Sunday, June 10, 2012

Public Protests and Prizes and the Festival Season

It's June in Toronto.  The roses and the honeysuckle are in bloom along with the peonies.  The garden at my domicile is an explosion of colour and fragrance in a week when we've had rainbows after a tempest, a Transit of Venus and a full moon. Wonder and beauty abound at every turn.

This week also brought a flurry of awards nominations.  The Dora Mavor Moore Award nominees for theatre presented in Toronto were announced this week, as well as the nominees for the Canadian Comedy Awards.

It was exciting to see a few friends get nominated for great work.  Pamela Sinha for CRASH, Amy Lee and Heather Marie Annis for MORRO and JASP: GO BAKE YOURSELF and Jim Mezon for his riveting performance as Mark Rothko in RED.  A lot of women were nominated for writing, acting and directing as well as performing and that was gratifying. I'm hoping the award nomination for THE PENELOPIAD means the company will get a remount next season.

There are always a few surprises (really? a jury thought THAT deserved a prize?) and great shows that don't clock onto the radar. I SEND YOU THIS CADMIUM RED did not receive a nomination for best production.  I certainly thought it was one of the best shows I saw onstage this season.

The festival seasons in both theatre and film are in full swing.  The Fringe circuit has begun its tour across the country.  Next week I'll be in Ottawa for the end of Canada Dance, the largest dance festival in the country and the start of the Ottawa Fringe. Here in Toronto, Luminato has begun, with an amazing line-up of theatre and and free, live, outdoor concerts.

On the film side, festival season has begun both here, and abroad with Cannes last month and in Toronto with Hot Docs and this week, the World Wide Festival of Short Films presented by the Canadian Film Centre.

Tonight I biked over to the newly renovated Bloor Cinema to see a screening called "War What's It Good For?" centred around themes of war and its effects. There was documentary, drama, animation and montages of  music and images mostly on the subject of war and its effects on the lives of ordinary people.

I was fascinated by the way the subjects in the films, whether soldiers, citizens, domestic animals or the land itself were mostly seen by the filmmakers as victims or observers rather than actors in their own dramas.

Only two directors saw their human characters as having conscious choice or free will.  Andrew Kelm's GOLDILOCKS NATION used the famous fairytale as a jumping off point to have psychologist June Lawson talk about an American culture of entitlement and a refusal to grow up as a justification for invading other people's houses (or countries for that matter) and taking their stuff. In PASSING THROUGH THE NIGHT (one of my favourites of the program)  the Slovakian filmmaker used a bus full of animals: actors in mask, with human clothes and fur heads and two very human hunters to look at complicity, victims and predators.

BELLUM showed two Danish soldiers waiting to go away to a war zone.  It depicts a night of nihilistic debauchery and an effort to drown terror of the impending atrocities with sex and drink by two young men with bleak prospects but with no acknowledgement that the characters had other choices available.

I often hear the phrase "the theatre of war". We make heroes of soldiers who volunteer for service and indeed many are heroic. Of course wars everywhere are rife with hapless victims of conflicts not of their choosing.

For those who sign up to serve in the military, being an actor in a theatre of war is a conscious choice. Not one film last night spoke about conscientious objection or pacifism as a real choice in the face of violent conflict.

Our government chose to send troops in to support the American invasion of Iraq after 9/11.  Canada has consciously had voluntary troops in Afghanistan for over a decade. We don't have conscription at present.  All of those who serve have volunteered to do so.

I have seen student protests in the streets in both Montreal and Toronto this week, under heavy police escort.  I believe it is right to peacefully protest incursions on free speech in our democracy.   I also believe we as a society need to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions and own when and where, of our own free will,  we have directed our feet on a course of action that fails to respect the rights of others.

Our continued oil dependence causes environmental degradation and yes, war, both here and abroad. Our insistence on living at an unsupportable standard, far beyond our means and encouraging global aspiration to a similar standard of living is taxing the planet and throwing the global economy into chaos. It is also bringing misery to sweatshop workers around the world making stuff most of us could well live without.  To pretend we have no choice in this is false.  We are actors in this as much as we are victims.

The last film of the 90 minute short program had a haunting image near the end:  the wolves were howling at the door as a child tried to protect his senile grandmother from the encroaching onslaught as they sat in front a jigsaw puzzle on Christmas Eve waiting for guests who would not come. The house is in an abandoned American suburb. The former haven has become an abandoned dystopia.

I thought of all those images of street after street of abandoned homes in cities where work has dried up and real estate is under water in the U.S.  When mortgage interest has usually hovered around 10% who in their right mind buys a house if they can only afford to live in it if the debt interest remains at 2%?  Yes banks are partially to blame.  So is our culture of bottomless entitlement.

Please go distract yourself from the grim news about horrible crime, war and economic crisis that has dominated public discourse this week by enjoying the beautiful weather and a festival near you.  You're certain to see some great work and you'll be making a conscious decision to support your local arts community.  If you walk, ride your bike, car pool or take public transit you'll be burning less oil and helping the environment.

I'll bring you some musings on the start of my summer festival going next week.

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