RIDM 2018 Review: Teta, Opi & Me

Tawfiq Abu Aitah (Opi), left, and Gerlinde Abu Aitah (Teta) are the grandparents of filmmaker Tara Hakim.

The short documentary Teta, Opi & Me celebrates love, resilience and craziness – the good craziness, that’s warm, positive and spontaneous – not that OTHER kind of craziness that we see so often these days.

Teta and Opi are Gerlinde Abu Aitah and Tawfiq Abu Aitah, the grandmother and grandfather of filmmaker Tara Hakim. Tawfiq, an Arab from Bethlehem, was studying in Austria when they met at a dance in Vienna in 1959. (Rock’n’roll! The twist!)

Tawfiq noticed Gerlinde right away. (“I saw you dancing like a crazy one!”) He wanted to dance with this wild and crazy woman. Luckily for him, she wanted to dance with him, too. Despite the many obstacles thrown their way, it seems that they have rarely been apart since then.

Teta’s mother and grandmother liked Opi; Teta’s father was kept in the dark as long as possible. He was a man who had framed his daughter’s 1942 birth certificate, the one that attested to her “pure blood.” When he found out he freaked out and did his best to keep the couple apart. Opi’s father did the same at first, though his big family eventually welcomed Teta with handholding and kisses. Teta’s father did not attend their wedding.

Love, life and war took Teta and Opi from Austria to Germany, to Bethlehem and then to Amman.

Their story is told through family photographs and anecdotes, mostly related by Teta (“My grandmother loves to tell stories!”) when Tara visits them at their home in Amman.

Tara Hakim took part in a Q&A after the screening, so we were able to learn more about her grandparents and how she shot the film. She spent one month visiting them in Jordan. At first she tried to film with a fancy camera, lights and a boom mike, but it put too much of a distance between them; it was too unnatural. She had been shooting them on an iPhone, in person and via Skype for years and they were used to that. So she went back to that method. Sometimes they didn’t even realize that she was filming.

It was only during the Q&A that we found out that Teta’s father accepted the relationship at some point.

Hakim said that her grandfather will be 80 in January, but he still works six days per week. He says that he’s going to work until the day he dies. Guess he enjoys it! Hard work has paid off, because their house and flower-filled garden look lovely. (He had studied business administration when he was in Europe.)

At one scene in Teta, Opi & Me, Teta tells a story while making something in the kitchen. What was it? “Potato dumplings,” Tara said. “Delicious!”

Language lesson: Opi often calls Teta crazy, in an affectionate way. At the beginning of the film, Tara Hakim tells us that the Arabic word for crazy is majnūn ( مَجْنون ). The Arabic word for bougainvillea sounds very similar and the couple’s garden is full of them. The flowers appear often in the film.

Gerlinde Abu Aitah (Teta) in a shower of bougainvillea flowers.

Teta, Opi & Me is being shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, along with two other shorts. Turning Tables, directed by Chrisann Hessing, is about Joshua DePerry, a music producer, DJ and dancer from the Anishinaabe community in Thunder Bay. It’s 16 minutes long. Dreaming Murakami, directed by Nitesh Anjaan, is about Mette Holm, the Danish translator of the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. It’s 57 minutes long.

Teta, Opi & Me
Country : Canada, Jordan
Year : 2018
V.O : English, German, Arabic
Subtitles : English
Duration : 25 min
Cinematography : Tara Hakim
Editing : Tara Hakim
Production : Tara Hakim
Sound Design : Ryan McCambridge

Teta, Opi & Me
Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, 8:15 p.m.
CINÉMA DU PARC – Salle 3
3575 Park Ave, Montreal, QC H2X 3P9

Visit the RIDM web site for more information about the festival.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/286966534″>Teta, Opi &amp; Me Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/ttara”>Tara</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Review of Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

Ann Marie Fleming's animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is incredibly colourful.
Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is incredibly colourful.

It is cold here in Montreal. We had the first snow of the season on Monday the same day that I saw Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film, Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. It was like the proverbial breath of fresh air – warm, welcoming, colourful, joyful, musical, magical, mesmerising and marvelous! It’s about the love of family, love for words and music and other good things. It’s also about more complicated stuff like history, dissent, exile, reconciliation and finding your own voice. So many elements, but they all work together well, as in a symphony, or (corny reference, sorry) a beautiful carpet. Window Horses is a treat for the eyes and ears that will touch your heart. (Not exaggerating!)

