Heather Conn Blogs

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Victims of sexual abuse need regulations with teeth — no more silence

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged rapes and decades of sexual harassment, I appreciate that one victim is condemning her industry’s culture of silence and revealing a lack of support from her unions.

Canadian actor Mia Kirshner revealed in an Oct. 14 opinion piece in The Globe and Mail that after Weinstein promised her work “in exchange for being his disposable orifice,” managers and agents told her to forget about the incident. Her own reps did nothing. She writes, “Their silence spoke volumes about power and fear within the film industry.”

She acknowledges that she was “far too quiet.” She warned her peers about Weinstein and that’s it. She declares that both her unions, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) offered inadequate policies and procedures even if she had launched a complaint. She states, “It is still not safe to speak against sexual harassment and abuse in the film industry.”

Weinstein is only one very public face of a problem that continues across the movie/TV industry. Until we openly challenge sexual harassment and abuse and deal with it seriously and legally, things won’t change. Kirshner says actors have little recourse if they experience sexual harassment or abuse. She suggests that to protect their members, unions need to offer tangible forms of support:

  • Enforce a rule of “No work-related meetings held in hotel rooms”
  • Investigate allegations of wrongdoing using an independent third-party. Currently, following a complaint of alleged abuse, SAG will write a letter and ask a studio or production house to do its own investigation. The fox manages the hen house, so to speak.
  • Maintain a data base that monitors blacklisting activities. If an alleged perpetrator stops hiring an actor after s/he speaks out, the union should impose penalties.

Kirshner says, “Any effort to blacklist an actor who refuses sexual advances . . . should trigger real consequences against the offender. But again, how can the unions produce evidence of blacklisting if no monitoring is in place?”

I am glad that police in New York City and London are investigating the charges of some of Weinstein’s victims. But we all know that the rate of conviction in such cases is tiny. Even if Weinstein ends up in prison, how will that change long-embedded attitudes within the industry?

In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, it was clear that his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tolerated and maintained the atmosphere of sexual harassment that Ghomeshi created, despite complaints to the union of employees.

We need to get beyond the headlines and do-gooder talk of anti-harassment policies, and implement new rules and laws with teeth. Perpetrators need to see that their actions will have tough consequences. Victims need to feel supported. We need to educate judges, lawmakers, the public, and employers, to recognize and condemn when sexual harassment and abuse occur — and take action against it.

Last year, I worked part-time in the Mentors in Violence Prevention program run by the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society. This program, started in Boston decades ago, uses exercises to teach high school students what is inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment etc. The overriding message is that silence is not an option. The program advocates: Be more than a bystander. Each one of us must speak out in some form and tell others. We must demand that regulations and laws change. No more silence.

As I wrote in a letter to the editor years ago to The Vancouver Sun: “Our society shows more official outrage and legal condemnation over the maltreatment of pets at home than the sexual abuse of women on the job.”

October 16, 2017 at 8:46 am Comment (1)

Firing of Weinstein a shift in culture regarding sexual harassment?

It’s gratifying to learn that powerful Hollywood producer and mogul Harvey Weinstein has been fired from his own company following charges of sexual harassment. His lewd behaviour, which allegedly included luring a female TV  journalist downstairs at a New York City restaurant, cornering her and then masturbating in front of her, is said to have continued for decades.

For far too long, the Hollywood entertainment industry has condoned this kind of behaviour through silence and lack of recriminations or repercussions. (How it portrays such actions in films is a whole other story.) We’ve all heard of the long-standing  “casting couch” tradition. I remember reading in the book Why I Write how one Hollywood producer harassed a female screenwriter. After he agreed to make a movie from her script, she was delighted and accepted an invitation to his party. As she was coming down the stairs, she felt something under her shirt. He had gone behind her, shoved his hands under her shirt, and put them on her breasts! And he claimed this was just a friendly way to say hello.

It is reported that high-profile clients threatened to pull their projects unless Weinstein resigned or left the company. When he refused to resign, board members, including his own brother, signed a document to have him fired. It seems that too often, companies won’t act on sexual harassment complaints unless they face legal action or potential loss of revenue. “Doing what’s right” and running a respectful, ethical operation still aren’t motives enough for many places to take action.

