Living & Design
G ay & L e s b i a n C i t y L i v i n g | m ay 2 0 1 4
toronto Pride the world is watching TRAVEL John Watersâ€™ Divine Baltimore Open house Teatro Verdeâ€™s Shawn Gibson
Prints Charming pattern is the new black
Cinema Season: Inside out Lithgow & Molina in Love Plus: Jewish Film Fest
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MAGAZINE inmagazine.ca PUBLISHER Patricia Salib EDITOR Alan A Vernon Art director Nicolás Tallarico CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Gordon Bowness, Paul Gallant, Michael Pihach, Krishna Rau
There’s more to life than selfies.
CONTRIBUTORs Bryen Dunn, Carlton Ellis, Peter Knegt, Jem Lopez, Pamela Meredith, Sutherland Models, Adam Segal, Riley Stewart, Adam Webster, Andrea Zanin, Kay Zhang proofreaDER Tristan McFarland ON the cover Photography Adam Webster
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issue 48 may 2014
views | living & design | insight | events | Arts & entertaiNment | sex
living & design
arts & entertainment
06 | travel Beautiful Baltimore
24 | art What do Francis Bacon and Henry Moore have in common?
10 | open house Home-maker Shawn Gibson 13 | relationships Cheating: The to tell or not to tell dilemma
26 | film Inside Out: John Lithgow and Alfred Molina speak about their on- and off-screen love
14 | fashion There’s a pattern here
29 | Jewish Film Fest: Joe Balass retrospective spans 20 years of his work
32 | Books
20 | celebrating optimism Toronto’s WorldPride hopes to be a template for the future
22 | get out Places to go, people to see
i may Be laSt on your contact liSt But i’ll Be firSt to Sell your home! you’re 1St on my liSt. read my teStimonialS and give me a call. you’ll Be glad you did! cash incentives on new condo purchases
Katja Rudolph’s surreal journey
33 | sex geek Fisting: A Primer
Sutton group realty SyStemS inc. Brokerage. 2186 Bloor St. W, toronto office: 416-762-4200
on the town
34 | caught in the act Party pics
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Sure to move you!
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Living & Design
T R AV E L
in Divine Waters → It’s easy to get your gay on in Baltimore Story Bryen Dunn
altimore may not be one of those cities at the top of everyone’s list to visit, but with two separate pride festivals, a queer film festival, a Miss Gay Baltimore Pageant and a thriving gaybourhood, it’s certainly one that should be. Still not gay enough for you? Oh yeah, it’s also the hometown and stomping ground where John Waters and Divine collaborated on many of their campy films like Pink Flamingos and Polyester.
Unfortunately for the city, the image conveyed by such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire is not entirely off-base. Baltimore is one of the few American cities to see a rise in its murder rate in 2013, and crime in general remains an ongoing problem. But downtown Baltimore is experiencing a cultural and architectural renaissance, and there’s a reason it’s nicknamed Charm City. Baltimore is easy to navigate by foot, bike or public transit,
including the Charm City Circulator that bills itself as “Fast, Friendly and Free.” In 2012, Baltimore saw its first population increase in more than six decades with just less than three million residents in the greater metropolitan area. It’s a friendly place where it’s easy to chat up the locals, but just make sure you refer to them as Baltimorians, not Baltimorons. The central Inner Harbor area is tourist central, where visitors can explore one of the
many historical naval vessels, the magnificent National Aquarium or just add to their T-shirt collection at the Hard Rock Café. As well, both the Orioles (baseball) and the Ravens (football) have stadiums side-byside in the downtown core. Swirling around the waterside is the newly developed Harbor East area with upscale hotels and shops. Further along the trendy cobblestoned streets of Fells Point, once a favorite entertainment spot for sailors,
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Living & Design
is a pleasant mix of tourists and artists. Adjacent to this, in a city of neighbourhoods, is Little Italy, one of the older established areas that retained its European splendour with outdoor cafes and colourful mural facades. On the south-western reaches of the Inner Harbor is the neighbourhood of Federal Hill, its small-town vibe centered on the bustling Cross Street Market and Federal Hill Park, offering the best views of the Inner Harbor. Heading north from the Inner Harbor up along Charles Street provides a great opportunity to see architecture that dates back two centuries, with nearly 300 buildings registered as historical. But once you hit the George Washington Monument towering high above in Mount Vernon, you’re not in Kansas any longer. This section of Charles Street is gay town, lined
with quaint cafes, independent clothing retailers, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Club Hippo (clubhippo.com) is one of the oldest gay bars in town and one of the largest. Kitty corner to Club Hippo, on the opposite side of Eager Street, is Grand Central (centralstationpub.com), another multifaceted bar with a dance club and pool tables. Within a few blocks there are other options to get your gay on like at the Drinkery and their jukebox jives, Jay’s piano bar, the African-American Club Bunns and the historic leather bar Leon’s (leonsbaltimore.tripod. com) that’s been operating at the same location for more than 50 years. And for those who want to boogie into the wee hours, there’s always Club 1722. For all its stuffy historical significance, Baltimore retains a gritty, urban edge, one of the
driving forces behind its thriving arts community. Along Charles Street further north past Penn Station is Station North, an area in transition, but well on its way to total gentrification. It’s the perfect off-the-radar locale for those looking to explore, rife with dingy gay bars adjacent to hipster haunts, and where art studios and fringe theatres reside alongside vacant historical landmarks. The Charles Theatre art house multiplex offers yearround entertainment, including being the host venue for the annual Maryland Film Festival (md-filmfest.com) in May and the music and arts Scapescape festival (facebook.com/bmore. scapescape) on Labour Day weekend. Among the signs for pop-up punk shows and independent theatre productions that adorn the decrepit shop
fronts on either side of the street is Sofi’s, serving the best crepes in town, or so the rumour goes. Across the street is Club Charles (clubcharles.us), a gay-friendly watering hole stuck in the 1950s, a frequent haunt of John Waters, with other celebrity visits by Nicolas Cage, Iggy Pop, Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp. In the northern reaches of the city is Hampden, a neighbourhood often portrayed in John Waters’ films, known for its independent retail shops, dining spots and local pubs. Walk along 36th Street where Hairspay and Pecker were filmed, and where Café Hon still epitomizes Waters’ kitschy Baltimore. And you can imagine how easy it is for locals to find their six-degreesof-separation with the famed filmmaker. Barry Werner, owner of the Scarborough Fair Bed & inmagazine.ca
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→ The kitschy and the kool (Previous page) Baltimore skyline; (this page, top) Victorian buildings on Charles Street; American Visionary Art Museum; (middle) Divine’s tombstone at the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Towson; George Washington Monument in Mount Vernon; (bottom) Cafe Hon; shopping in Hampden.