The film’s French title is La vie en Rosie : L’épopée persane de Rosie Ming – a different cultural reference, while the alliteration remains.

Rosie Ming is a young Vancouver woman of Chinese and Iranian parentage. She was raised by her loving Chinese grandparents and still lives with them. (Rosie has the voice of actress Sandra Oh and a stick-figure body. That body is the alter ego of director Ann Marie Fleming. The other characters look like more conventional human beings.)

Rosie loves Paris even though she has never been there. After self publishing a slender book of her poems (My Eye Full, Poems by a Person Who Has Never Been to France) Rosie is surprised to receive an invitation to a poetry festival in Iran.

Her best friend Kelly (voice of Ellen Page) tells Rosie that she MUST make the trip. (Kelly did not even know that Rosie wrote poetry, so she’s a bit hurt that Rosie kept that info to herself.)

Rosie Ming is drawn as a stick figure in the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Rosie loves Paris, but there's a map of Iran under her Paris poster.
Rosie Ming is drawn as a stick figure in the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Rosie loves Paris, but there’s a map of Iran under her Paris poster.

Rosie’s grandparents are happy that their little girl has been honoured; they are less enthusiastic when they learn that the event is in Iran. But once Rosie has decided to go, they can’t dissuade her. (Grandpa Stephen is played by Eddy Ko, Grandma Gloria is played by Nancy Kwan. THE Nancy Kwan, of The World of Susie Wong, Flower Drum Song, etc.)

As the airplane starts its descent to the airport, all the women cover their hair with scarves. Rosie outdoes them, going full chador. (Throughout her visit, she is told: “You don’t have to do that, you know.”)

When Rosie tells the customs officer that she is attending a poetry festival in Shiraz, he says that he is a poet, too. Everyone in Iran is a poet!

Even though she is quite young and has only written one book, Rosie is treated with warmth and respect by everyone at the festival, apart from snarky German guest Dietmar, who usually has his nose buried in his phone.

Don McKellar and Sandra Oh enjoy themselves recording the voices of Dietmar and Rosie, for the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming.
Don McKellar and Sandra Oh enjoy themselves recording the voices of Dietmar and Rosie, for the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming.

(Canadian actor and director Don McKellar provides the voice of Dietmar. “I have angst. I’m doomed,” he says.) Other guests include Chinese exile Di Di and U.S. poet Taylor Mali. (Mali is a real-life person.)

Rosie knows about Rimbaud, Baudelaire and other French poets; in Shiraz her hosts introduce her to the verses of Iranian poets Rumi, Hafiz (also spelled Hafez) and Saadi. The last two were both sons of Shiraz.

Window Horses is full of beautiful sequences; here are two. We hear the call to prayer coming from a minaret. The sounds are represented by colourful ribbons that fly through the air. Soon an enraptured Rosie is floating with them. (This sequence was made Kevin Langdale, who is the lead animator and designer of the entire film.) A sequence describing the life of Hafiz is exceptional, with complicated paper cut-outs, whirling calligraphy, etc. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using Adobe’s After Effects software.

The Iranian poet Hafiz, right, listens to his father recite poetry in a scene from Ann Marie Fleming's animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the paper cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using After Effects software.
The Iranian poet Hafiz, right, listens to his father recite poetry in a scene from Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the paper cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using After Effects software.

(People come from all over Iran to visit the tomb of Hafiz; Rosie visits it, too. We learn that Iranians consult books of his poetry to answer questions about their lives – open any page, and his ancient words will have meaning in the present-day situation. This made me think of people consulting the I-Ching back in the 1960s.)

Rosie does not know much Mandarin beyond “ni hao,” yet she is moved to tears by Di Di’s untranslated poem. Even though she does not know the words, she feels their meaning and the emotions behind them. In a flashback scene, Rosie’s parents meet and bond immediately over their shared love for Rumi. When Rosie’s father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi, Rosie’s mother cries crystal tears.

