Defining Gravity

Defining Gravity

When you hear the word parkour your mind might leap to that hilarious skit in “The Office”, or the insane building jumps in any Bond-cum-Bourne type film. But put your preconceptions aside for a moment and consider what it might be like for a woman to participate in this most macho of extreme activities.

Enter Jo, Mandy and Christie. Three women who push themselves to their physical and psychological limits – and learn just where those limits lie.



ImageThe Bob Marley music doc simply titled “Marley,” enjoying two Special Presentation screenings at this year’s Hot Docs, is one heck of an excellent music doc. It accesses all the family members close to Marley, his wife, children, distant relatives, who speak candidly about “Robert.” The film travels to the lush, mountainous village of his childhood to the streets of Trench Town. It contains footage from his years in London, his travels on European and American tours, to his trip to Africa. The film recounts Bob’s relationship with Rastafarianism, touches on his infamous virility (12 children by 7 women), and illustrates the politics and social movements of his time which injured him with bullets and tear-gas, and left him shaken. Despite this, he never gave up “music for the people.”

Though the film hears from his band-mates and musical colleagues, what this documentary thankfully avoids is a bunch of contemporary musicians extolling his virtues ad nauseum. Bob Marley’s musical talent and innovation clearly has left a lasting mark on our culture, and in my heart particularly. I certainly don’t need to be told of his talent. When music documentaries resort to this “filler” I am always tempted to tune-out.

“Marley” is a gorgeous, interesting, wholistic journey about a fascinating man and his soulful music. It will probably come to be known as the difinitive Bob Marley film.

For more about the film:

For Hot Docs screeening times:

Saving Face

A film about women disfigured by acid attacks is not usually something I want to unwind to at the end of a long, stressful day. But when I spotted this year’s Oscar award-winning short documentary on HBO Canada’s on demand list, I decided to give it a peek, thinking, if it gets to be too much I will turn it off, no guilty feelings.

Though “Saving Face” angered me and disturbed me with its vicious acts – most often perpetrated by the husbands of these women for the most absurdly imagined transgressions – the film engaged me to the end for two main reasons:

– it didn’t dwell on the misery – in fact, the women were bravely coming together to make lasting legal reform, and

– the doctor character at the centre of the film, Dr Mohammed Jawad, had such spark, humour and compassion that I really enjoyed his presence on screen

The tone of the film was therefore less activist and more sharing. Unlike many “cause” films, this one embraced me and encouraged my compassion instead of forcing me to pick sides and get angry. I promptly suggested a plastic surgeon friend of mine to consider contributing his talents to this cause.

And Now For Something Crazy Beautiful

Yesterday’s Genie Awards celebrated a short documentary that I just had to share. “Sirmilik,” a ten-minute meditation on Canada’s national park in Nunavut, is a stunning feat of poetry by director Zacharias Kunuk of “Atnarjuat” fame. The short is part of a larger documentary/cross-media exploit “National Parks Project” that itself is well worth exploring.

Take a few minutes right now to allow yourself to be entranced by the images and incredible music of “Sirmilik.” A hearty congratulations to Kunuk.

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

It sure seems like a romantic and exciting endeavour, but covering war has got to be more than tough I’ve always thought. Living with a photojournalist, I can feel the psychological effects of death and destruction radiating from this human who has witnessed violence and experienced the aftermath of war. But nothing my husband Joseph Wenkoff  has seen, compares to the atrocities recorded by the journalists in this compelling documentary that was short-listed for an Academy Award this year.

“Under Fire: Journalists in Combat” is Toronto-based Martyn Burke’s film on war reporting that features some of the Western world’s best-known reporters, videographers and photographers. It recounts, briefly, the history of war reporting (how it’s become an increasingly lethal profession – two more journalists were killed in Syria last week) and also delves into the psychological trauma that results from witnessing the worst human violence.

How do they cope? One way has been to abuse alcohol as John Steele, author of “War Junkie” recounts. “And that’s why you drink – because if you drink enough, you can’t remember your dreams.” Whether these journalists accept that they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or not, they are each on their own journey of either self-distruction or healing from the truama of being “prophets.” CBC’s Susan Ormiston and BBC’s Christina Lamb credit their families from keeping them whole. Conversely, Toronto Star photographer Paul Watson, who captured the iconic picture of a dead US soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, admits that though he has a loving wife and son, would still have taken his own life during his darkest moments had he only had access to a gun.

Admissions like his, and that of Chris Hedges who likens the adrenalinalized addiction of war-reporting to a ravaging drug dependence, are the heart and soul of this documentary which pretty much takes all of the machismo out of the profession of covering war.

Luckily, Toronto psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein offers 24-hour emergency service to journalists like photographer Finbarr O’Reilly who has suffered from disassociative feelings upon returning back to the war-free world.

The insights these men and women learn about humanity are nothing that you and I will know. And although I am grateful that they tell the story of suffering, that’s probably for the best. I’ll leave the Kurtz’ to their hearts of darkness. And as for my husband, thankfully his life is fulfilled with a new baby on the way and the adrenaline pull of conflict is under wraps. For now.

“Under Fire: Journalists Under Fire” is airing tonight on CBC’s digital documentary channel. Click here for more.

Concrete Circus

Parkour Star - Courtesy of CBC "The Passionate Eye"

Wow, wow, wow. The urban atheletes of “Concrete Circus” blow my mind even more than Olympians. This documentary follows 4 urban extreme sports viral-video stars as they emabark on making 4 new videos for their on-line audience (which, by the way, surpasses over 40 million viewers between the 4 of them.)

I tell ya, these boys heat me up. If you can’t watch the full documentary (available for free to Canadian audiences courtesy of CBC’s The Passionate Eye) then at least watch the four short films these guys ended up making (just scroll down a wee ways for the 4 links.)

They will make you gasp, smile and wonder at the beauty, artisty and grace of humanity.

Story Corps

One of the benefits of working at the CBC are the training sessions that we are invited to participate in from time to time.  Today’s CBC’s English Services Training session called “The Best of the World” brought together the most innovative programming from this year’s INPUT (INternational PUblic Tv) conference. I was able to attend the day’s “lunch and learn” session which featured a talk and Q&A from animation director Mike Rauch.

Mike and his brother Tim have animated a small number of short radio documentaries using the audio recordings from some of the 70,000 collected for  Story Corps – a brilliant NPR initiative to collect American oral history by inviting participants to share their personal family stories.

The Rauch brothers selected a handful of some of the more poignant stories to animate, which became a whole new opportunity to share these stories across platforms. On average about 2 minutes each, the shorts are surprisingly moving, funny and above all, resonant.

Rauch mentioned that in the selection process, he was not only looking for good stories, but more importantly, characters who could translate vividly from voice to image.

This Valentines Day, consider sharing the Story Corps animated documentary Danny & Annie with your significant other (and others for that matter.)