2013 Nickel Festival: Opening Night

    Posted on: Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Opening night is officially in the bag for the 13th annual Nickel Independent Film Festival. How was it? Who stole the show? What did you miss? Well that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

The show started at 8:00 but I headed down a little early to grab my ticket and enjoy some pre-show fun. The bar is open and the place is buzzing by the time I get there. Outside the Hall, the great talent from Wonderbolt Circus is on display. The environment is fun, the people are friendly, this is what the Nickel is about.

Shortly after 8:00 the action moves to the main theatre. I got to enjoy some reserved seating near the back so I could take notes and tweet throughout the night without disturbing the rest of the guests. Thankfully, the cozy size of the theater allows for optimal viewing wherever you find yourself.

After some introductions and greetings moderated by the lovely Janelle Hickey, the show begins.

Everything kicks off with the 8MM series. To anyone new to the Nickel, this is an annual series where directors are given a day to create a short film in the classic 8MM format. I love the look of these films. 8MM offers such a natural, warm feeling that it’s hard to not fall in love. It hearkens back to a time when film making was an almost strictly visual medium.

This year we are treated to two films, Outfitted and The Case of the Mondays. Directed by locals Michael Fisher and Emily Bridger respectively. Both films gave exactly what you would expect from 8MM films shot in one day. Simple, effective storytelling with a nice sprinkle of humor thrown in for good measure. The cherry on top came with the addition of a live score for each of the films. Without dialogue, 8MM needs a good score to give it some added flow. To get this in the form of live music was absolutely amazing. Definitely a  Nickel memory that’s going to stick.

Next up was the animated offering of the students at the College of the North Atlantic campus in Stephenville. Sign Clad Hills is full of good old fashioned Newfoundland humor with a touch of social commentary. It’s amazing to see what these guys can do with a seven week intersession. I doubt if I’m the only person wondering what they could create with a bit more time on their hands.

The first of two US made films of the night came courtesy of director Jennifer Treuting. Brother’s Day is a short but touching documentary about three siblings who decide to create their own brotherly holiday. Let’s leave it to children to take an idea that sounds like another excuse to sell cards and gifts, and for them to strip it of it’s material value. The kids here are inspiring in their resolve to keep this family holiday going for six years. Living in the very material world we do right now, seeing values such as this in youth is the stuff that makes you warm and fuzzy inside.

The second US short is a creative burst of color and art from the mind of Dustin Grella. Comprising of several skits drawn from crowd sourced voice mails as inspiration. The animation here is beautiful and the idea itself is refreshing. While there’s no narrative, it was intriguing to see how one man’s pen interprets another person’s word. If you didn’t catch it last night then you can visit Dustin’s website here to see some of his other work.

Two Square Feet carries on the uplifting theme of the night. Directed by Ruth Lawrence, it focuses on a woman looking past her insecurities in a time of change, self doubt and uncertainty. Well shot with a great performance from Jeanne Beker, this film is a poignant example of recognizing self worth and living outside of our bubbles.

One More Song, the directorial debut of local musical talent, Ian Foster, was a part of my ten most anticipated films of the festival. I can easily say that it didn’t disappoint. This was one of the better looking films of the night and I only wish it was a little longer. Stylistically, think of a music video, without the music. Instead you have beautiful imagery, an intriguing concept and some voice over work to tell it’s story. Great job for Foster’s first film.

The final film of the night came from writer/director Mark Hoffe. The Needle and the Damage Undone is an eye opening documentary focusing on injection drug abuse and the harm reduction methods used in this province. The topic covered is something that should be talked about more often and the information here should be more readily available than it is. How many of you know what “harm reduction” actually means? This film gives you this information through touching interviews with those involved on both sides of the system. It encourages you to look into this and ask more questions yourself. Hopefully this documentary gets the opportunity to move around and reach the more rural areas across the province.

This was all topped off with an informative Q&A with Mark and those involved in the harm reduction field in the province. This was another excellent source of information and I hope others who see this film have the ability to take advantage of a similar Q&A.

So there you have it. An incredibly successful night for everyone involved and I send my congratulations to all who had films screened! I wish I could talk more specifically about what I loved but in an effort to keep this to a comfortable length I do need to limit myself.

Tonight we continue the fun with night #2. Can’t wait to see you there!