Breakfast says, “I’ve been an extra in his movie A Dirty Shame and we crossed paths at a local restaurant where he was having a martini.” Lee Johnson of the Lord Baltimore Hotel divulged that there’s a photo collage of Waters’ works on each floor, while Susannah Siger, owner of the quaint Ma Petite Shoe Café, recalls a scene from Pecker being filmed in the alley behind her place where the rats were making whoopee. The locals love their city, and are more than happy to share their stories: Siger loves the fact that “It’s a livable city that’s still inspired by its working-class roots.” Werner has similar sentiments: “It feels more like a collection of small towns rather than a big city, with a great feeling of civic pride from the residents in each neighbourhood.” Perhaps this is why some have given it yet another nickname, Smalltimore.
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Living & Design One of the more likely places to catch Waters is at Atomic Books in Hampden, where he continues to get his fan mail delivered and ventures in to pick it up regularly. Waters was recently quoted as saying, “My life is so over-scheduled, what will happen if I give up control?” Putting this statement to the test, he recently completed a hitchhiking journey across the US from Baltimore to San Francisco, and plans to turn his adventures into a book, tentatively titled Carsick. This year the queer quotient is being bumped up even more. The official Pride festivities (baltimorepride.org, June 13-22) will run two weekends back to back with 10 full days of programming. Events will be centered in the Mount Vernon area and include Twilight on the Terrace and a Block Party. QFest (bmorequeer.org, June 12-15) overlaps the festivities with LGBT film screenings, readings and exhibitions. Later on in the season check out Artscape (artscape.org, July 18-20) in Bolton Hill, the “largest free arts festival in America,” or Black Pride (blackpridebaltimore.org) in October. For indie music lovers, there’s HampdenFest or the Ground Zero Festival. Also keep an eye out for the queer cabaret Charm City Kitty Club (charmcitykittyclub.com). Another must-visit is the American Visionary Art Museum (avam.org) with its larger-than-life statue of the legend herself, Divine, and for the free outdoor movies on Thursday nights, not to mention all the LGBT-themed exhibitions and programming. Waters still maintains a residence here as does Divine, whose gravesite is at the Prospect Hill Cemetery in nearby Towson. Says Daniel McEvily, editor of Baltimore Gay Life: “What I absolutely love about Baltimore is its gritty heart and soul. The city and its people are unpretentious, hardworking and, above all else, quirky.”
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The details Dining out
Chingale: Great date night cgeno.com Charleston: Farm to table fresh with great homemade fare charlestonrestaurant.com Woodberry Kitchen: Nearly everything is local and organic woodberrykitchen.com Sobo Café: They make their own mayo, breads and desserts sobocafe.net Regi’s American Bistro: A rooftop garden with local ingredients regisamericanbistro.com Pazo: Well-crafted tapas pazorestaurant.com Clementine: Go for charcuterie and pork chops clementinebaltimore.com
Four Seasons fourseasons.com/baltimore Brookshire Suites brookshiresuites.com
Scarborough Fair B&B scarboroughfairbandb.com Lord Baltimore Hotel lordbaltimorehotel.com Resources Baltimore Tourism baltimore.org/article/rainbowround-up
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center glccb.org Baltimore Out Loud baltimoreoutloud.com Baltimore Gay Life baltimoregaylife.com
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Living & Design
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O pe n H o u s e
Home and garden globetrotter → Teatro Verde’s Shawn Gibson a down-to-earth trendsetter Story Michael Pihach | Photography Riley Stewart
hawn Gibson’s apartment is a scrapbook of memories. The former theatre producer-turned-store owner’s hideaway on Jarvis just south of Bloor, which Gibson has rented for more than two decades, is a collection of keepsakes he’s preserved from his travels and vintage oddities he, by a stroke of designer’s luck, found lying on the street. Everything in Gibson’s home tells a story, much like the items sold at his Teatro Verde stores, a luxury home and garden emporium Gibson has co-owned with his longtime business partner, Michael Pellegrino, for 19 years. You’ve rented your apartment for nearly 25 years. No plans to buy anytime soon? I’ve always enjoyed finding
an affordable rental and putting my own spin on it. Economically, today, I think it’s more sustainable than purchasing a condo, which is all maintenance fees, taxes and land transfer taxes. I’d rather keep my money in my business than have it sitting in a condo, if that makes sense. How have you put your own spin on your space? Everything in my place has meant something to me at a certain point in my life. The dumpster piece above my bed, for example: I found it in the East Village in New York City when I was living there as a very poor student. The vintage photos on my bedroom wall: you’ll find the only photo of me as a child as we had a fire in our house growing up and that’s all that
remained. The “G” in my living room is for Gibson. I found it in a pile of letters on the street. Someone thought it was garbage. I’ll probably spray paint it or something. You have so much stuff and yet you’ve still managed to keep your home remarkably tidy. What relaxes me about my apartment is that it’s clean, orderly and neat, but also that it contains stuff that brings back memories. It’s not about its worth or design. It’s about its meaning in my journey in life. You started your career working in theatre. Where did that journey take you? I was an associate producer for Cameron Mackintosh and the Mirvishes for years. I travelled around the world and my entire interior is a collection of
that journey. One of my most memorable experiences was doing Miss Saigon in Japan: going there, producing the show in a foreign language and seeing the cultural side of how the Japanese do business. Theatre brought me into another world of creativity. Then, 19 years ago, you left the theatre, met your business partner, Michael Pellegrino, and started Teatro Verde, which would go on to become a mainstay for home and garden furnishings. Michael was born in Italy, which is why it’s called Teatro Verde—translated, it means “green theatre.” We took our pasts and made it our future. The store has been an evolution of design, floral, home and garden. Michael does floral, landscaping and greens; I do design and inmagazine.ca
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→ merchandising genius Shawn Gibson’s downtown pied-a-terre looks much like an extension of his Teatro Verde Yorkville location—sans price tags.
