September 11, 2014

TIFF Docs Review: Beats of the Antonov

The effects of civil war are long lasting and often can break the sprits of those who live through it. However, there is also a resilience that can be seen in the lives of those who have no choice but to survive civil war and its effects. This is the case of the farmers, herders, and rebels of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain areas in Northern Sudan.

The documentary, Beats of the Antonov, by war reporter and director Hajooj Kuka gives us a glimpse at "how cultural heritage and creative traditions can defy the indignity of displacement". Since 2014, these people have had to move to refugee camps, and hideouts up in the mountains in order to find shelter from air raids, using Russian-made Antonov planes, led by the Sudanese government. Said raids target everyone regardless of identity, sex, or culture.

What is really poignant and enlightening in Beats of the Antonov is the presence of music, as a main part of how the those living in these two regions cope with the raids, the displacement, the on-going civil war. I especially like hearing the women sing Girls' Music, as it is described in the film. It is quite interesting to see how all people rely on music as a form of expression, celebration, and survival in these areas.

Listening to the music and songs, enhanced by interviews with everyday people, rebels, and others, gives this film a less negative tone. This does not lessen the seriousness of the subject, however. Questions around identity, culture, religion, and tradition have been fueling this war for years. Kuka strings together the various issues at hand through music, visuals, and words, while presenting us with the reality that is for those in Northern Sudan today. For those of you interested in films with a political and sociological relevance, I recommend this documentary.

Beats of the Antonov plays one last time at TIFF tonight, September 11th, 9pm at Jackman Hall inside the Art Gallery of Ontario. For tickets and more info, click here.

Theatre: One Little Goat Theatre Company's UBU MAYOR

Just in time for Toronto's highly anticipated municipal election, Ubu Mayor combines the radical spirit of Ubu Roi, French writer Alfred Jarry's outrageous masterpiece of 1896, with the internationally broadcast antics and obscenities of Toronto's mayor and brother, Rob and Doug Ford. This marks One Little Goat's first production featuring live music.

Ubu Mayor involves a mayor (Ubu) whose wife (Huhu) is having an affair with his older brother (Dudu). Ubu wants Huhu to love him again and he wants what's best for the city, but both his love and political ideals are foiled by brother Dudu's machinations.

The play features 2012 Dora Award winner Astrid Van Wieren (This Wide Night, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding) as Huhu; Michael Dufays (2013 Dora Award nominee for Arigato Tokyo) as Dudu; and Richard Harte (Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Boys in the Photograph, One Little Goat's Antigone:Insurgency) as Ubu, the play's mayor.

Director of highly acclaimed, and also some of my favourite plays, The Charge of the Expormidable Moose and writer of plays including Antigone:Insurgency, and Talking Masks, Adam Seelig has now written his first "play with music." Seelig's original songs for the play include B-b-b-b-b-bacon, Etobicokaine, Plenty to Eat at Home and others. You can imagine where the inspiration for these came from... wink, wink.
Director Adam Seelig, on piano
Photo: One Little Goat Theatre Co.
Directing the music and live band for the production is virtuoso bassist Tyler Emond. Joining Emond will be Jeff Halischuk on drumbs, and Seelig on piano. The design team also boasts numerous Dora nominations, with sets and costumes by Jackie Chau and lighting by Laird MacDonald.

Ubu Mayor is at least the fourth theatrical production internationally inspired this year alone by Alfred Jarry’s Le Roi Ubu. The first was in New York. The second is King Ubu, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe last month.  And an Ubu-inspired puppet play will also played in Edinburg.

The Equity production opens tomorrow, Friday, September 12th, and runs to Sunday, September 21st, Tuesdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Wychwood Theatre (map). Tickets are $25; $20 for students, seniors and artists. Information and tickets may be obtained by calling the company at 416-915-0201 or online at
Ubu Mayor Cast
Photo: Yuri Dojc

September 9, 2014

TIFF Docs Review: The Years Of Fierro / Los Años De Fierro

As many of you know, I am a big fan of documentary films and filmmakers. I find that no matter if it is a first-feature, or a project by a veteran documentarian, and irrespective of the production value, we can learn something about anything and anyone through documentaries. These are the films that many times push for change, that anger you, and that at times, also place a mirror on society as a whole.

Hence my thoughts on The Years Of Fierro /Los años de Fierro, which had its first screening at TIFF Sunday night. The documentary is about César Fierro, the oldest Mexican prisoner who has been in Death Row in Texas for the past 30+ years. The film is described as "a reflection on justice, imprisonment and brotherly love, through the eyes of César and his bother, Sergio. These two brothers still hope to meet again, no matter the time or the distance".

Director Santiago Esteinou, along with editor Javier Campos, and producer Alejandro Durán (pictured below) have certainly told the story of these two men, whom by circumstances have been imprisoned -- literally and figuratively -- thanks to the shady detective work by police forces on both sides of the border between Mexico and the United States. Both César and Sergio were labelled as delinquents from a very young age. Thus, the police in Ciudad Juárez (where they grew up) would often arrest them for petty crimes. The brothers crossed the border North to the U.S. more than once, and their delinquent label followed them there too. No thanks to the words of an 'informant', Fierro was later accused of killing a taxi driver in Juárez.

The police did not follow due diligence, in my opinion, and with Fierro's case history, he was charged with murder, and the case was closed. As many of the lawyers who've been involved in this case explain, the police need to close cases quickly and 'swiftly'. When someone like Fierro is pointed out to be the culprit, it makes it much easier to close. This is a story we have often read about or watched, as in Ken Burns' documentary, The Central Park Five, for example.
L-R: Santiago Esteinou, Javier Campos,
Alejandro Durán, Hye M.
This film adds to the on-going discourse on human rights violations when it comes to men in prison, wrongfully accused, and whose basic human needs are ignored. At the Q&A post screening, Esteinou and team explained they mainly wanted to point out that César is an actual person. He is someone who has been denied justice, and whose imprisonment has affected more than the individual incarcerated. His entire family has suffered the loss of a son, a father, a brother. It is in this aspect that Sergio's story is also relevant. The brothers were often inseparable, since childhood. The loss they have both experienced makes this human experience more tangible, and heartbreaking.

Why would I suggest you see this documentary? Because these stories are relevant. Because the so-called justice system has failed families time and time again. Because a past history of delinquency should not be the main reason for authorities to continually arrest the same individuals. Nor should it be a label someone carries for life. People can change. It is also important that as a society, people have access to basic needs such as education, work, and a safe place to live. People are not numbers. César Fierro and other prisoners in similar situations are not numbers, either.

This film has an added screening today, September 9th, 9:00pm (Scotiabank 5), and screens again on Sunday, September 14th, 9:45am (Bloor Cinema). For more details on this and other TIFF Docs programming, visit