But this latest move shows that at last, some folks are taking women’s accusations seriously. Kudos to The Weinstein Company for turfing the bum. I hope this is a sign that the culture of collective silence on sexual abuse and harassment has shifted. Every victim who speaks out, whether it’s within a family or at a top company, helps break that code of silence and empower the next woman to name her accuser.

It saddens me to discover that Weinstein is accused of sexually harassing stars such as Ashley Judd, who until now, has remained silent on the issue. I’ve read her memoir and she dealt with incest as a teen. As a vocal humanitarian and feminist, she has met with world leaders and spoken out against sexual slavery and women and children in poverty. If she was unwilling to go public with her story, that shows the unbelievable power that someone like Weinstein had in his industry.

I’ve followed his career for decades and admired Miramax’s entrepreneurial flair and its nurturing of excellent independent films. I applauded the success of movies like The English Patient, My Left Foot, The Crying Game etc. I knew Weinstein had a reputation for verbal abuse and manic tantrums, but had no idea about the alleged harassment.

Donald Trump might be able to get away with such alleged behaviour, but I’m glad that another power-monger has finally suffered some consequences for his unacceptable actions. As they say, better late than never.

Read here the L.A. Times article that broke the story.

October 9, 2017 at 2:40 pm Comments (2)

Movie owner’s stance on Fifty Shades of Grey deserves applause

I applaud the recent decision of Deb Proby, owner of Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt, BC, not to screen the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. She said she was concerned what impact this portrayal of a sado-masochistic relationship would have on teen viewers, particularly girls.

Such sensitivity for impressionable audience members is rare in today’s cutthroat media market.

Proby has shared her own story in the news. She grew up reading Harlequin romances, succumbing to the myth of noble Adonis figures saving hankie-clenching, adoring females. But in her first marriage, she discovered the brutal, shadow side of this fantasy: her husband beat her.

Therefore, Proby didn’t want to perpetuate any further stereotypes that might wrongly influence young teens, either in suggesting that it was okay for men to physically abuse women (think Jian Ghomeshi) or that women should remain passive receivers of any male sexual whim or fantasy.

Today’s societies, in almost all cultures, already have far too many examples of skewed power dynamics that harm women in heterosexual relationships, whether it’s Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby or every rape and sexual assault that occurs between strangers or an intimate couple. At the extreme end of the spectrum, we have rape-murders and female genital mutilation.

I must say, up front, that I have not seen the film Fifty Shades of Grey nor read the book. I do know that the story portrays an S&M relationship between a young woman and an older business tycoon. It’s based on the bestseller by E. L. James, a woman, which has sold more than 100 million copies and has been translated into 52 languages. I’ve read and heard from people that the writing in both the book and movie is lousy.

It’s distressing to learn that this depiction of a sexual relationship has found such widespread appeal. Is sexual domination of a female the ultimate fantasy for far too many people?

Traditionally, men have controlled the images that we, as a society, are meant to see as sexually alluring or titillating, whether it’s in pornography or advertising. In most of these depictions, the woman’s primary role has been to tempt, then sexually satisfy, the man; her own sexual pleasure is deemed  secondary or irrelevant.

It’s disturbing to me that a woman wrote Fifty Shades of Grey, and she is now receiving outlandish rewards for her gender portrayals: she has a line of sex toys, wine, and other franchise merchandising. Sadly, as we’ve always known, sex sells.

In contrast, I think of a presentation by a female director I heard more than three decades ago in Vancouver. She made erotic films. Her movie clips portrayed empowered women choosing how and when they wanted to make love, with loving and respectful men who viewed them as equals, not as objectified symbols of their own lust.

However, she had difficulties encouraging her female actors in these positive portrayals; she encouraged them to improvise and explore their own fantasies and sexual fulfillment. Yet, most had worked in the porn industry. They were used to roles that demanded they start with giving a blow job, not seeking their own pleasure. They found the transition to self-empowerment challenging.

As for Proby’s decision, some have faulted her for not applying a similar restriction on violent movies. For instance, she recently screened An American Sniper, which one media outlet called “war porn.” Is her stance on sex versus violence hypocritical? Violent movies and Fifty Shades of Grey equally received an R-rating.

Ideally, it would be great if Hollywood movies were not so violent; I decry their power in influencing vulnerable minds. However, since most drama hinges on conflict, violence appears inevitable. If Proby were to eliminate violent movies from her roster, there would be little chance she could remain in business. Hollywood seems obsessed with violence.