interior. We’re always pushing the envelope. What’s hot in the design world right now? What I see now is a lot of textile, tactile, earthly modern. It’s not so much linear. It’s clean, chic and simple. There’s a lot of earth elements going on. Teatro Verde sells items from all points of the globe. How does a product speak to you? We go everywhere from Paris,
China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali to all over America, from San Francisco to Dallas to New York, and we’re not just going to trade shows. We’re checking out everything: florals, jewellery concepts, kitchen stores, retail concepts. Based on that, combined with what’s going on in pop culture, we draw a picture of what we want to bring to Toronto. Our merchandise always tells a story. It’s how we
set trends rather than follow them. What do you connect with now in popular culture? I just finished watching Orange is the New Black. I also love Lady Gaga. I’m really inspired by Artpop. What do you think Artpop means? You look at the definitions between design and art. Design is a process to solve a problem. Art is something that is done and you don’t care about judgment. Art is open to interpretation that
could mean anything. Gaga’s music is engineered just like an interior. There are aspects that have to be there for it to become an album. It’s what choices are made and how it’s mixed together. Sort of like your apartment? I can tell you no one has a place like mine. It’s an expression that makes me happy, regardless of what people think of it. If I move into a condo, everyone will have the same configuration with very little artistic expression. For me it’s not about living in the best
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relationship advice — with Adam Segal → I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been having an affair for about eight months. It has become clear over the last few weeks that I need it to end. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and realized that this affair was a little bit of a mid-life crisis moment—the guy is younger and makes me feel like I’m young, too. I met him on the heels of my 45th birthday and was feeling especially forlorn about my wilder younger days. I’ve had a great eight years with my husband and have realized just how good I have it with him. I know he would be crushed to discover that I’ve been straying and feel I’ve done a good job of hiding it. I know my lover will be angry that I’m calling it quits, but know this is the right thing to do (though I’ll miss the hot sex badly). I feel horribly guilty about the affair. How do I really move on and do I tell my partner even if it will hurt him terribly? Felix
neighbourhood. It’s about having a space that has tranquility, chicness with some ephemera. There has to be stimulation. Tell me something about yourself not design-related. I love cooking. I’ve been to Bali nine times, so I cook a lot of Indonesian dishes. There’s a spicy chicken aromatic soup I’ve mastered. Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years? I don’t think I’d want a house. It’s too much to maintain. I see myself retiring, having this
place still, and having a place in Indonesia or Italy. What’s your secret to success? You gotta love what you do or else you’ll become complacent and second-guess yourself. You won’t give it everything that you have.
For more on Teatro Verde, go to teatroverde.com
There are such differing views on the “to tell or not to tell” dilemma— some might argue that sharing the truth of your affair would be a selfish act meant to relieve you of your own guilt while breaking your man’s heart. Others might suggest that honesty is the only moral option or is necessary to support the relationship’s ability to thrive long-term. You probably would love for me to tell you which way to go—but you’re not in luck. I will, though, ask you to consider the reasons for the affair and the likelihood that you will stray from the relationship again. Did the affair reveal something about your level of satisfaction in the relationship? Or were you simply having an existential meltdown and looking to turn the clock backwards for a brief moment? Choosing to come out about the affair (hooray... another coming out!), opens the door for some important conversations with your partner that could help the relationship feel that much closer. The reality is that your partner could be so devastated that he’ll push you and the whole relationship away. On the other hand, if you don’t let your hubby know the truth but suffer from nagging guilt, the shame could pull you away from him just as much as the affair did. Too often, perfectly good and
satisfying relationships end because of an affair. It may sound idealistic, but relationships can sometimes deepen in intimacy and connection after an episode of infidelity. Should the affair get revealed, you will both need to be emotional soldiers if there’s a shot at saving the marriage. He’ll have to risk trusting you again and you will need to be patient and committed in helping him find his way back to you. A lot of people who end affairs don’t foresee this one very particular challenge: you will be grieving the loss of the affair (essentially a sort of break-up) within in the context of your marriage. Because your partner won’t and shouldn’t be your comrade through this, you will need to make sure you have some support from a therapist or trusted friend who can offer you the space to grieve without judgement. Fully moving through the loss of your age-challenged side piece (and your related aging woes) will ensure that you can fully recommit to your husband and really put this behind you.
Adam Segal The writer and therapist works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental health question at email@example.com. inmagazine.ca
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Charming printed patterns make a bold statement for spring Photography: Adam Webster Models: Mark & Alex (Sutherland Models) Styling: Carlton Ellis Grooming: Jem Lopez, Kay Zhang
sweater: Alexander McQueen (at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada) 14 outlooks Month 2011
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fit to Print shirt: Paul Smith (at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada) jeans: Club Monaco belt: Gap watch: Fossil shoes: H&M
16 outlooks Month 2011
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Gaga for geometric shirt: marc jacob (at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada) shorts: H&M watch: Burberry outlooks
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skater style jacket and shorts: Paul Smith (at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada) shirt: Express shoes: Topman watch: Skagen 18 outlooks Month 2011
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partly paisley pant, shirt: zara watch: fossil hat: club monaco belt: joe fresh outlooks
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Insight Wo rl d Pr i d e t o ro n t o
hope springs eternal → Despite the failures of previous WorldPrides, Toronto organizers aim to stamp out a template for future Prides to follow Story Krishna Rau
ravelling around the world to promote June’s WorldPride in Toronto has made Kevin Beaulieu realize how important the event is globally, especially in its focus on global oppression. “People have heard about this all over the world,” says Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, which is hosting the fourth WorldPride. “I was in Serbia, for Belgrade Pride, with a number of Pride activists from around the world. For many of them, it’s the human rights conference that’s the most important. We’ve heard from a lot of people in Uganda who say, ‘We want to be there.’ People are excited. “Sometimes we take for granted that we can have a Pride. But India has just recriminalized homosexuality. Russia has been threatening gays and lesbians; we know what’s happened in Uganda. Even in the US, where gay marriage is being passed in more states, other states are passing laws that make it okay to discriminate. We’re standing in solidarity with all of those people.” And in Toronto, where Pride has become a major annual event—more than one million people were estimated to attend last year’s event—this year’s WorldPride is expected to be bigger and better. Beaulieu says he’s hoping for attendance of up to two million people this year. The 10-day event, between June 20-29, will also include a threeday human rights conference.