RBC MJ Award on two square feet

    Posted on: Monday, June 17th, 2013

Tonight, at opening night of the Nickel Film Festival, you’ll be able to see Ruth Lawrence’s warm, quirky, Jeanne Beker-led film, “Two Square Feet.”

It’s a wonderful film, and it has a special place in our hearts here at the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

Ruth made the film with the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award, founded in 2010 in honour of St. John’s filmmaker and mentor Michelle Jackson.

It’s neat timing, too, because the 2013 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award is now open for submissions. Any emerging female filmmakers residing in Newfoundland and Labrador who have not yet directed a feature film are encouraged to apply.

You can find all the details, regulations and application forms here.

In the meantime, check out these stills and shots from the set of Jackie Hynes’ 2012 RBC MJ Award-winning film, “The Passenger.” This haunting tale of a woman forced to unload her baggage will premiere at this year’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

Perhaps it will follow in “Two Square Feet’s” two square feet and open the next Nickel, too.




Stills by Victoria Wells.

Nickel For Your Thoughts

    Posted on: Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Greetings ladies and gentlemen!

I welcome you all to the first time I entertain an audience outside of my own blog. For those non-acquainted with me (most of you), my name is Roger Newhook. Hailing from gorgeous downtown St. John’s, I spend most of my time watching movies, entertaining my dog, watching more movies, and then writing about them hereIt’s still a work in progress so I apologize if it’s a little rough around the edges.

The occasion that brings me to the Signal? Why the 13th Annual Nickel Independent Film Festival of course!

I’ve been kindly asked to cover this event for this lovely blog and I’m incredibly excited to hang out with you guys for the next couple of weeks.

For any of you not versed in the Newfoundland independent film circuit, here’s a rundown of the Nickel Film Festival. It started back in 2001 by prominent St. John’s filmmaker Roger Maunder. Conceived from the idea of showcasing Newfoundland’s independent film culture, and named after the province’s first movie theater, Roger gave us all the Nickel Film Festival.

Spanning for 5 days and nights during the third week of June (this year landing on the 18th-22nd), it introduces local talent through nightly screenings at the LSPU hall in downtown St. John’s. It also gives the opportunity to further immerse those interested in the field with film-making workshops, hosted by event staff and supporters, during the days.

Since it’s beginning the festival has grown to include not only local talent, but short films and filmmakers from around the world. This year the festival has a healthy selection of local material, but also showcases talent from the rest of Canada, the US, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, China and Afghanistan. Needless to say, it’s expanding.

So with it’s origin behind us, let’s look to the future.

With opening night just around the corner I could sit here and detail everything you need to know going in. What movies are playing, who made them, what I think, and so on.

Not necessary.

If you can only attend one or two nights then don’t fret, any of the five will be sure to entertain! After spending the past couple of days sifting through the selection, I feel confident in saying that this festival is great at spreading the love. With the exception of the Late Night Horror Show, which any horror fans should attend, there is no nightly theme or order. You can stop by any night and get a diverse set of films made locally and from abroad.

The regular shows start at 8:00PM, with the horror show starting 10:30PM on night 3. If you want to do a little mingling with some of the talent involved, then head down to the LSPU hall (located at 3 Victoria St.) a little early. What you’ll quickly come to love about the Nickel is the warm and open nature of it. There is a lot of work that goes into this humble festival and a lot of that comes from the organizer’s love of the industry and our local talent. The people working there will greet you with a smile, have a chat, and provide a laugh or two I’m sure.

I’m happy to say I’ll be hitting up each and every night and reporting my thoughts as the festival progresses. I have taken the week off work so I’ll be posting here as often as my train of thought and fingers will let me. I’m picking up a case of redbull and expecting a few late nights to make sure you’re all kept up to date.

The action all kicks off tonight at The Levee with the return of The Nickel Launch Party. No cover, drinks, dancing, and music courtesy of One Power guarantee a good time.

What I leave you fine people with today, is a quick rundown of the ten films I’m most excited about and a little synopsis why. I list these in no particular order and I am by no means saying that I’m not excited for the rest of the lineup. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by some of the films I saw that I knew nothing about. One of the great things about a festival like this is being almost forced to go in blind. There’s a certain pleasure in being part of a group that gets to see a film for the first time.

Without further delay here’s the top ten films that pander to my own personal taste in film playing this year:


1)The Last Supper (Night 3) – short with the promise of great dialogue.

2)Desperate Scribbles (Night 4) – another short thriller with the opportunity to be dialogue heavy.

