Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Short film focuses on cod in Atlantic Canada

Short film focuses on cod in Atlantic Canada
By Neil Armstrong

One of the four films featured by the National Film Board of Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2016 focused on cod, an important ingredient of Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish.

The short film, “HAND.LINE.COD.,” directed by Justin Simms is set in the coldest waters surrounding Newfoundland’s rugged, breathtaking Fogo Island.

It follows a group of “people of the fish”—traditional fishers who catch northern cod live by hand, by hook and line, one at a time.

Their passion and livelihoods are intimately connected to the water.

Their secret mission is to drive up the price of fish, the exact opposite of what’s been going on for the last 50 years, since the introduction of industrial fishing practices.

After a 20-year moratorium on North Atlantic cod, the stocks are returning.

Now, using proven techniques from centuries past, these fishers are leading a new revolution in sustainability, taking their premium product directly to the commercial market for the first time.

Hand-lined cod fillets are making their debut in Toronto’s finest restaurants, where the city’s top chefs clamour for premium fish.

Simms takes viewers deep inside the world of the brave fishers returning to past methods that hold tremendous potential for the future.

“What I really love about what the people in Fogo have done and this initiative is  they’ve started to look at catching cod by hook and line in a professional way again. And kind of trying to create a system by which that can actually make money so that we don’t have to trawl and we don’t have the kind of overfish,” says Simms who noted that the practice was initially for recreational purposes.  

In the film, viewers vicariously travel with the fishers from the early morning hours, spend time on the ocean, and witness the intricacies of a 500-year-old tradition that’s making a comeback.

“Even though the fishers of Fogo, even though it’s a small effort that they’re making, in terms of there’s only 30 or 40 of them right now catching fish this way, one certainly hopes that enough people can see it and maybe be inspired to try and adopt it for themselves, and slowly but surely we can kind of stop raping the oceans,” said Simms.

Retired journalist, Keeble McFarlane, in an article “When Ackee Meets Codfish” in the Jamaica 50th anniversary coffee table book, “Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish,” references the exports from that region of cod in the 1770s to the British Caribbean colonies.

“All around the island of Newfoundland and to a lesser extent, the mainland territories of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, fishermen braved the dark, stormy, frigid waters of the North Atlantic teeming with cod which were easy to catch and which in those days often were as big and heavy as the men who hauled them in.”

On September 14, Claude Joli-Coeur, the Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada, held a reception at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto where he introduced the directors and production teams of the four films screening at the festival.
The other films are: “We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice” directed by Alanis Obomsawin, Theodore Ushev’s “Blind Vaysha” and “Window Horses” directed by Ann Marie Fleming.

Cod from Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland

Justin Simms, filmmaker of HAD.LINE.COD, a National Film Board of Canada film which premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

Black bencher encourages students to excel

Black bencher encourages students to excel
By Neil Armstrong

Tanya Walker, the first elected black female bencher from Toronto in the 219-year history of the Law Society of Upper Canada, has advised new post-secondary students that the principles behind excellence should become a set of beliefs and their natural way of thinking.

This was her first presentation since she was sworn in as bencher on August 8. Benchers are elected every four years by lawyers, and regulate lawyers and paralegals.

She was the keynote speaker at the United Achievers’ Club annual scholarship and recognition awards held in Brampton, Ontario on September 17.

Walker told the 15 scholarship recipients that they already know about excellence because they have had a goal and now they are working on a new one, which may be to complete college or university with distinction.

“You are living in a great time to achieve excellence, for instance, technology is so advanced now virtually any question you may have might be answered on Google,” she said.

Walker said she graduated high school in 1987and at that time there was a study of blacks in Toronto that graduated from high school.

The graduation rate was 44% almost twenty years ago; 15% would go to university and 9% to college.

She said the most recent report shows that the rate has increased by 20%, approximately 65% of blacks graduate from high school with 24% heading off to university and 17% to college.

“When I was in high school, I knew of very few black partners at accounting and law firms. Hearing of a black CEO was rare. In entertainment, we had few leading black actors on drama TV. More than ever there are now black partners at accounting and law firms.”

She said as minorities, immigrants and children of immigrants “we should be proud of ourselves” but there’s still so much more to do.

Walker noted that in Canada, on average, a black person earns 10-15% less than a white person and that there is a justice gap where there is an overrepresentation of black men in prison.

Black male inmates account to 9% of the total prison population while they only represent around 3% of the Canadian population.

“We can all work together to make a difference in our society,” she said.

Walker shared three pointers with the students of what they can do, as young leaders, to continue to achieve excellence.

“Be confident in who you are,” she said, telling them that they are unique. “Embrace who you are and don’t let anyone define you. Remember you have the right to be where you are. You have the right to head where you’re going.”

The second point is to learn from failure. “You’ll encounter bumps in the road but it’s important to learn from it, develop a strategy, and push forward.”

The lawyer told them to never view their challenges an embarrassment, noting that it is important to understand that “your experiences facing and overcoming adversity is one of your biggest advantages.”

“If I didn’t have the hardworking qualities of resilience that my Jamaican parents taught me I would have given up on being a lawyer,” she told them.

“Third, you have an obligation to give back, especially to this organization. As children of immigrants or immigrants yourself you cannot encounter the world with a sense of entitlement and you cannot be ignorant of what our parents, our grandparents and our ancestors have sacrificed for us so that we may be where we are.”

She said there is also a need for empathy and there is the need to “place your hand behind you to lift up others. Do not climb the ladder and then pull it up behind you.”

The scholarship recipients are: Shontia Anderson (Guelph-Humber), Kymani Carter (Sheridan College), Kiana Crawford-Matthews (University of Toronto-Mississauga), Vashti Darko (Carleton University), Jordan Gray (Carleton University), Sydney Hussett (McMaster University), Raenelle Manning (Carleton University), Jalesa Martin (University of Western Ontario), Benjamin McDonald (University of Toronto), Justin Martin ( Wilfrid Laurier University), Akachukwu Nwakoby (McMaster University), Caitlin Peart (University of Guelph-Humber), Dene Pellington (University of Toronto, Mississauga), Sanjay Persad (Sheridan College), and Katerah Phillips (Sheridan College).
Tanya Walker, Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada and Founder of Walker Law PC in Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: David Spencer, DSi Fun Photos

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

In praise of independent bookstores, authors, artists, community builders, advocates and activists

By Neil Armstrong

It’s Friday, Sept. 2 and I’m sitting just inside the roll-up window of what used to be Byzantium, a martini bar and supper club, now ‘Bar 499’ – the new space of Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St.

Glad Day, dubbed the “world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore,” is moving from its location at 598A Yonge St. to the new site soon.

The opened window allows anyone passing by to stop and check out what’s going, ask a question if they want to, and conversations are punctuated by the sounds of buses and cars driving on Church St.

On Friday, the bookstore, established in 1970, hosted an activity with David Soomarie, a Trinidadian LGBTI and HIV activist visiting Toronto from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, to talk about the fight for LGBTI rights in that country.

Organized by Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the event brings together staff of the network, board members and staff of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), community members and allies.

Soomarie is the coordinator of Community Action Resource (CARe), an organization which he said was founded by gay men in a time of crisis in Trinidad.

“The world can be cruel if you’re gay and HIV positive,” he said, noting that when he was diagnosed as being HIV positive, he reconciled that he was “cursed by God for his sin – for being who he was.”

He didn’t do anything about his health situation for many years until he suffered a seizure and ended up in hospital.

Six years ago he made the decision to become the public face of HIV in his homeland.

Soomarie said when he came out there was a gay community, a culture, a Pride Week in Trinidad, and he could find out about who he was.

He lamented that Pride Week has disappeared into a Pride Month of parties.

“It was about us and it was us telling our stories. There is no roadmap that tells you how to negotiate your gayness.”

He said he is mainly concerned about community and community building, “the work that happens in the trenches, not for those who have the gift of words and the gift of language.” He also believes in building support networks in that community work.

Soomarie noted that there has been no leadership on HIV in Trinidad and that this is 2016 and a clinic that sees over 8000 people has a two-hour wait time to get a blood test done. This situation requires a drastic change.

He said HIV is not on the national agenda as it should be since 2010 when the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) was dismantled.

This is his first visit to Toronto and he spoke of the importance of self-care, to be away from his work for a while “in a space that allows him to be who he is.”

In August, the bookstore in its new space hosted “Drinks and Discussion” with Kenita Placide, a human rights, HIV and LGBT activist from St. Lucia, who is also the executive director of United and Strong, the managing director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) and Caribbean advisor for OutRight Action International.

Doug Kerr, who organized that event, is having another. This time on Sept. 14, 6-9 p.m. with Ugandan filmmaker, Kamoga Hassan, and Montreal-based filmmaker, Karin Hazé, both in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Hassan is a human rights activist and founder of the new Queer Kampala International Film Festival.

In 2014, he produced "Outed: The Painful Reality", a feature about the dangers of homophobic media reporting on LGBTQ issues in Uganda.