Events will also be spread out all over the city, with 75 events organized by partner organizations such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, OCAD University, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Gardiner Museum and the University of Toronto. Events will also take place at Nathan Phillips Square, and there will be a number of events on the closing weekend at Yonge-Dundas Square. There will also be an event commemorating the 45th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall riots, an event generally regarded as marking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. The AIDS vigil on June 24, says Beaulieu, will reflect the international nature of the event. And musical acts will include Tegan and Sara, Melissa Etheridge, Chely Wright, Deborah Cox and KD Lang. But the most important part of WorldPride may be the three-day Human Rights Conference taking place from June 25-27 at the University of Toronto. There will also be, as usual, an international grand marshal, somebody who is fighting for gay rights somewhere in the world. This year, though, all of the past seven grand marshals will return. “We expect 150 thinkers, activists, artists, policymakers and others from all over the world,” says Beaulieu. And despite past troubles with governments and politicians, especially at the munici-
pal level, Beaulieu says that both governments and business have stepped up their support this year. “We’re quite excited at the enthusiasm we’ve been received with, especially across Canada. All three levels of government have been there to support us. We’ve asked our sponsors to step up, sometimes with cash, sometimes with services, and they’ve responded.” There’s also been an enthusiastic response from international media, says Andrew Weir, the vice-president of Tourism Toronto. “We’ve seen great interest in the LGBT media around the world. We’ve seen a lot of articles in Germany over the past month. And Australian, UK, US publications are all running feature articles this month.” Weir agrees that the human rights conference has sparked a significant part of the international interest. “That’s a big part of what Pride needs to be. As we’ve seen in the last months, Pride is as relevant as it’s ever been. We’ve moved on, but a lot of the world hasn’t. Sochi, India, Uganda reinforces why the celebration of victories won and the dialogue of conferences is so important. Toronto is the right place because of our long history of being such an activist city.” But WorldPride 2014 also doesn’t have to go very far to surpass the three previous WorldPride events. The first, in Rome in 2000, was marred by vociferous opposition from the Vatican and by opposition from
the city of Rome itself. The second, in 2006 in Jerusalem, was notable for savage religious opposition, protests, violence, riots, death threats and calls for a “holy war.” And the most recent, in London in 2012, was widely considered a flop for its poor attendance, logistical problems and widespread disorganization. “It’s true that past World Prides haven’t lived up to their potential,” says Weir. “The good news is that it gives us a blank canvas. Future cities will have to live up to what Toronto has achieved. We’re finding that a lot of people seem enthusiastic about a WorldPride that will actually live up to its potential.” And so far, this year has been different, says Alan Reiff, the cochair of the WorldPride committee of InterPride, the parent organization of WorldPride. Reiff was highly critical of the way London, in particular, was organized. He agrees, though, that Toronto has the potential to be different. “Toronto Pride started out with a plan and a structure to implement their vision for World Pride 2014,” he writes in an email. “They are a very secure and wellorganized Pride committee to start with, so all of those procedures will carry over to the production of WorldPride 2014. One major difference this year is the consistency with key players throughout the process as well as secure and stable local government support. I would also note that Toronto Pride has been
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→ standing in solidarity (Clockwise from left) Pride Toronto’s Kevin Beaulieu promises a more globally influential WorldPride than those in Rome, London and Jerusalem.
preferred to have been able to promote it for the whole five years since it was awarded to Toronto, but nobody is able to
extremely transparent and vocal
It will be a global event for every-
when working with InterPride.
one to take part in, whether you
We really appreciate the unique
are in Toronto or participating
Pride Toronto has concentrated
online virtually due to fear of
on international promotion, per-
political retaliation. Toronto has
haps at the cost of not promoting
the potential to be the best one
the event enough within Canada.
He says, though, that Pride will
Rome was more of a protest and
demand for equality. Jerusalem
But Reiff and Beaulieu both
launch a major billboard and
was an example of how the LGBT
agree that things haven’t been
television advertising and social
perfect, especially in terms of
munities coexist in peace, and
timing and domestic promotion. “It can always be better,” writes Reiff in an email. “There is a Europride event taking place at the same time, as well as major Pride events all over the USA. It might have been a good idea to try harder to coordinate all these dates so none overlapped. However, there is a large enough audience for each event to get a
event. “We’ve had to focus our
London... well... it was ‘supposed to be’ an extension of a global celebration in conjunction with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympic Games. Toronto will be an example of all the things the LGBT community
North America and yet still focus on what we have yet to achieve.
resources when it comes to promotion because they’re limited, starting with international and then moving closer to home as we get nearer. Our approach has
do that.” And while neither Weir nor Beaulieu can provide figures on hotel bookings so far, Beaulieu says that, anecdotally, he hears that hotels are filling up fast. But both also say that they’re looking for the event to serve as a springboard for bigger Toronto Prides in the future. “The real long-term effect will be cementing Toronto’s place as one of the top LGBT destinations in the world,” says Weir. “Our goal is to use WorldPride to promote why Toronto is the ideal destination. My hope is that this will establish a template. Visitors won’t just go to party, but can go to an art gallery and see a very significant gay photo exhibition.” Beaulieu says that he expects WorldPride to up the ante for future Toronto Prides. “We will have grown. It won’t be WorldPride every year, but we don’t expect to quite go back to what we were before.” And Reiff, at least, is expecting great things. “I was in Toronto this November for a site inspection and everything I was shown blew me away. The locations, the cooperation with the municipal government, the museums, the diverse religious participation, the amazing university location for the Human Rights Conference, and the streets designated for rallies and festivals. Everything has made my heart beat faster and made me feel like a child opening up my birthday presents. I am especially looking forward to everything.”
been to get the word out as soon as possible around the world, so people have time to make travel plans. Obviously, we would have
worldpride toronto. worldpridetoronto.com
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may Get out Events Art › FRANCIS BACON & HENRY MOORE: TERROR AND BEAUTY
FILM › TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
Two giants of 20th-century British art come together in an exhibition of sculpture and paintings by Francis Bacon (pictured left) and Henry Moore (pictured right). The exhibition features more than 90 works by these highly influential artists who shared an obsession with expressing themes of suffering, struggle and survival in relation to the human body. This marks the first exhibition of Bacon’s art in Canada. To July 20. Art Gallery of Ontario. 317 Dundas St. W. ago.net. (More on the exhibition on page 24.)
Among the 116 films is Nana, George and Me (pictured above left) by director Joe Balass who quizzes his 92-year-old grandmother on her sex life, and a flamboyant 73-year-old gay man, George, a distant relative, about his alienation from his gay and Jewish communities. The festival program also includes the following films: Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation, a documentary about the larger-than-life story of Lionel Bart, the composer of Oliver!; Cupcakes, about a nursery school teacher upset that his boyfriend is still in the closet and won’t publicly acknowledge their romance; In Hiding (pictured above right), about the secret emotions that rise between two women when one is forced to shelter the other, a Jew, from the Nazis after her father is arrested; La Dune, a rare portrayal of an older same-sex couple at its heart, about an unconscious man whose identity remains unknown until a gay former Israeli retired police investigator arrives to try and solve the mystery; and Summer Vacation, an Israeli film about how a perfect family getaway turns into a series of revelations of family secrets and an unexpected love triangle. To May 11. Various venues. tjff.com. (Balass interview on page 29.)
jazz › CELEBRATING DINAH & SARAH
The last concert of the TD Jazz: Celebrating Dinah & Sarah series, which commemorates what would have been the 90th birthdays of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, features jazz vocalists Kurt Elling (pictured) and Denzal Sinclaire. Koerner Hall. 273 Bloor St W. rcmusic.ca.