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March 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm Comments (0)

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)

Here’s why the movie The Way didn’t work for me

hiking boots low-res

A pilgrim’s abandoned hiking boots
adorn a Camino waymarker.

 

 

 

 

While walking the Camino, it surprised me how many pilgrims I met were inspired to do the pilgrimage simply from watching the movie The Way. I confess: I’m not crazy about the film.

 

However, among those who have walked the Camino, saying that you don’t like The Way is almost akin to admitting that you don’t like babies or kittens or fresh-baked bread.

 

If you haven’t heard of this 2010 U.S. movie, it follows the journey of a father, Tom, played by Martin Sheen, who decides to walk the El Camino de Santiago to honour the memory of his son Daniel, played by real-life son Emilio Estevez. The son died while on the Camino, so Sheen’s character wants to complete the trip to fulfil his child’s dream.

 

I loved that motivation and the father-son relationship, even though Estevez barely appears in the movie. Sheen’s character is thoughtful and open and he’s led by his heart. I liked the scenes in which he shared his pent-up anger because they came across as raw and real and utterly believable.

 

Parts of the plot, to me, were contrived, but I don’t want to dwell on that. What struck me as deflating and ultimately discouraging were the end results of the main characters that Tom meets.

 

I liked the character Jack, a pithy Irish travel writer who’s suffering writer’s block and has dreamed of penning a great novel; as a writer, I couldn’t help but like him.

Me with statues low-res

I’m standing next to the hilltop Alto del Perdon, wrought-iron portrayals of medieval pilgrims,
about 7 km west of Cizur Menor. These statues appear in the film The Way.

Tom also walks with Joost, an overweight, too-chatty Dutch guy, who’s determined to lose some pounds along the way. And he meets Sarah, a Canadian who’s fled a violent husband and plans to quit smoking by the time she reaches Santiago.

 

I found both of these characters uninspiring. By the time he finishes the pilgrimage, Joost hasn’t lost weight and Sarah is still smoking. Sure, I know that it’s only human to have goals and not meet them, but the idealist in me wanted something more uplifting.

 

After walking the Camino and returning to Canada, I decided to watch The Way again. I reasoned that perhaps this movie, which has obviously influenced many pilgrims, might prove more meaningful to me. The second time, it was heart-warming to see the same scenery, pathways, and landmarks that had so recently absorbed me. I loved that part.

 

I could also understand more innately why the four pilgrim buddies, each ensconced in a private room in a Santiago hotel, sought each other out to reconnect within its walls. The binding sense of community on the Camino is a powerful force.

scenic low-res 344

But even so, I came away from the movie with the same hollow feeling. It’s been hard to articulate why the film disappointed me (I admit: I’m always guilty of high expectations), but this morning, I read something that provided a way of explanation.

 

 

In Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, Mark Nepo likens life to a fisherperson’s (he uses “fisherman’s”) net that we are constantly untangling. He says that learning to accept the weave of tangle is intimately tied to the rhythm of being whole-hearted and half-hearted. In his words: “When we are half-hearted, we tangle the net. When we are whole-hearted, we untangle the net.”

 

In The Way, Martin Sheen’s character is whole-hearted: originally, he flies to Spain on a purely practical mission: to retrieve his son’s body. But once there, because of his vulnerability and willingness to open to grief, he tunes into his son’s beingness and vision and decides to walk the Camino himself. This decision and journey transform him deeply.

 

I realize now that the characters of Joost and Sarah bothered me because their quest, in my view, is only half-hearted. Unlike Tom, neither is truly committed to his or her respective goals; they have not made the same whole-hearted investment. There is not as much at stake for them. Tom is dealing with the weighty issue of death and the value of love and life itself. He has plugged into a drive greater than himself, his son’s essence; that’s part of why his journey spoke to me, and theirs didn’t.

 

Perhaps I reacted negatively to these characters because they reminded me of my own half-heartedness in different matters; I judged them as “less than.” Maybe I’m too fixated on a whole-hearted pathway, rather than accepting the half-hearted way as part of the same net of life. The human experience—imperfection—isn’t easy to live or watch.