The film won the Barbra Gittings International Human Rights Award 2015 and the Best International Feature Film Award at the Baltimore International Black Film Festival. He is currently in pre-production for his latest documentary, "Where is Home" on Ugandan gay asylum.

Hazé is an award-winning French-Jamaican filmmaker who has been producing, directing and programming for over 20 years.

She serves as the creative director of Cinema Feast, a boutique production company, which specializes in international collaborations advancing humanitarian causes.

She is currently working on her latest project, "75 Shots," a mentorship/film project addressing the issue of homophobia and finding solutions in countries where homosexuality is a criminal offense and punishable by law.

Being in 499 Church Street on Sept. 2 had me reflecting on the fact that a few doors down from there once stood This Ain’t The Rosedale Library, another independent bookstore that was there for many years.

Charles Huisken opened the store in 1979 and Daniel Bazuin became a co-owner in 1981.

It moved to Kensington Market in 2008 and subsequently closed in 2010.
Independent bookstores are not just places for commerce; they are spaces for enlightening discussion, the cut and thrust of debates, and community building.

I thought of Burke’s Books and Picture Framing, owned by Rita and Sam Burke, that used to be at 873 St. Clair Ave. W., and which also closed. [Hadn’t seen them in while until recently, I think, at author Austin Clarke’s funeral.]

Toronto Women’s Bookstore, which was founded in the 1970s and was the largest nonprofit feminist bookstore in Canada, closed in November 2012.

It was run and staffed primarily by women of colour, Wikipedia notes, and sold books written by women to promote feminist and anti-oppression politics.

I remember attending many events there where I met some dynamic Canadian and international authors.

Nile Valley Books, founded by Nohsakhre Ibrahim in 1999, has a location at 1921 Gerrard Street East in the Upper Beach area, and Accents Bookstore, which was founded by York University professors, Michelle Johnson and Abubacar Fofana Leon in 2012, has a studio space in Artscape Wychwood Barns.

Accents describes itself as a cultural space and notes that the studio space is “not a retail store, books are for display only.” Purchases have to be done online or by telephone.

Itah Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist, at a Jamaican Patty Day celebration at the bookstore.

Local authors showcasing their books at Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton, Ontario.

A panel of writers at Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton.

Miguel San Vincente, co-owner of A Different Booklist, in foreground at a reception held at the store for a documentary which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2015.
Most of my interactions have been with A Different Booklist at 746 Bathurst Street in Toronto, and Knowledge Bookstore at 177 Queen Street W. in Brampton.
David Soomarie speaking at an event at Bar 499 which will become the new home of Glad Day Bookshop.

The whole block has been sold by David Mirvish so everyone, including A Different Booklist, has until December in the present location.

The bookstore, once owned by academic Wesley Crichlow, has been around for just over twenty years.

Owners, Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vicente (who took it over from Crichlow about 17 years ago), have plans for the cultural centre to continue to have a presence in that area, even as condos are built and the look of the area – which has a long Black History – changes.

Knowledge Bookstore, an Afrocentric hub in Brampton, is owned by Sean and Carolette Liburd and has been in existence for 19 years.

I have attended many book launches, cultural events and celebrations at these bookstores, and even went on trips with the owners.

A few of us accompanied Itah to the Harlem Book Fair in New York several years ago, and I flew with Sean and Carolette to Jamaica for the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth many years ago.

These bookstores can be seen out and about in the community at various events – Afrofest, The Word on the Street [The 27th festival is on Sunday, Sept. 25, 11am-6pm.], some festivals at the Harbourfont Centre, and sometimes at conferences and seminars.

I met many authors, artists, activists, advocates and community builders at independent bookstores.

A day after being at 499 Church Street for the event with David Soomarie, I was chatting with Itah about a project that A Different Booklist is working on, and on that same day I visited Knowledge Bookstore to talk with Carolette about some authors and books.

While sitting at the new space of Glad Day Bookshop on Friday, I also thought of Gwen and Lenny Johnston who founded Third World Books and Crafts in November 1968 on Walton St. in Toronto.

The bookstore moved a few times before settling on Bathurst Street where it stood for many years as an important and critical cultural hub/landmark in the development of Toronto’s black community.

I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Gwen or Lenny but I’ve heard a lot about them through people like Itah, Norman Otis Richmond, and Althea Prince, who dedicated one of her books to them.

It’s therefore a must for me to attend “Revolutionary Love” at CaribbeanTales International Film Festival on Sept. 16, 6 p.m. at the Royal Cinema to see “50 Years of Black Activism” – presented by the Akua Benjamin Legacy Project and Ryerson University – which features Gwen and Lenny.