PHOTOGRAPHY › CONTACT
This annual month-long photo fest features more than 1,500 Canadian and international artists and photographers at more than 175 venues. Exhibitions include Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases, which addresses the representation of black lesbian and queer identity (at the Ryerson Image Centre), Reunions, where artist Steven Beckly reclaims and re-contextualizes old photographs of same-sex couples (pictured right) (at the Toronto Image Works) and Standing Ground, where juxtaposed works of Will Munro (pictured left) and Robert Flack explore the enduring queer legacies in the context of their respective times, shared concerns and their respective impacts on our cultural history. Various venues. To May 31. scotiabankcontactphoto.com.
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COMIC ARTS FEST › THIS ONE SUMMER
In 2008, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s graphic novel Skim was named on the New York Times’ list of best illustrated books. The cousins launch the much-anticipated second collaboration, This One Summer, at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander St) on May 11. This event is part of the TCAF, the preeminent comic arts fest in North America (May 10-11) at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St). LGBT artists attending TCAF include Chip Kidd, Willow Dawson, Eric Kostiuk Williams, Elisha Lim and Tony Breed. torontocomics.com.
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dance › THE MAN IN BLACK & ELVIS
Worldpride is coming to toronto. are you Ready? we can help.
In this double bill James Kudelka’s The Man in Black (pictured) celebrates American working-class grit and the music of a man whose voice embodied it, Johnny Cash. Looking for Elvis explores the life of the young heartthrob through interviews and song. To May 31. Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. 304 Parliament St.colemanlemieux.com.
FILM › INSIDE OUT
The largest event of its kind in Canada and one of the top five LGBT film festivals in the world, Inside Out offers 11 days of screenings, artist talks, panel discussions, installations and parties that highlight more than 200 films and videos from Canada and around the world. The films include Ira Sach’s Love Is Strange with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina (pictured). To June 1. Various venues. insideout.ca. (Lithgow and Molina interview on page 26.)
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THEATRE › QUEER BATHROOM STORIES
Three actors play 72 characters, composites culled from hundreds of interviews of LGBTQs. Written by York U professor, author and playwright Sheila Cavanagh, QBS is based on interviews conducted for her award-winning book Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination (2010). Much more than the secret sex life of the bathroom, QBS is a brutally honest display of gender politics in public washrooms. With a refined sense of toilet humour, Cavanagh asserts that while toilets are not typically considered within traditional scholarly bounds, they form a crucial part of our modern understanding of sex and gender. To June 15. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com.
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Contact us today 416-800-4449 X100 mintmediagroup.ca
22/04/2014 1:06:08 PM
Arts & Entertainment
Opposites attract → Though dramatically different artists, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore had plenty in common—their obsession with the human form and condition Story Pamela Meredith
or the first time ever, Toronto audiences can marvel at the works of British artist Francis Bacon. The recently opened exhibition, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty at the Art Gallery of Ontario pairs major Bacon paintings with sculptures and drawings by fellow Brit Henry Moore. And if it seems like a pairing of opposites in medium, style and temperament—the gay, tortured bohemian versus the straight, establishment artist— the exhibition will surprise and reveal their shared influences and experiences: both artists wrestled with human form and the human condition.
A conversation with the AGO’s Interpretive Planner Gillian McIntyre helps put their similarities in the proper context. Because we have the opportunity to always see lots of Henry Moore in Toronto, I’m going to focus on Bacon, if that’s okay with you. Yes, though viewers will find that Moore is quite surprising in this show. Terror and Beauty is the title of the exhibition. In a previous pairing, the exhibition was titled Flesh and Bone, drawing the viewer close to both artists’ preoccupation with the body. Does shifting the title to Terror and Beauty broaden the focus on the human psyche? Can we
talk about concepts of terror and beauty as they manifest in Bacon’s work? First of all, it’s a different exhibition than the earlier one with different pieces and a different focus. But these questions aren’t easy: what I realize when talking about Bacon’s work is that he didn’t want people to look at it and create an easy narrative. You have to let his work in viscerally. Reproductions absolutely don’t do justice to the paintings; describing the paintings doesn’t do them justice. As for the [words] terror and beauty, the 20th century was interesting. While every century has violence, every century has war, WWII brought war to the
streets, to the doorsteps of the people. All through Bacon’s life there was violence. Beginning in his childhood there was personal violence; he had a very difficult relationship with his father who had his stable hands beat Francis so that he wouldn’t be so effeminate. He develops a sadomasochistic streak: he needed the terror, he needed the pain. He refers to violence a lot… he needed it to feel something. These paintings come from intense emotions and trauma. One of the quotes I put on the wall from Bacon references all of the things he lived through: two world wars, Sinn Fein, Hiroshima, Hitler and, “After all that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers…
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Arts & Entertainment
The Henry Moore Foundation
Estate of Francis Bacon
Estate of Francis Bacon
→ Suffering, struggle and survival (Opposite page left to right) Francis Bacon and Henry Moore; (This page clockwise from top left) Bacon’s Three FIgures and a Portrait 1975 oil and acrylic on canvas; Bacon’s Two Figures in a Room 1959 oil on canvas; Moore’s Reclining Figure Plaster cast 1951.
that’s not my thing.” There is beauty in his painting, despite the fact that he was a nihilist and thought that there was no point in human existence and that the only thing to do was to enjoy oneself as much as possible. He is constantly savouring life, squeezing the max out of life. Bacon wasn’t religious. He admired the Velazquez version of Pope Innocent X, but it couldn’t have been as simple as an homage to Velazquez’ facility with paint. There was something about the figure of the Pope that
he kept coming back to. He had various obsessions that he came back to over and over like his obsessive portraits of the Pope. A lot of scholarship circles around this. Of course Pope, in Italian, is Il Papa, so some feel that an element in the paintings refers to the fraught relationship with his father. Others highlight the fact that he was Protestant, born in Ireland, so pulling the rug from underneath the Catholic Church wouldn’t have been a bad thing. But there are many influences in his Pope paintings
such as the screaming nanny from Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. Bacon was obsessed by the mouth and teeth and said he wanted to paint mouths as beautifully as Monet painted sunsets. Anyway, he used the Pope image to convey a lot of strong emotions. It’s a mixture of things coming out of his subconscious. I wanted to talk about the influence of the photographs of Muybridge. It leads to an interesting discussion of photography as it relates to Bacon’s work. Bacon had lots of photographs in his studio, including the commissioned photographs from John Deakin. Bacon rarely painted
from live sitters, but instead from photographs of his friends and lovers. Yes, he was fascinated with the way animals moved. He liked Muybridge’s photographs of the bodies, the wrestlers, their homo-erotic element. He used the wrestlers as the basis of the coupled figures, like Two Figures in a Room. Though, as David Sylvester notes, the photographs of the wrestlers looked more pornographic than Bacon’s coupled men. In the exhibition audio guide Mark Kingwell talks about the philosophy of the time and references the Two Figures work from 1967, in context of England’s Sex Offenses Act of that same year, which was the first time consenting males could legally have sex. Actually Bacon didn’t necessarily rejoice in that landmark decision as he enjoyed transgressing. Did he paint his lovers differently than he painted his other sitters? When you first walk into the exhibition there is a painting of long-time lover George Dyer titled Three Figures and a Portrait. George’s personality is there and the impression that he was falling apart, which he was. There’s no tenderness but very strong feeling. There is some benevolence when he paints John Edwards, who was a friend at the end of Bacon’s life, but they had more of a father-son relationship. Is it true that Francis Bacon turned up drunk at Henry Moore’s door to ask for lessons in how to make sculpture? Yes, it’s true. Henry was having a dinner party and it had to be delayed while he spoke to Bacon. But the lessons never came to pass. Bacon was a painter.
Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty. To July 20. AGO. 317 Dundas St. W. ago.net. PAMELA meredith is TD Bank Group’s senior curator. inmagazine.ca
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Arts & Entertainment
i n s i d e o u t f i l m f e s t i va l
Aging beautifully → John Lithgow and Alfred Molina speak candidly about their love for each other and how Love Is Strange brought them even closer Story Peter Knegt
ohn Lithgow and Alfred
of the many friends and family
finally getting the chance to tie
members around them, with
In an interview the day after
complex and perhaps even
the knot after 39 years together—
Lithgow and Molina providing
Love Is Strange made its world
career-defining performances in
the centrepiece of an impressive
premiere at Sundance this past
Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange are sure
troubles when George is fired
ensemble (that includes Marisa
winter, it was immediately clear
to be one of the most beloved
from his job at a Catholic private
Tomei and Cheyenne Jackson).
that Lithgow and Molina have
highlights of this year’s Inside
school when word gets out about
Though as wonderful as it is
a rather remarkable chemistry
Out LGBT Film Festival.
his nuptials. This evolves into
to watch the pair’s seemingly
in real life as well (albeit, yes,
As Ben (Lithgow) and George
a nuanced, beautiful portrait of
effortless chemistry on screen, it
(Molina), the two portray an
not only their love but the love
somehow doesn’t quite compare
finishing each other’s sentences
to witnessing it in person.
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→ through thick and thin Lithgow (left) and Molina (far left) portray an aging gay couple who—after finally getting the chance to tie the knot after 39 years together—run into serious financial troubles when one of them is fired from his job at a Catholic school when word gets out about his nuptials.
and making each other laugh, witnessing their mutual affection for one another just made their work in Love Is Strange seem all the more endearing. So while we wait for John to finish another interview, why don’t you talk about how you got involved in the project? Alfred Molina: I got sent the script from my reps who also represent Ira Sachs. They said, “We have this script and we think it might be right up your street.” And I loved it. I got to page 20 and I was already phoning up saying I want to do this. And then—as often happens with independent films—it suddenly went terribly quiet. The trail went very cold and I didn’t hear anything for weeks. So I thought, “Oh well, maybe they didn’t raise the money,” which happens all
the time. But then a week later, I got a phone call from Ira saying they had the money together and that John Lithgow is interested in doing the other part. I’ve known John for years so that totally sold me. The fact that we are friends helped a great deal, I think. We just felt so relaxed and at home with each other. We had a lot of fun making it. Was last night the first time you saw it with an audience? AM: Yes, first time I’d seen the finished version. But watching it with an audience, I suddenly realized how delightful and how wonderfully funny it is. There’s some great humour; when you’re watching it on your own, you don’t appreciate that. It was great. It was a very sympathetic and warm audience. Sundance is a very welcoming environment. Ira’s been a regular here of years.
I was at that first screening, and actually watched it next to a gay couple who must have been in their 70s. They were holding hands and tearing up, which was just really, really lovely. AM: Awww… [John Lithgow approaches to join the interview, and Molina turns to him]. John, you got to hear this. Peter, tell him what you just told me. I was just telling Alfred how last night when I was watching the film I was sitting next to an older gay couple who clearly were having an intensely emotional response to the film. John Lithgow: Oh, my! We’ve been experiencing that over and over again these last two days. Were you at the premiere? Yeah. JL: Did you hear that man that spoke about how much the film meant? Was he a part of that
couple? No, that was actually a different couple! But they were lovely, too. JL: Well, we met them at the party afterwards and it was the same experience. Together for 31 years. AM: It’s very satisfying when that happens. Well, you don’t see these characters depicted anywhere very often. And who they represent are people who are clearly excited to see themselves on screen, especially when it’s such a good movie. JL: You know, the primary location in the film—the apartment that Alfred and I lose—is an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens that belongs to a gay couple in their 70s who have been together all these years. Great theatre fans. They’d seen inmagazine.ca
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both Alfred and I on stage. They brought out the programs of [that show] for us to sign. AM: They brought out a Playbill of a play that John was in… JL: In 1973! AM: He couldn’t even remember doing it! [Both laugh.] JL: They’d lived this kind of quiet, inconspicuous life. And suppose they’d gotten married. Now, I don’t know whether they have or not now. AM: I’m not sure. JL: But they were Ben and George. AM: It was fantastic. So let’s go back a bit... I’m very curious how you two met. AM: I can’t remember, actually. JL: I definitely remember. AM: Was it backstage somewhere? JL: It was on the red carpet at the Tony Awards. AM: That’s right. JL: Some year both of us were doing theater. It was just in line, shaking hands and hugging, and then I think we were at a couple of galas and benefits. But then we lost a very dear mutual friend, the actress Ileen Getz, and both of us hung around the waiting room of her hospital, days before her death. And that’s when we became pretty good friends. AM: Just enough to wave across a crowded restaurant. “Hey, John.” JL: We knew the film was going to be great because we liked each other. But now we love each other. AM: And it’s amazing how useful that is. People have been asking me this all day, and I say that it’s half the job, in a way. Actors have to create a sort of instant intimacy—and they have to make it up, to a certain extent. You can’t get to know someone really well over days or weeks. You have to create this intimacy, which is why actors, of course, end up sort of spilling the beans with each other all the time. It’s like Strangers on a Train. A great shortcut to get to know someone is say, you know, “I had an affair with your cousin.” [Both break out into laughs.]
