Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Gibsons, BC teen celebrated at Reel Youth Film Festival

The following article appeared on April 9 on the online newsmagazine Sustainable Coast:

A lesbian version of Barbie squeezes a gal-pal doll to her chest. A quirky caravan of animated gypsies, wandering in silhouette amid birds and animals, rattles across the screen to a Polish folk song. Hank, an accident-prone nerd, suffers comic misadventures while rebuffing co-worker Patricia, the secret object of his longings.

These delightful images were among 24 memorable short films screened April 3 in Gibsons as part of the touring Reel Youth Film Festival. Open to filmmakers age 19 or younger from around the world, the eclectic exhibition showcases talent in stop-motion animation and live-action drama and documentary.

Collectively, the films brought inspiration, provocation, social justice messages, and humour to the half-filled Gibsons Heritage Theatre. The simple animated Welcome Home, from Slovania, visually summarized in just one minute the impact of corporate greed and organized religion on human rights: money piled high while a boss sat, overseeing toiling workers.

In Drugs at the Disco, a 60-second flick from Italy, a cool dude behind a counter popped a pill. But when he tried to add one to each empty cup lined on a counter, the first cup refused, repeatedly moving to dodge his efforts in compelling stop-motion. The young man ended up surrounded by a dozen cups, as if in a threatening stand-off.

With no dialogue, the film’s ingenious don’t-try-drugs warning carried far more effective punch than the bland “Just say no” slogan used in the so-called U.S. war on drugs in the 1980s and early 1990s. As the film’s summary says in the festival program: “When the mind is animated, you don’t need drugs.”

Hosted by Gibsons artist and designer Kez Sherwood, the evening event saluted her son, local filmmaker Dexter Sherwood. (For each Reel Youth festival screening, up to one-quarter of the films are made by local filmmakers.) His 10-minute Phlegm Noir featured a fun take on the shady, black-and-white world of film noir. It starred Dexter as a cough-stricken, sick man, home alone, who wrestled with his alter ego, an ominous fedora-capped smoker, also played by Dexter. (During question period, a young audience member asked: “Did your mom let you smoke cigarettes for the film?” Dexter replied: “No. I faked it.”)

Billie Carroll, of Rhizome up! Media, publisher of Sustainable Coast magazine, presented Dexter with a gift certificate for London Drugs as tribute to his filmmaking achievement. (To view Dexter’s film, click here.)

During intermission, information tables were staffed by Sandy Buck, director of education and community outreach for the Deer Crossing the Art Farm in Gibsons, BC, and me, representing Powell River Digital Film School. (I teach screenwriting at the school and do publicity and outreach for it.)

Powell River Digital Film School features an intensive five-month, hands-on film program that’s free to grade 12 students in B.C. Led by founder Tony Papa, an award-winning filmmaker and producer, the school offers a film camp, guest appearances by industry professionals, and opportunities for solo and group film projects.

The school, which takes a maximum of 15 students, is in its seventh year. Graduates gain preferential treatment when applying to the Capilano University film program, and earn three credits towards Emily Carr University. Students in the program have had their films screened in the Reel Youth Film Festival in the past. For more information, see www.prdfs.ca.

Youth on the Lower Sunshine Coast who want to learn more about film or video have a variety of options: the student-run television station, operated for school credit at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons; a once-a-week program, held over four months by local filmmakers, at Roberts Creek Elementary School; and a film and video program for grades 11 and 12 at Chatelech High in Sechelt.

The Reel Youth Film Festival is an initiative of the non-profit organization Reel Youth, which has offices in B.C., Ontario, and Alberta. Using artist mentors, it offers programs ranging from video production and photography to music videos and stop-motion animation.

For the festival, a youth jury selects the films based on their entertainment value, technical quality, and message. Launched each year at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the festival tours its films in partnership with high schools, community groups, youth media organizations, and other established film festivals.

Reel Youth has produced more than 1,000 films with 4,000 participants in western Canada, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Morocco, Vietnam, India and Nepal.

Click here to read the original article as it appears on the Sustainable Coast website

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April 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

Time on the Camino: spiritual solace or a tough taskmaster?

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Stopping to smell and admire flowers and nature along the Camino
was an easy way to experience a sense of timelessness.

I have always paid great attention to time. I hate being late. Most of my work life revolves around deadlines. I frequently check the time on my watch or computer to orient myself to appointments, and feel surprisingly naked and vulnerable when not wearing a watch. In grade seven, I even wrote a speech about the nature of time.


Therefore, it was disorienting when, in just over a month, I went through three watches while walking on the Camino.

First, my cheap Timex stopped working and the strap came off; I lost the tiny metal pin that attached to the wristband. Then, I lost the square face of an expensive, artsy German watch I bought in Chartres; only the wide, expandable wrist band was left.


I told myself this was a sign to let go of my attachment to time. I’m too caught up in it. Deepak Chopra calls this “time-based thinking”; he says it’s the domain of the ego. In contrast, spirit is timeless. It exists beyond our sense of linear time.


I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a watch; I could check the time on my cell phone or ask others. But my ego won out. After about three weeks of walking, I bought a whimsical, brightly coloured watch in Léon for 16 euros; it had a cute image of a cartoon dog flying in a plane. I admit: I felt attached to it. By the next day, it had come off my wrist and was gone.


I told Elke, one of my walking companions during my final week on the Camino, about my watch issues. The next day, her watch stopped working. Jokingly, she blamed me.

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With blisters, a sore knee, and fatigue, my then-54-year-old body certainly didn’t feel ageless on the Camino.


I remembered reading Chopra’s Ageless Body, Timeless Mind years ago, in which he reinforced that our attitudes and perceptions help create our level of consciousness. This, in turn, affects the level of stress or tension in our bodies; it reinforces the mind-body-spirit connection. How we react to time becomes part of that equation; are we stuck in the past, worrying about the future, rushing to catch up to people and events—pushing the river, so to speak—or letting go and allowing things to unfold organically?


I have definitely been a push-the-river type. Learning to let go has been a challenging lesson for me in the last few decades; it’s why I made “Let go and go with the flow” the unspoken message of my children’s book Gracie’s Got a Secret.


My mind felt timeless when I lost myself in the surroundings, in solitude, and experienced a deep connectedness with all around me. But more often, I was wondering: How much time to the next town? How much longer can I walk? I made time a taskmaster: it’s what prompted me to leave early in the morning to increase the likelihood of finding a hostel bed at night.


I was following a plan with a determined destination, dividing my days into kilometres and hours. What a contrast to my extended time of solo meditation and spiritual exploration in India. With no schedule in that country, it didn’t matter to me what day of the week it was.


That’s why learning to recompartmentalize my sense of time, upon my return to Canada from India, was one of my biggest adjustments. I had rarely thought beyond a day at a time.

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Timelessness is ever-present if we can shift perceptions from ego to spirit.

On the Camino, having to stick to my predetermined arrival date in Santiago felt oppressive at times; my return flight was already booked. This didn’t allow for diversions or the spontaneous desire to stay extra days in a certain place.


I appreciated the leisurely options of retired Europeans who lived so close to home and booked their return train or plane passage based on when they felt ready to go back. Time seemed to be able to expand for them; it didn’t have the same urgency that it seemed to have for me.


If I walk the Camino again, I will choose only a portion of the route and stay longer in some places, giving myself more time to explore and relax without a schedule.

April 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm Comments (4)