When Rosie's parents meet, her future mother, Caroline, is reading a book by Rumi. Caroline cries when Rosie's future father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi.
When Rosie’s parents meet, her future mother, Caroline, is reading a book by Rumi. Caroline cries when Rosie’s future father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi.

Despite much warmth and happiness in Rosie’s life, and in her visit to Shiraz, there is an undercurrent of melancholy, with gusts to bitterness. Her mother is dead, and her father abandoned her when she was 7 years old. How could he do that? Many people in Shiraz knew her father, and they tell her he was a very good man. At first, Rosie does not want to hear anything about him, but then she, and we, make some surprising discoveries about him. To reveal more would be to spoil things.

Window Horses is among the two opening films of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, 15th edition, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. It will be shown Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. at 7 p.m. (Oooops, the screening is now sold out.) Window Horses will get a general release in Canada in 2017.

Read more about Window Horses on the Cinémathèque’s web site.

RIDM 2015: Watch interactive documentary at home, or take part in an ‘assisted navigation’ with director Brett Gaylor

Director Brett Gaylor explains the Do Not Track interactive web documentary at RIDM, Montreal's documentary film festival.
Director Brett Gaylor explains the Do Not Track interactive web documentary at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

Director Brett Gaylor explains the  interactive web series Do Not Track at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

Do you know about Brett Gaylor? He directed Rip! A Remix Manifesto, a documentary about fair use, the concepts of “CopyRight and CopyLeft” and DJ Girl Talk. Maybe I’ll post some links about that later.

These days, Gaylor is the mastermind behind Do Not Track, an educational and international interactive web series about our privacy, or the lack thereof, on the Internet.
The project is a co-production between Canada’s own National Film Board, UPIAN, ARTE, Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Public Broadcasting), with the participation of Radio-Canada, AJ+ (“the digital-only video news network and community from the Al Jazeera innovation department”), RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse). It has seven supporters, too, including Montreal’s EyeSteel Film. You can see them all here.

There are seven episodes, with most being about 7 minutes long. Some could be longer, depending on the options viewers choose. The subjects are Tracking, Cookies, Social Networks, Mobile, Big Data, Future Bubble and Future of Tracking.

Each episode also has some articles related to the video – what we’d call “sidebars” in the newspaper biz. “How to protect your smartphone” part of Episode 4 of Do Not Track, would probably be of interest to anyone who has one. That same episode includes links to articles in the New York Times, The Intercept, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (The EFF has rated so-called “secure messaging” products.

You can watch these videos at home, but if you come to the director’s navigation you can hear the inside scoop on the project, ask Gaylor some questions and possibly volunteer as a guinea pig to discover your Big 5 Personality Traits, according to an algorithm that analyzes your online activity.

At an assisted navigation of the documentary web series, Do Not Track, director Brett Gaylor showed particpants that the the web site of The Guardian has 35 trackers.
At an assisted navigation of the documentary web series, Do Not Track, director Brett Gaylor showed participants that the web site of The Guardian has 35 trackers.

Gaylor remined us that the Internet isn’t really free, we pay for it with information about ourselves instead of with money. (Gaylor went on the Guardian web page and showed us that it had 35 trackers.) Trackers collect information about our needs and interests to create a profile which they then sell to the highest bidder, who then places ads on our Facebook feed and elsewhere. He said Europe has better legislation about online privacy than the U.S. does, but that technology is moving so fast that legislation can’t keep up.

He raised the possibility that people would be denied loans, mortgages, or insurance coverage based on information gleaned from their online profiles and from the profiles of their friends and families.

Gaylor pointed out that we do get notices about cookies, but our only option is to click “OK,” there isn’t a “NO” button for opting out.

Has the NSA's surveillance program PRISM been reading your emails? This graphic was part of a presentation abut the interactive web documentary Do Not Track. (Photo: Liz Ferguson)
Has the NSA’s surveillance program PRISM been reading your emails? This graphic was part of a presentation about the interactive web documentary Do Not Track. (Photo: Liz Ferguson)

Spying on us isn’t just about selling stuff either, Gaylor presented a graphic about the NSA’s PRISM program, which has been reading email provided by Microsoft since 2007.

He asked people in the audience how much they’d be willing to pay for Facebook and Google if they would be free of ads and cookies. (What about you?)