3)Better People (Night 2) – not so much anticipating this one as I’ve already seen it online a while ago, but extremely excited to see it on the big screen at the hall regardless. I’m expecting a very warm reception for this one.

4)Buzkashi Boys (Night 5)- Oscar nominated for best live action short film. Looks visually stunning.

5)Survivor Type (Night 3 Horror Show) – adaptation of a Stephen King story that has won a few awards in the film festival circuit.

6)Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Night 5) – starring the great Gordon Pinsent. Looks to be a fun, coming of age comedy in the style of Moonrise Kingdom and Little Miss Sunshine.

7)One More Song (Night 1) – incredibly intriguing concept. Expecting a great score from local musician Ian Foster.

8)Animation Hotline (Night 1) – deftly original. Holds the possibility to be quite hilarious.

9)Boys From County Hell (Night 3 Horror Show) – looks pleasantly dark with a hint of humor wrapped in an Irish accent.

10)Final View (Night 4) – shot in almost one full take. I’m a sucker for long shots.


So there you have it. I’ll see next week how these all pan out. But until then you can visit The Nickel’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages at the links below. I’ve also included a link to my own Twitter page as well. I’ll be tweeting throughout the week so be sure to follow me there.

Otherwise, I’ll hopefully see you all Tuesday for opening night!


The Nickel Homepage

The Nickel Facebook Page

The Nickel Twitter Page

My own personal Twitter Page

Getting it right: Piatto & Blue Lounge

    Posted on: Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

We had about a half an hour to 45 minute wait for a table last night at Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca. And for good reason. When a restaurant gets it right on every level as much as they do, people are bound to flock there in droves.

Piatto doesn’t take reservations, which makes perfect sense. If you know you’re going to be slammed from open until close, why would you risk setting tables aside for people who, for any number of reasons, might not show? Instead, they have a system in place that is both thoughtful and convenient.

If you arrive to a full restaurant and would like to wait for the next available table, you can sit at the bar and drink wine and snack on complimentary olives, even order an appetizer, like we happily did. Or you can leave and receive a text message notification when your table is ready, giving you ten minutes to return and claim it. If you know you will need more time to make it back, you can text back and they will bump you to the next available table.

The front of house staff we encountered, including the hostess, the bar tender and our waitress, were all cheerful and attentive and just really on their game. Our waitress, a young woman named Alexx, with her confident and relaxed demeanour, was especially adept at handling our tipsy table of six. Bonus points for never needing to write anything down and getting it right every time.

And the food. Piatto’s caprese salad, with tomato slices as thick and juicy as steaks, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a basil leaf, then garnished with salt, pepper and olive oil, can do no wrong. While their prosciutto pacchi is a saucy, chewy addiction waiting to happen. And of course there’s the pizza, cooked in a wood burning oven and made from a special flour that is extremely low in gluten. One is easily enough for two people to share, possibly even with a slice left over.

All that and three glasses of wine and my bill was in the $50 range. I was sure I was robbing the place, but I checked my bill and it was all there. Make no wonder there’s a 45 minute wait for a table.

At Blue Lounge my butt had barely hit the stool when a sharply dressed, tattoo-clad bartender was there to serve me. As it turns out, this was the recently appointed bar manager – something Blue Lounge never had prior to his arrival. I’ve had drinks here in the past and the experience was on par with just about any other bar in town. But tonight was on a whole other level.

There were maybe half a dozen staff either behind the bar or moving back and forth between it and the tables, serving up carefully crafted drinks with such fluidity that you’d swear there was a conductor at work somewhere in the room. I guess that would be the bar manager, but the impression I got was that his instructions had been given long before this night began, and his presence was all that was required to see them implemented.

The lounge was bustling with patrons, but it felt so relaxed. Throughout the night, I’d finish a beer and lay it on the bar and someone would just be there to happily clear it and ask if I’d like another. Shots were mixed, poured and distributed with purpose. Drinks prepared and served with care. It all lent itself to the distinct feeling that our presence was not only welcomed, but that it mattered.

Piatto is located at 37 Duckworth Street and is open Monday to Thursday from 11:30am to 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday until 11:00pm, and Sunday from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.

Blue Lounge is located at 319 Water Street and is open weekdays from 10:00am to midnight, and weekends until 2:00am.

Thanks, Shannie: A tribute by Noreen Golfman.