 

February 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm Comments (0)

B.C. election results: Thank heavens for Weaver, Eby, and Nicholas Simons

Last week’s results of the recent B.C. provincial election  left me too distressed to want to write much on my blog. I still feel utter dismay that premier Christy Clark got re-elected and that the Liberals even gained seats. What a tremendous loss this means to our environment and to the movement to lower greenhouse gases. Clark supports increased use of liquid natural gas (LNG)  and expansion of these facilities across British Columbia. As the Valhalla Wilderness Society points out, studies have proven that the LNG process—blasting rock with water and chemicals to extract shale gas—results in more carbon emissions than coal. That’s truly disturbing.

 

As for our already decimated salmon runs along many B.C. rivers and seaways, how will these fish, vital to our economy and First Nations coastal culture, possibly survive if we suffer an oil spill as a result of increased tanker traffic? Clark has received considerable financial backing from oil and gas companies, and it’s unlikely that she will try and stop the Northern Gateway and Keystone pipeline expansion projects. All you have to do is watch the excellent but horrifying documentary Salmon Confidential to realize that a single massive oil spill will destroy our wild salmon. Even without the presence of oil in our waters, these fish are already struggling to survive against the  sea lice and three viruses that fish farming has introduced on our coast. And they’re getting no protection from our provincial or federal governments, which don’t want to threaten the economics of farmed salmon.

 

Yet some election results have definitely made me want to celebrate. I am hugely pleased  that Andrew Weaver, a climate change scientist from University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, has become B.C.’s first provincial Green Party representative . This MLA from Oak Bay-Gordon Head will serve as the environmental conscience for our provincial parliament and ensure that climate change remains an action priority.

 

I am also thrilled that David Eby, head of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, emerged victorious in Vancouver-Point Grey. It’s an admirable feat to snatch away the seat of the premier, as he did. He’ll serve as our moral and legal conscience in B.C. parliament. And of course, on our local scene, I am happy that Nicholas Simons of the NDP got re-elected to represent the Sunshine Coast. Nicholas has been responsive and proactive in many grassroots actions in our region and I am glad that he will be continuing his contributions in our legislature. We need more like him.

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May 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm Comment (1)

B.C. voters on May 14: Think of our planet & don’t choose a polluter

        I urge all B.C. voters to think of the environment—consider climate change—when casting your vote in our May 14 provincial election.

 

            The choice is easy: tankers and toxins, or conservation and care for the planet. If you vote for a Liberal or Progressive Conservative candidate, no matter where you live, you’ll support more liquid natural gas facilities, pipelines, fracking, and oil tankers on our beautiful coast. These practices not only exploit our limited resources and pollute our land and waterways, they add higher and higher levels of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, helping to speed up our already disturbing rate of climate change and sea-level rise.

 

            I’m not going to tell you to vote NDP or Green. Just don’t vote for a Liberal or Conservative or you’ll prop up polluters and those who refuse to heed the peak-oil warnings. We’re going to run out of oil. We cannot continue on our current economic paths without destroying ourselves.

 

            In the Ecuadorean Amazon, logging and oil and gas companies continue to destroy the rainforest at twice the rate of all previous estimates. Every day, more species are going extinct. In British Columbia, where our rainforests have more species diversity per square kilometre than even in the Amazon, we do not want to become Ecuador of the north. We are home to the last intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Are we going to protect it or let industry make it disappear?

 

            Having recently seen Rob Stewart’s wonderful documentary Revolution, which addresses environmental degradation in 15 countries, I feel strangely optimistic about our future. Although his movie highlights the dangers of ocean acidification, and how our lack of eco-awareness is causing food and water shortages, he reveals many youth activists from around the world who are passionate about saving our planet and changing how we grow food, live, and fish.

           

            As long as enough people care about the earth, and are willing to take action to save it, we can have hope. As long as enough people vote tomorrow for those who want to preserve British Columbia’s land and waters rather than exploit them for profit, we can have hope. On May 14, vote to sustain the natural life of this province and our planet. You can’t separate the two.

 

May 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm Comments (0)

The Great Dictator: Chaplin’s 1940 words still relevant today

 

When people are mired in despair and violence, it takes courage to speak out against those in power and to share one’s vision of a better world. Charlie Chaplin did that almost 75 years ago in his 1940 film classic The Great Dictator.

 

I felt inspired to share some of the speech that Chaplin wrote and delivers in the movie, in which he plays a Jewish barber mistaken for dictator Adenoid Hinkel, a Hitler lookalike. This tragicomedy, released in the early years of the Second World War (before U.S. involvement), was the first Hollywood film to stand against fascism and anti-semitism and to denounce Hitler. It later helped cause the branding of Chaplin as a Communist and his challenges with the Hollywood blacklist.