The project’s website has a wonderful write-up on these pioneers.

The five short films also feature activists: Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, Marlene Green and Rosie Douglas.

This is my little way of acknowledging the work of these independent bookstores, authors, artists, activists, advocates and community builders.

African Canadian artists inspired by trip to Ghana

African Canadian artists inspired by trip to Ghana
By Neil Armstrong

Three African Canadian artists were so inspired by a trip to their ancestral homeland in Africa last year that they have planned an event to raise funds for community initiatives there.
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The artists, Mello Ayo, a performance poet; Michael St. George, a reggae, spoken word, world artist; and Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, actor, writer and teacher, all from Jamaica, spent three weeks, October 23 to November 13, together on a sojourn to Ghana.

The ‘return’ trip was initiated and guided by a fellow African Canadian and Jamaican, Nene Kwasi Kafele, a community builder, who has for decades now been quietly doing significant work in the continent.

Kafele has been providing tangible support to a range of community initiatives in Ghana.

" Michael St. George's leadership stature and spiritual wisdom, Blakka's insight and love of language and people, and Nene's depth of knowledge and stately carriage on the African landscape- this was my greatest privilege and joy to witness and share, “ said Mello shortly after arriving from the trip in 2015.

He kept a detailed journal and plans to publish a book based on the experience.

St. George was enthusiastic about the trip: "My travel to Ghana was an extremely grounding experience that was personally, spiritually and culturally expansive. It was painful yet magically filled with joy. "

“It was uncanny how everything about the place felt refreshingly new yet strangely familiar. It was a necessary return,” says Blakka. 

The artists say the event, “RETURN! Afrikan Punctuation,” will provide a powerful and colourful opportunity for a community cultural sharing and celebration.

They will share exciting new works and recount aspects of their journey using a range of creative media in an informative and entertaining evening interspersed with performances from several guest artists.

The guest artists include Amina Alfred, Brother Sankofa, The Unbuntu Drummers – who recently performed in Jamaica at an event to honour Jamaica’s first national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey – and others.

The event, hosted by Danae Peart, CEO of Vibe 105FM, will be held on September 25 at the United Steelworkers Hall at 25 Cecil Street in Toronto. Contributions will be accepted to support the Aya Afrika Foundation.

The hall sits almost across from 20 Cecil Street where the City of Toronto Culture Division erected a plaque in 2000 to commemorate the significant contributions of Donald Willard Moore, a Barbadian and civil rights activist who fought to change Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws in the 1950s.

The City of Toronto’s web exhibit, “Caribbean Connection: One Man’s Crusade,” notes that “in 1956, Moore and two other members of the Negro Citizenship Association purchased a 12-room house on Cecil Street and converted it into a recreation centre for the West Indian community called Donavalon Centre.”
“In addition to serving as the home of the United Negro Improvement Association and the Toronto Negro Citizenship Association, the Donavalon Centre offered a range of activities and services, including dances, teas, Sunday programs, insurance for its members, and the publication of a quarterly newsletter.”
Several African Canadian organizations have continued that tradition by holding community events nearby – at the United Steelworkers Hall.
Aya Afrika, formerly Manya Krobo Youth Coordinating Council (MKYCC), was founded in 2010 as a result of the community development and community capacity building and sustainable development work of Kafele in West Africa, mainly in Ghana over the past 25 years.
His contributions were formally recognized by the Manya Krobo Traditional Council and in October 2009, he was enstooled by Nene Sakite 11, Paramount Chief of Manya Krobo Traditional Area, as Manoyam Matse.
He is the Chief of Development, with a focus on youth, for Manya Krobo Traditional Area.
 Kafele established two chapters of the foundation in Ghana and Toronto to provide input, advice, expertise, support and coordination related to working with young people and those most vulnerable.
The foundation has been the driving force behind various health and educational projects and has received tremendous support from community members in Canada and in Ghana.
Its work is primarily focused in Manya Krobo Traditional Area (Eastern Region), Bolgatanga (Upper East Region) and the Keta Municipal District including Anloga (Volta region).
The Aya Afrika Foundation is currently raising funds to support the purchase of incubators and emergency communication equipment for women in Manya Krobo.
It also provides financial support to caregivers of orphans in the area to assist with expenses related to medical, educational, food and livelihood, in general.
A collaborative planning process in Yebongo, Bolgatanga is currently underway to determine critical health needs for that community as well. This should be finalized by December this year.
Aya Afrika successfully raised funds to build a borehole for clean drinking water in Yebongo, Bolgatanga in early 2016.
It currently supports the development and expansion of the local Water Access, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committee which provides education, management and technical maintenance support.
There is also a comprehensive schools-based support project to support 43 of the most needy students in Manya Krobo Traditional Area.