JL: I’ve never used that line. AM: I’m being facetious. But, when you actually do have a friendship, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It just happens. And it made it so easy. But I guess I can’t speak for John. JL: I really don’t think I can remember any experience like this, where I felt this in tune with another actor in two major roles that create the central relationship of the film. And God knows I’ve had fantastic experiences with all manner of actors. But this was special. And it’s kicked up a notch by these last 48 hours. Realizing that the film, sure enough, is really moving people. AM: We could have had all this fun and all this delight in a movie that no one would ever see. God knows that’s happened to both of us. JL: In which case, we’d probably hate each other and blame each other [laughs]. We certainly wouldn’t be having this nice kumbaya. This all certainly translates well on screen. The intimacy between your characters is pretty remarkable. That scene towards the end at the bar just floored me. JL: We shot that scene on the second to last day of shooting. That was a wonderful thing because we had accumulated this wonderful, critical mass of experience. I only had 16 shooting days on the film, so that was my 15th. And by that time, Fred had made me piss my pants laughing about 10 times. He’s such a funny man. He tells these jokes where I literally have to tell him to stop talking or I will throw up. AM: You can take that one of two ways. JL: And in the middle of these incredible laughing jags, I said we’ve got to find a moment to inject this into our relationship. We’ve got to see how much joy they take in each other and how much humour they share. And we did, in that scene. It’s a hilarious scene. JL: It’s hilarious and it’s just so true.
So maybe talk a bit about working with Ira, and what you appreciate about him as a filmmaker. AM: I hadn’t quite appreciated it the first time I saw it because I was just so obsessed with, you know, “Where did I fuck up?” JL: Or, “Have I really put on that weight?” AM: “Do I really have that many chins?” JL: “Have I really lost that much hair? And it’s white... I thought it was grey.” [laughs] AM: But last night, because there was an audience, I suddenly realized the timing. Ira’s sense of timing and pacing and the way he sort of… JL: Sustains. AM: It’s beautiful. You’ve both played LGBT characters before, and both in the early to mid-1980s—John in The World According To Garp and Alfred in Prick Up Your Ears—both amazing films. But now, roughly 30 years later, you’re playing LGBT characters who live in such a remarkably more progressive world than the characters in those films. I mean, Ben and George are married. And I suspect the press you’ve been doing hasn’t, at least I hope, involved questions like, “What was it like to kiss each other?” JL: Absolutely. AM: Yes, absolutely. Because Prick Up Your Ears was 1985 and it was one of two big, major gaythemed movies that came out around that time, both by the same director, oddly enough. Stephen Frears. AM: Yes, with Prick Up Your Ears and My Beautiful Laundrette. But there was this obsession with the sex, which if you look at the movies there’s not a lot of. There’s a bit more in My Beautiful Laundrette because it’s youngsters. In Prick there’s some kissing, there’s some hugging. There’s nothing hardcore. But the obsession with that in those days, everyone was completely preoccupied with the question of “What was it like to be a straight actor in a gay role?” As if you
were somehow running the risk of becoming infected. JL: Exactly. Let me tell you an amazing story that only occurred to me today. I’ve never told anybody this out of respect for my good friend Jeff Goldblum. But I was asked to play The Fly and I turned it down. A few months before that, I had been asked to do a film adaptation of a gaythemed play, As If, which was about the first flowerings of the AIDS crisis. I ended up not doing that because I wasn’t available. But my agent wanted me to do The Fly and I didn’t want to do it. I just finished another project and I was exhausted, and I found it such an icky story. I told my agent I just didn’t want to play something so grotesque. And he said, “Let me just put it this way: I’d rather see you play a fly than a homosexual.” This was in 1986. Can you imagine? AM: The preoccupation then with straight actors playing gay roles or you being a fly rather than a gay man... was all code for the whole AIDS crisis. Anything to do with being gay, you were dangerous. Even on the set of Prick Up Your Ears, there’s a scene where Gary Oldman takes me to this flat and he starts making out with this complete stranger. And he says to me, “Kiss him.” That was part of his thing, he wanted to see us kissing. So we start kissing, and even then—because the actor who was playing the stranger is gay—members of the crew said to me, “Aren’t you a bit worried about the kissing scene?” It’s as if somehow by definition he had it and I’d catch it. And that’s the big change. I can still remember that from those days. Now no serious journalist could ask, “So you’re a straight actor. What’s it like playing a gay character?” It’d be like saying to a gay actor whether you can handle being straight. It’s ridiculous.
inside out LGBT film festival. May 22 to June 1. insideout.ca.
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T o ro n t o J ew i s h F i l m F e s t i va l
The bridge builder → Inaugural tribute to Canadian film given to Iraqi-born, Jewish gay filmmaker Joe Balass Story Peter Knegt
his month filmmaker Joe Balass will see his body of work become the first retrospective in the new annual initiative by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (May 1-11) to showcase a Canadian filmmaker. Three films—Nana, George and Me (1997), 2007’s Baghdad Twist (2007) and The Length of the Alphabet (2013)—will make up the program that collectively works as a rich examination of the many intersecting identities that Balass himself holds. He’s an Iraqi-born, Jewish gay man who lives and works in Quebec. “I think it’s interesting to have this opportunity to show the work as a trilogy on Iraq and in a sense on identity,” Balass says. “I think Nana, George and Me was happening at a time when it wasn’t common to make films that were approaching identity from multiple perspectives: Jewish, gay, Iraqi.” Nana, George and Me depicts its three titular subjects: Balass himself, his own beloved 92-yearold grandmother and a rather outrageous 73-year-old gay man he’s just met. Like Balass, George and Nana are all Iraqi-born Jews, and through adventures with both of them—and his own introspection—Balass offers up a funny, touching portrait of a very complex trio. But one that Balass had a hard time screening. “Back then, Jewish film festivals didn’t know what to do with it; documentary film festivals didn’t know what to do with it; gay film festivals didn’t know what to do with it,” he says. “That was part of the dilemma. It was like dropping a kind of bomb at the time to make a film that bridged
different identities that way. But by the time I got to Length of the Alphabet, it was more about just being able to have those multiple identities flourish as opposed to just finding a space for them.” Length of the Alphabet, which Balass finished last year, is a portrait of the life and work of Naïm Kattan, an Iraqi-Jewish
Francophone Canadian author and recipient of the Order of Canada. Balass follows Kattan’s story from his youth in Baghdad through his studies in France and his move to Montreal, where he founded the first francophone Jewish newsletter. “I heard about Naïm in the early 1990s and I was thinking
about approaching him for [the project that would become] Nana, George and Me,” says Balass. “I’d envisioned Nana, George and Me as a much more plural piece with different members of the IraqiJewish community participating. Ultimately as I worked through the process it didn’t make sense. But in my head I thought this is something I need to work on eventually. He’s such an interesting person.” The third film being screened in the retrospective, the 33-minute Baghdad Twist, works as a sort of bridging point between the two feature films. Using home movies, family photographs and archival images, the film looks at Iraq’s once thriving Jewish community through Balass’s own fragmented family history. “It’s really about a place that no longer exists,” Balass says. “It’s about construction of identity through imagination and through memory. In Nana, George and Me and The Length of the Alphabet, I’m focusing a lot more on the here and now whereas in Baghdad Twist I’m talking about something much more elusive that is more like a dream.” Balass is excited to see all three films again with audiences at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival but hopes they extend beyond the festival’s target audience. “Reflecting on the evolution of things with an audience is definitely a nice gift. The best experiences of a filmmaker are always getting to watch the films with an audience and seeing how they react. In this case, three films over almost 20 years. I’m also really about bridge building, which is one of the inmagazine.ca
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reasons I wanted to do something with Naïm because he’s the preeminent bridge builder. And so what I’m hoping is that there will be a diversity of audiences at these screenings and beyond.”