Some people were willing to pay $10 per year for Facebook and as much as $50 for Google. Gaylor revealed that Facebook earns $9 per year on each Facebook account and Google earns $45 from selling information about each user.

Do Not Track
By Brett Gaylor, with the collaboration of Sandra Rodriguez and Akufen (Big Data episode)
Country : Quebec, Germany, France
Year : 2015
Language : German, English, French
Runtime :120 min
Platform : Webdocumentaire
Website : Http://donottrack-doc.dom
Production : Alexandre Brachet, Margaux Missika, Louis-Richard Tremblay, Gregory Trowbridge
Technical Direction : Nicolas Menet, Maxime Quintard, Avec La Collaboration D’akufen (Épisode Big Data)
Sound : Jason Staczeck
Distribution: Élise Labbé
Office National Du Film Du Canada
e.labbe@onf.ca

Do Not Track Screening – Navigation Assistée / Director’s Navigation
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, 7 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Norman Mclaren (Salle Uxdoc)
335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.

RIDM 2015 Review: Star*Men

 

Director Alison Rose, second from right, and her astronomer friends take a break at the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah.
Director Alison Rose, second from right, and her astronomer friends take a break at the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah.

Majestic music, monumental landscapes, mighty telescopes, and millions and millions of stars and galaxies! Billions, actually, but I was enjoying the alliteration.

You will find those things and more in the documentary film Star*Men. It’s a real treat. In addition to the sound and images mentioned above, you get human interest stories with historical significance.

The 1957 launch of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik in 1957 caused serious alarm in the West. The other side in the Cold War had better technology – what might they do with it? There must have been some wounded pride, too, because Sputnik was right up there in the night sky for anyone to see.

The U.S. did not have enough experts of its own and recruited scientists from all over the world to help it compete in this “Space Race.” The “star men” of the film’s title are Roger Griffin, Donald Lynden-Bell, Wal Sargent and Nick Woolf, British astronomers who were hired to work at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. As they explain, this was wonderful in so many ways. At that time there was little work in the U.K. for people with degrees in astronomy. They could leave the class system and the U.K. weather behind for sunny skies and open roads.

Photo taken by Roger Griffin in 1960 show his fellow astronomers at a their U.S. campsite with a large English flag. After they noticed the American fondness for their flag, they decided to take lots of photos with their own.
Photo taken by Roger Griffin in 1960 show his fellow astronomers at a their U.S. campsite with a large English flag. After they noticed the American fondness for their flag, they decided to take lots of photos with their own.

All four made important discoveries in astronomy during their working lives. In time two returned to the U.K. and two found other jobs in the U.S. Beside explaining their accomplishments, director Alison Rose takes us along when the four have a reunion, 50 years after their arrival in California, that includes much fascinating talk and some very strenuous hiking, including a visit to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah. And they wear huge backpacks while doing it, too! The cinematography of Star*Men is exceptional – natural landscapes and the views of star galaxies and nebulae are stunning. The music is great, too. Director Alison Rose will attend the screening and answer questions afterwards.

The Very Large Array, an astronomicla radio observatory in New Mexico. Do they look like giant ears to you? (Malcolm Park photo from Star*Men web site.
The Very Large Array, an astronomical radio observatory in New Mexico. Do they look like giant ears to you? (Malcolm Park photo from Star*Men web site.

Star*Men
Directed by Alison Rose
Country: Canada
Year: 2015
Language : English
Runtime: 88 min
Production : Alison Rose
Cinematography : Daniel Grant
Editing: Dave Kazala
Sound: Ken Myhr, Daniel Pellerin, Peter Sawade
Contact: Alison Rose
aer@inigofilms.com
Star*Men, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, 6 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Claude-Jutra, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

 

FNC 2015 Review: The Sandwich Nazi

Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It's one of many films being shown at Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)
Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It’s one of many films being shown at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)

The Sandwich Nazi is a documentary portrait of Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil. His customers call him Sal. Anyone who thinks Canadians are dull and boring has not met this guy.

Sal has a dirty mouth and a big heart. Viewers can assess some of his other parts in the last moments of the film.