Owen 'Blakka' Ellis

Michael St. George

Mello Ayo

Monday, 12 September 2016

Documentary about Jamaica's first Pride celebration to premiere at film festival in Toronto

Documentary about Jamaica’s first Pride celebration to premiere in Toronto
By Neil Armstrong
Simone Harris at a preview exhibition of Nuit Rose, a festival of queer art and performance, at Artscape Youngplace during Pride Month in Toronto in June 2016.

Simone Harris in one of the photos in her exhibition, TRIBE, at Artscape Youngplace in Toronto.

A documentary about Jamaica’s first Pride celebration held in 2015 will have its North American premiere at the 11th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival (CTFF) in Toronto.

“Rainbow Revolution,” a 50-minute documentary directed by Jamaican journalist and filmmaker, Kaneal Gayle, and produced by J-FLAG, will be the feature-length film alongside some short films shown on September 15, under the theme, “LGBT Love.” 

The film was first shown in Jamaica on August 4 during this year’s Pride Jamaica celebrations in Kingston.

It documents the first ever week of Pride events in Jamaica 2015, a country often labelled as one of the most homophobic countries on earth. 

The focus of the film is on the face of PRiDE JA 2015, Simone Harris, featuring her life, bravery as well as her contribution to what was Jamaica's first ever Pride week-long celebration. 

Gayle has been a working journalist in Jamaica since 2008 with Television Jamaica-TVJ and CVMTV. 

He chose to document the first Pride celebration in Jamaica's history to capture the raw emotions of the LGBT community during this history-making occasion.

In June, Harris was in Toronto to participate in the Nuit Rose, a festival of queer art and performance, during Pride Toronto’s Pride Month celebrations.

Her exhibition, “Tribe,” documents her self-discovery coming out of an almost 10-year  relationship, her vulnerability, and her freedom to be herself.

The documentary features representatives of J-FLAG, members of Jamaica’s LGBT community, Dr. Angela Brown-Burke, the mayor of Kingston, and others talking about the significance of the celebration.

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG, references the history of the gay freedom movement in Jamaica.

He noted the significance of holding the celebration at the time of Emancipation and Jamaica Independence celebrations and having a flash mob at the Emancipation Park statue.

“We claim freedom from a different oppressor,” he said, in part.

Someone in the film noted that the Pride Jamaica celebration shows that LGBT people are not afraid to be visible in Jamaica.

Among its activities were a ‘coming out’ symposium and demonstrations of healthy relationships with love at the core, which according to someone in the film disrupts the negative narrative of LGBT people in the country.

The short films that will be featured that night are: “My Silky Blue Frog Shortz,” “Cold,” “Dying Swan,” and “Pieta.”

“My Silky Blue Frog Shortz” by Lezlie Lee Kam, a community activist, is an erotic and hilarious story about a brown Trini dyke dealing with getting older and becoming disabled, how she survives and thrives. 

“Cold” by Salvador Sol Valdez tells the story of Elena who cannot forget the lucid memories of a past relationship. 

An effervescent love, full of passion and ardor, pushes her to fall into a state of mind that may impede her to continue. Faced with a precarious situation, Elena will have to make a drastic decision.
It stars actors and writers, Gilda Monreal and Judith Rodriguez Perez. 

“Dying Swan” by Christopher Laird is about mas artist, Peter Minshall, producing his first mas for carnival in nearly ten years, which reinterprets Mikhail Fokine’s classic ballet, The Dying Swan, for a ‘Moko Jumbie’ (a stilt dancer) in drag. 

This film chronicles the assemblage and performance of this mas at the King of Carnival competition in February 2016. 

Christopher Laird has produced over 300 documentaries, dramas and other video productions with Banyan Ltd. over the past 40 years garnering a score of national, regional and international awards. 

“Pieta” by Melanie Grant tells the story of a young woman who finally returns home to her ill mother to find someone from her past nursing her. 

Grant is a film student from Barbados and a queer and feminist activist.

The film festival kicked off on September 7 under the theme, “Caribbean Love,” at the Royal Cinema in Toronto with the Canadian premiere of “Diary of a Badman,” a USA/Jamaica production by Diemiyuaya Deniran.

The theme of love runs through different nights of the festival.

CTFF closes with the Canadian premiere of “Dreadlocks” by Linda Ainouche, and a short film, “10 Miles Bull Bay.” 

“Dreadlocks,” examines the spiritual links between Jamaican Rastafarians and Indian Sadhus.