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It seems fitting, for this story, that two Calgarians, both former immigrants to Canada, should accidentally meet in Berlin, the ultimate city of intersections: bringing together cultures, ideas and urban muckraking.
Waking up on April 25, Toronto resident Surendra Lawoti was startled to see news of the massive earthquake that shook his homeland of Nepal.
"The first thing on my mind was my family," said Lawoti. "At the time no one was sure about the death toll."
The photographer's parents, his sister and her family, and his brother and his family live in the central region which was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that day. The extent of the damage has been enormous and the death toll is likely to reach beyond the 8,400 that is currently being reported.
In fact, his sister's plane had just landed on the tarmac of Kathmandu's airport when the quake hit. She thought at first that "the pilots hadn't landed the plane properly," according to Lawoti.
Hot Docs 2015 has a lineup with some fabulous documentaries this year and as I peruse the pickings, I see it's going back to some fundamentals. Over the years, North America's biggest documentary showcase has become a glossy panorama of over-produced, TV-centric films. This year, I'm finding a lot of personal films, focussing on individuals and their challenges, that harken back to basics.
"I wanted more than anything to denounce terrorism," is the plaintive explanation from the Danish cartoonist whose infamous caricature of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb under his turban sparked violent protests around the world in 2005.
Kurt Westergaard is one of many cartoonists featured in the French documentary Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy (director: Stéphanie Valloatto), which has its Ontario premiere March 27 and 28 at the Reel Artists Film Festival in Toronto.
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"Penis points" is a phrase I never would have encountered if it weren't for my interview with choreographer Lisa Sandlos, whose latest work explores how girls are socially constructed.
Sandlos is creating a production using research with young dancers for her PhD dissertation in Gender, Feminist and Women's Studies at York University. She told me it's a common phrase in the competitive dance studio world.
Kimchee, the spicy Korean delicacy of fermented cabbage and assorted veggies, and Chef Boyardee, hold divergent yet profound influences in the life of writer and restauranteur Sang Kim, who runs the Windup Bird Cafe in downtown Toronto.
"I actually thought Chef Boyardee was real," said Kim, whose childhood after coming to Canada with his parents from Korea in 1975 was marked by poverty, hardship and those red cans of ready-to-eat-meals. His parents' marriage dissolved in those early years as well.
I was privileged over the summer to be allowed to drop in on Toronto's Girls Rock Camp, hopscotching from room to room as various groups were working out songs. It was a marvel to witness girls teaming up musically:
"Well I think it might work better in F-sharp."
"You think so? Let's try it." (they jam)
"Or maybe we can try this chord?" (audio sample)
"Oh that works better!"
A conversation on the frozen sea of Canada's North is so seared into the memory of filmmaker Laura Rietveld that five years later, she still gets entranced and chilled recalling what she heard.
The Montreal director was in the middle of a dog-sledding trip with musher Harry Okpik. They had paused to have tea and lunch -- in fact Laura's aunt, who was teaching in the Ungava Bay community of Quaqtaq, had fallen off her sled. It was time for a break.
"Harry spoke about dog sledding and his desire to share that passion," recounted Rietveld. "I remember two things from that afternoon: his desire for a meaningful life wrapped up in dog sledding and the dog slaughter -- that was the first time I'd ever heard about it."
"Maybe you think all cows are the same -- that they are stupid and lazy with nothing going on in their heads. Maybe you should think again."
With that opening salvo, the ingenious and deeply absorbing NFB documentary The Wanted 18 grabs you by the soul and never lets go. It's premiering at Toronto's international film festival, which begins on Sept. 5.