“Jewish film festivals didn’t know what to do with [my film]... gay film fests didn’t know what to do with it... it was like dropping a kind of bomb.” the length of the alphabet
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Other picks to catch at the TJFF Lionel Bart: Reviewing The Situation The Canadian premiere of
daughter, Ester. The relationship between the two women develops romantically, leading to—as one might expect for the time—catastrophic effects on both of them.
this vivid documentary tells
the story of Lionel Bart, the
Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit’s film takes place during a seemingly
composer of the beloved
musical Oliver! The film uses
Bart’s personal archive and
a series of interviews to revisit his life, including the fact that Bart was at
times romantically linked to the likes of Judy Garland and Alma Cogan in
a series of
a bid to hide the fact that he was gay. He didn’t actually come out until a
few years before his death in 1999.
family secrets, including that
the film’s sexy
Directed by Eytan Fox,
leading man (Israeli actor
Cupcakes makes its Canadian premiere. Fox has gained a considerable
Yiftach Klein) might not be as straight as his wife thinks.
for depicting gay life in Tel
A rare portrayal of an older same-sex couple is at the heart of La Dune,
Aviv through films like The
the story of a gay
Bubble, and Cupcakes more
former Israeli police
or less continues that with a story of a group of Tel Aviv friends—some
gay, some straight—who end up on a Eurovision-like reality TV song
comes to France to
solve the mystery of another man, who
can’t speak and whose
Set in 1944 World War
identity is unknown,
II-era Poland, Jan Kidawa-
found unconscious on
Blonski’s film depicts
a beach in the West of
Janina, a young women
whose life is drastically altered when her father decides to offer a home to his Jewish friend’s
toronto jewish film festival. May 1-11. tjff.com.
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Arts & Entertainment N ew f i c t i o n
War child → A searing, surreal journey from Sarajevo to Toronto Review Gordon Bowness
umans are resilient creatures, none more so than our young. Children have an incredible capacity for survival. Violence, disease, hunger… kids keep on living. And that’s the terrifying truth explored unflinchingly by Toronto writer Katja Rudolph (pictured right) in her debut novel Little Bastards in Springtime. The young can survive almost anything, suggests Rudolph, except perhaps betrayal. Little Bastards is told from the point of view of Jevrem Andric, a happy, inquisitive youth growing up in Sarajevo prior to and during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Jevrem’s father, a journalist, is a Serb; his mother, a concert pianist, is a Croat. Jevrem’s grandmother, his “Baka,” is a former communist partisan who fought fascists during World War II. The family embodies the multicultural and humanist ideals of Yugoslavia. But rising nationalism and constitutional crises follow the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes. Secession and violence splinter Yugoslavia as ethnic minorities try to carve out new majority homelands, and each new homeland creates different sets of minorities. Besieged on all sides, with Serbian militia in the hills surrounding Sarajevo and Bosniak militia in the streets, Jevrem’s family watch dismayed as hundreds of years of multiethnic cohabitation and culture evaporate. They have nowhere to hide, yet they refuse to leave. Ultimately young Jevrem is betrayed: His loving, well-intentioned family fails to protect him from the horrors of war. One moment the 11-year-old is happily playing soccer with friends who are a mixed bag of ethnicities and religions. The next moment he’s wondering why his father’s relatives, the Serbian side of the family, no longer visit. Then he’s dodging bullets in the streets.
Rudolph has a wonderful way of rendering the inchoate feelings and mixed-up thoughts of a confused man-child like Jevrem. In his world, stories, dreams and memories pile up, existing cheek by jowl. The telling becomes surreal at times, in part because of the unreal nature of war, in part because of Jevrem’s yearning, his emotional grasping, that reaches out far beyond his comprehension. The depiction of a proudly liberal and diverse city like Sarajevo slowly becoming a war zone is particularly chilling in its seeming inevitability, how little changes begin to snowball out of control. The power of ethnic and religious identities in times of violent unrest, the retreat into murderous clans and tribes, is horrifying to behold, especially since it echoes what’s happening currently in Ukraine and elsewhere. This powerful debut falters only occasionally. Rudolph, a political theorist, has young Jevrem digest and recount some highfalutin’ conver-
sations about geopolitics and sociology. (Granted these asides provide fascinating background exposition for those unfamiliar with the region’s turbulent history.) But every time I catch a whiff of didacticism or begin to doubt the vocabulary of 11-yearold or 16-year-old Jevrem, Rudolph spins the frame: This is a book bursting with incident. Jevrem’s mind is always a whir; he is always on the go. And he takes the reader with him. It’s an audacious accomplishment: seducing us to empathize with a damaged war refugee, someone easily dismissed as just another drug-addled macho thug, a lost child, a mistake of history. The last two thirds of the book concern Jevrem’s troubled life in Toronto, where what’s left of his family emigrates after the war. Jevrem, now 16, leads a small band of teenagers, other Yugoslavian refugees, known as the Bastards, who rob and terrorize students, neighbours and strangers at will, for kicks as much as for loot. All the well-meaning do-gooders and
guidance counsellors—and liberal multicultural Toronto itself— offer cold comfort to a screwedup kid like Jevrem. And yet there is a core of good in him. One lyrical moment finds Jevrem stealing a van and breaking into a swimming pool with steam rooms so a street drunk and her friends can bathe. Jevrem’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic; something’s got to give. But every choice he makes seems to take him further from any hope of redemption, any chance at freedom. Trapped in a juvenile correction facility, with adult prison time looming, Jevrem makes one last desperate move. That Rudolph is able to end his story on a credibly hopeful note is one last remarkable conjuring trick in a bravura display of fiction writing.
LITTLE BASTARDS IN SPRINGTIME. Katja Rudolph. Harper Collins. $29.99. Releases May 27.
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