinal’s design proposal because Cardinal was more concerned about aesthetics and his legacy than function, and my father, knowing first hand about a lot of the problems our university had in our climate had to hire an architect who was more open minded to actual weather conditions, and more, like women’s safety on campus, easy access from one building to the next (including residences) during winter, etc. The result is that UNBC is a fabulous little university specially designed for the north.
     So, there I was in Barcelona, supposedly on a vacation, but taking photos like mad, not so much because I was a tourist, but because I was thinking like an artist, and had inherited my father's understanding of the value of comparative studies. I was constantly wondering what could be transposed from Barcelona to Thunder Bay.    
     And man, what an explosion of crazy ideas I had. I think we should build a castle in Thunder Bay! Yes, a castle. And I'm serious. The surprise that you just had reading that last line is the surprise that most anyone would have when they found out that Thunder Bay was building a castle. There is no such thing around here. It would be a great attraction and useful if built with our community in mind. Or, we could have a massive and fun park, like Park G├╝ell, a park designed by Antonio Gaudi. We have lots of artist who could come up with fantastic designs, sculptures, mosaics, etc. and have it as an add-on to Centennial or Chippewa Park. Barcelona even had a strange micro-city, Poble Espanyol, built in 1929 as part of the World's Fair. It's an open-air museum that could be emulated here in the North, maybe with a focus on first nation tribes in the area. Come to think of it, the castle could be a mix of European and First Nation influences. It could be awesome. 
     Anyway, crazy ideas aside, even the smallest and most practical ideas are worth comparing. How we live in comparison to others, and stealing ideas from anywhere we like could be a great thing for our city.