    Posted on: Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

This Monday, Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff announced that she would not be running for re-election. Noreen Golfman wrote the following tribute to Shannie, her career, and her impact on the city’s arts, the city’s architecture, and the city’s women.

Shannie DuffIt’s hard to overstate the contributions Shannie Duff has made to the city of St. John’s and the arts community in particular over the years. Now that she is retiring she will be hearing a lot of praise and appreciation, all deserved. Notable is that CBC actually headlined Shannie’s retirement announcement ahead of a hot national story involving the Premier’s account of how Nigel Wright in the PMO tried to pull a fast one or two over the Muskrat Falls deal. Maybe that’s a sign of just how provincial we are—or CBCNL is—but it’s also a measure of just how large a role Shannie has occupied in the political sphere of this town.

Political figures who achieve a certain status in this province inevitably get addressed by their given names. No surnames necessary when you are a Clyde, a Danny, or a Shannie. Is there anywhere else on the planet where such intimacy exists between citizen and elected official? Tellingly, her archrival, former mayor Andy Wells, refused to acknowledge her that way, always sneeringly referring to her as Mrs. Duff. I suppose that said more about him…

I moved to St. John’s 30 years ago and almost instantly heard about this woman named Shannie. It was a hot time for debate about old St. John’s. Behind the times, for sure, city council was in a constant flap about heritage regulations, most of which had either not been developed or adhered to. Houses that would have been snapped up anywhere else in Canada for their historic, architectural, and overall sheer aesthetic beauty were neglected or being flipped crudely for rental profit. I had moved into one of those houses, where I still lovingly reside, and immediately confronted the vacuum around restoration and renovation regs. You could see some of the more dilapidated structures going for a song by greedy developers who then slapped vinyl siding right over the old cladding. It was enough to break your heart—a vision of the city we were in danger of turning into, not the city we should be imagining. One councillor and one alone seemed to be talking the language of preservation, and that was Shannie. She was surrounded by philistines, to put it mildly, regularly heckled and mocked, as I was when I wrote a letter to council about all this stuff, by her fellow councillors and the mayor. I don’t know how she kept her head, let alone her calm, throughout all that and the decades of abuse and resistance that followed. She had starch in her backbone and stood up to all that crap almost all the time. I bet she had a few good cries at the end of the day, but she never showed weakness in public.


Shannie’s love and appreciation of St. John’s extended deep into respect for art and artists. She got, way ahead of our cultural tourism campaigns, why visitors loved to come here, and why the city itself was throbbing with a creative pulse, despite the cancer of ugly development, the blight of Kenmount Rd. and the affront of brick shrines devoted to banking on the historic waterfront. She spearheaded arts procurement projects, did her best to elevate the status of the artist, turned out for almost every important cultural event, especially when the mayor had no interest or patience for any of those. She started an ongoing dialogue about the arts and the city, a conversation we need to have more regularly. She made a huge difference. We all noticed and thanked her for it every chance we got.

Shannie started building a huge and loyal base of supporters in the battles over the future of St. John’s, all of whom have stayed with her through the years, and through her various political incarnations. She won a few of those battles, lost a lot more. Hard to hold your finger in the dyke over decades, but she sure gave it her best. Ultimately, even the philistines know she was right. The once arrested view of city council has evolved into what is now almost a cliché of appreciation for the St. John’s we love.

bike plan 1It’s not totally an accident that Shannie happens to be a woman on the side of art and beauty and history. That sphere is not necessarily the domain of women but often you will find, especially in the earlier decades of heritage battles in this country, that the leaders of that movement have been women. One can spend a great deal of time analysing why this is so, and much attention has already been drawn to that subject in gender studies scholarship. My point is that Shannie was an inadvertent role model, not just for art, beauty, and history, but also for confidence, forthrightness, leadership, and power. Day after sometimes torturous day she showed women like me that you just have to be willing to speak out, stay strong, and hold steady to what you believe, even if sometimes it just about kills you.

Shannie is retiring from public life but those of us who have long admired her know that she will never be far from our interests or the large social movement she effectively led to make St. John’s worthy of our love and respect. Thanks, Shannie….to put it mildly.

Noreen Golfman is a professor of English Literature and Film Studies at Memorial University and founding director of the St. John’s International Women’s Film & Video Festival. She has been a media and cultural critic for CBC, vice-chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, director of the MUN Cinema Series, and Chair of the Steering Committee of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The pictures in this post were taken from downtownstjohns.com and Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada.