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!

Cheers!

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.

east-downtown

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.

“Each movement of the camera has to say something.”

    Posted on: Monday, May 27th, 2013

Do you know what a cinematographer does? Like, really know?

A few weeks ago, in a clanging industrial warehouse, I’m pretty sure I found out.

Stephanie Weber-Biron is the cinematographer behind Xavier Dolan’s “J’ai tué ma mère,” which won three award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. She also shot Dolan’s film, “Heartbeats,” and a few VFX shots for SJIWFF Most Gorgeous Films of All Time Hall of Famer “Madame Tutli-Putli.” Her most recent project to hit theatres is “Blackbird,” which just won the grand prize at Écrans Junior in Cannes this weekend. “Blackbird” is playing at Empire Theatres in Mount Pearl for the next three days (YES to more indie film in local theatres! YES!). Here’s the trailer:

Weber-Biron was in town to shoot Ruth Lawrence’s latest short, and she gave a cinematography masterclass out at Atlantic Studios Cooperative.

The cinematographer is the photographer, really: they create the mood and the intensity that the director wants to convey through precisely arranged shots and camera movements. The way a character is framed, or the way a camera pans, tells us something about the characters and the story, and the cinematographer helps the director decide all of that.

“Each movement of the camera has to say something,” she said.

For example, in the Dolan film, two characters have a screaming match. Rather than snapping back and forth between shots of each character centered in the frame, the actors are filmed so that their faces are pressed up against the edge of the shot, to show both their ferocity and the gulf between them.

Cool, hey?

Weber-Biron has more to say about the process in the comments, below.

With that in mind, go see Blackbird and watch for some amazing long, continuous shots. Watch where the camera goes, and where it doesn’t, and watch how she frames the characters. And check out more of her work here and here:

Theatre review: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me

    Posted on: Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Wednesday night I had the opportunity to check out GraveYard Shift Theatre’s production of Frank McGuinnness’ play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. The production was directed by Wendi Smallwood and features performances by Ryan Patrick Walsh, George Robertson and Ross Moore.

I was very excited to see this show as I’m a huge a fan of McGuiness’ work, having read much of it and had the opportunity to perform in a play or two written by this Irish writer. McGuinness ‘ name belongs in the same breath as Stoppard, Churchill, LaBute and others. His work is thoughtful, intelligent and incredibly well penned.

The History

The play surrounds the capture of an American (Moore), an Irishman (Walsh) and an Englishman (Robertson) in Lebanon. Lebanon first broke into the consciousness of the world in 1958 during what’s known as the 1958 Lebanon Crisis.  The threat of civil war between Maronite Christians and Muslims prompted countries like the United States to place 17,000 troops on the ground in the region to try and still tensions. British troops were also among those with feet on the ground inside Lebanon to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

These events in 1958 shaped the attitudes people in Lebanon had towards foreign involvement in political matters in the region. These troops were not welcome, for the most part. In fact, Russia threatened the use of nuclear weapons if there was even a hint of American involvement. The region has long been a flashpoint of political and military unrest. Another civil war erupted in 1975, and tensions escalated further in the mid eighties when Israel invaded to seek the removal of the PLO.

The PLO are the captors in this play. We never see them. They are hidden. Nameless. Faceless. But ever present.

Let’s Get Technical

The play opens with lights up in a room lined with bombed out cinder blocks and mortar. This may be the most elaborate set I’ve seen in the basement theatre, however, that’s not a hard thing to do for those who have any experience in that space. The set, designed by Liam Small, works well. In my mind, I would have liked to see things a little more cramped and confined, however, that’s just being nit picky.

Two little niggly bits stuck out to me regarding the set and the props. The beds and sheets were perfectly dirtied. They looked disgusting in fact. However, the chains were shiny and glimmered in the light. Because it is such a sparsely staged show, it really stood out to me. Also, plastic water bottles? Canteens may have been more appropriate.

The sound, designed by Ed Tanasychuk, was great. The sliding of metal doors, dripping of water, mumblings of captors – it all worked very well and really set the appropriate tone for the show. I will say that the dance recital going on upstairs threw me off from time to time. But, that’s not Ed’s fault, that’s the fault of the centre. Sound proofing, people: it’s the way of the future.

The lighting design, by Lawrence Glover, worked very well. There were some lovely tableau’s established through the use of the light. The light is used to show mood, emotion and in one particular instance – the passage of time.

The Captured

George Robertson’s portrayal of Michael Watters is intelligent, informed and at times effortless. There are points in the more emotionally driven moments of the story where Robertson seems less sure of himself, however they are brief and few and far between. His dry wit and often times soft delivery are a stark contrast to his Irish counterpart. There is a lovely scene whereby Robertson and Walsh are flying in an imaginary car over their homeland in the cell, Robertson acting almost as a tour guide or flight attendant. It was quite lovely.

Ryan Patrick Walsh as Edward Sherridan provides the comedic relief in this darkened cell. The humour is at times jarring and makes the audience wonder if it’s genuine or if he’s teetering into madness. Walsh shows moments of tremendous range. However, at times he appears to “o’erstep the modesty of nature” in his delivery and it ventures into the arena of the overdone. An Irish accent is tough to pull off; at points during this production, Walsh does quite well. The accent fades in and out periodically, but in a play this long, it’s tough sledding to maintain its consistency. All in all, Walsh fulfilled his role admirably as the comedic foil in the concrete cell.

Ross Moore delivered, in my mind, his best performance to date. Informed, grounded and beautifully thought out, Moore’s portrayal of Adam Canning is quite lovely. We never, for a minute, thought he was somewhere other than at the hands of captors in Lebanon. I’ve seen Moore perform several times and the growth and maturity he showed during this production is a testament to the work he’s put in over the years. There is a scene where he is lying in the fetal position consoling himself that is just heartbreaking. Kudos.

So, what’s the problem Dave? God, you’re picky.

There are a lot of good things happening here. However, at times I really felt that the actors were not gelling. Particularly when there were three on stage at the same time. When there were two, it seemed to be fine. But once another character is introduced it seemed like they weren’t all in the same play. At times it appeared actors weren’t listening to one another. A character would speak, and the intended person on the other end would be staring off into space. I’m not sure why. Or what that served – but in a play this long, that’s focus is on the communication between three men in a cell, it pays to listen.

Conclusion

Bottom line. Nothing is perfect. There are some great elements to this production. There are some not-so-great elements. But all in all the cast and crew found a way to tell a story worth telling. The show came in at two hours and fifteen minutes without an interval on opening night. The show is at the Barbara Barrett Theatre at the Arts and Culture Centre. Showtime is at 8pm and runs until Sunday April 21st. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or on the Arts and Culture Centre’s website.