Sal was born into a large family in Lebanon. He left home at an early age for assorted reasons. He lived in 18 countries before coming to Canada in 1979 and he has the photos to prove it. I didn’t hear him name our city, but it looks like he lived here in Montreal for a while.

When he was no longer “young and pretty” he went into the deli buiness, with La Charcuterie Delicatessen, a “Scandinavian place with a French name” being the most recent one. In addition to sandwiches, he sells imports you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Customers are fond of the pickled asparagus from Denmark. When someone calls to ask if he has “Norwegian cooking chocolate” he says there’s probably some in the back. (You can see that chocolate on the La Charcuterie’s web site and lots more – Viking Bread, Norwegian fishballs, many cheeses, condiments, cookies, candy and sweets, including the very yummy Anthon Berg Marzipan Plum in Madeira. The site includes a recipe for Danish meatballs! )

(Looking at that website made me want to visit Montreal’s La Vieille Europe on St. Laurent, since it might have some of those things.)

Sal has many stories to tell, most of them crude. He says he used to be a male escort who could be hired by men or women. He says he has also been a very successful sperm donor (twins!) for women who did not have (or want) a male partner.

He tells these stories to his customers as he prepares their sandwiches. They’re an extra garnish, you might say. Are they all true? Are some exaggerated? Who knows? Who cares?

The sandwiches themselves are HUGE. Sal says they’re the best in the world and his customers seem to agree. Don’t go the film on an empty stomach.

The film’s title is a reference to the “soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV show. That guy made great soup but customers could be banished forever if they did not obey his many rules. Sal has rules, too; payment is cash only and he demands politeness and respect from his clients. For the most part, he seems to get it. We only hear one or two banishment stories.

As far as I can recall, the “soup Nazi” did not have any redeeming qualities beyond his culinary talents. In contrast, Sal and his army of volunteers prepare meals and distribute them to the poor and the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on a regular basis. He treats those people with warmth and respect and they are obviously happy to see him and his food. He feeds the volunteers, as well. We learn about many other good deeds in the film.

The documentary was made over several years. On more than one occasion, Sal says he will return to Lebanon to visit his family, even naming a departure date. But he doesn’t go. When he’s finally ready to make the trip, the film crew wants to accompany him, but his family says no. Sal documents things himself, and shares his footage with the filmmaker and viewers upon his return. This includes a hair-raising, high-speed drive through a sniper-infested area – not something that happens on your average vacation.

The Sandwich Nazi is one of the hundreds of films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Read more about The Sandwich Nazi on the FNC web site.

 


The Sandwich Nazi
, directed and edited by Lewis Bennett
Original Version In English, 72 minutes long

Tuesday Oct. 13, 2015, 21:30
Program #163
Cinéma du Parc 1, 3575 Ave, du Parc

 

Montreal’s South Asian Film Festival begins Friday with Richie Mehta’s Siddharth

A scene from Richie Mehta's Siddharth, one of the films that will be shown at the fifth edition of the South Asian Film Festival in Montreal.
A scene from Richie Mehta’s Siddharth, one of the films that will be shown at the fifth edition of the South Asian Film Festival in Montreal.

The Kabir Centre will present the fifth edition of the South Asian Film Festival, beginning Friday, Sept, 11, 2015 with a screening of Siddharth, from Canadian director Richie Mehta.

Synopsis: “A working class father searches for his 12 year old son, who has failed to return after he had been sent to work in another town.”
In a review in Variety, Jay Weissberg wrote that the film was: “movingly handled. . .engrossing, multi-layered.” “Much of the film’s success lies in the excellent script and the superb performances. . .” Weissberg praised the work of Rajesh Tailang, as Siddharth’s father, Mahendra and Tannishtha Chatterjee as Siddharth’s mother, Suman.

“Mehta captures the noise and dust of the cities without the taint of Western poverty tourism, and he wraps things up on absolutely the right note.”

After the film, Richie Mehta will participate in a Q&A session via Skype.
SIDDHARTH (2013) 82 min, in Hindi, with English subtitles.
Friday, September 11, 2015, 7 pm.
Cinema De Sève, Library Building (LB-125),
of Concordia University. 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Montreal (Metro Guy-Concordia).

A $5 donation is requested.