 

Sadly, Chaplin’s words seem just as apt today, especially following last week’s Boston marathon bombings and Watertown, Ma. shootings. In Canada, we could easily apply them to Stephen Harper’s attempts to quash freedom of speech and erode the democratic rights of all citizens.

 

Sure, the words are overwrought, they exclude women, and cite traditional religion, but think of when Chaplin spoke them. People were losing their lives to fight for democracy. This was a gutsy public voice against not only Hitler, but war and capitalism.

 

In this film sequence, Chaplin plays a character mistaken for Hitler, who addresses “his” army with a passionate plea:

“I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible;  Jew, Gentile, black men, white.

“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

“Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

“Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

“Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

“Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

“Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

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April 22, 2013 at 4:14 am Comment (1)

Theresa Jeffries was a true treasure

     — Heather Conn photo

Theresa Jeffries with Sunshine Coast NDP MLA Nicholas Simons at last year’s Defend Our Coast rally in Davis Bay, BC.

 

I was deeply saddened by the recent death of sishalh elder Theresa Jeffries (sxixaxy) at age 81.  I had met her at events such as Defend Our Coast in Davis Bay and interviewed her for a documentary that I’ve written, produced, and directed called A New Way: An Organic Garden Changes Lives.

 

Theresa was indeed a special woman, full of grace and humour—her native name translates to “Laughing Princess.” Through public appearances and educational work, she shared her desire to ensure that as many people as possible, both First Nations and non-native, knew the destructive impact of residential schools and how much value one’s heritage holds. (The first sishalh to graduate from grade 12, Theresa entered residential school at age seven, remaining until grade seven.) She received the Queens Diamond Jubilee for her advocacy work and revitalized the sishalh language by helping to create a dictionary and curriculum development.

 

Sechelt chief Garry Feschuk reminded us at Theresa’s Celebration of Life ceremony on March 25: “Theresa lives in all of us. True love lasts forever.” He gestured to the crowd in the Sechelt band hall, filled to capacity with about three hundred of Theresa’s relatives and friends, plus elders, and people in two overflow tents outside, and said: “She was a very, very rich woman. These are her treasures.”

 

Garry told us that three days before she died, Theresa had appeared to him in a dream, surrounded by a herd of bighorn sheep. In honour of the memory of “our auntie,” as many referred to her during the ceremony, a procession of First Nations drummers carried a bentwood box to the front of the hall. It was made from a 750-year-old cedar from her home community.

 

I hope to receive Garry’s permission to dedicate the documentary A New Way to the memory of Theresa. She appears in the video, wearing her button blanket and ceremonial headdress, with Aaron Joe, CEO of Salish Soils. She expresses her pride and satisfaction in seeing the success of Aaron’s composting company and his long-term vision for the demonstration garden on Sechelt band land. She describes the negative impact of residential schools and how her people used to grow their own food and fruit.

 

Both Ivy Miller, who shot and edited the footage for A New Way, and I felt honoured to have met Theresa and experience her influence in the community and beyond. She was a treasure, indeed, and we will carry her in our hearts.

Read “A remarkable woman,” a tribute to Theresa Jeffries in The Coast Reporter.

Watch for upcoming information regarding the public release and screening of A New Day.

 

 

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April 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm Comments (0)

See Chasing Ice: Wake up, global-warming skeptics!

Anyone who thinks that human activity and industry have little or no impact on global warming needs to see the astounding 2012 documentary Chasing Ice. (This movie was screened last week at The Heritage Theatre in Gibsons, BC as part of the Sunshine Coast’s excellent Green Films series.)

 

National Geographic nature photographer James Balog, a former geologist who was himself a skeptic about climate change, uses truly disturbing Arctic footage to prove how quickly the world’s glaciers are indeed receding. With the help of young male assistants, some of whom have never even worn crampons, he sets up Nikon time-lapse cameras in Arctic glacial fields in places such as Iceland and Greenland and checks them after a six-month interval.

 

What he discovers surprises even him. When he initially holds up a photo taken a half-year earlier of a glacial landscape that stretches in front of him, he thinks that he must be looking at a different location. He can’t believe how much ice has disappeared in such a short time. But when he rechecks the contours, he confirms that yes, it is the same spot.

 

As part of his self-created Extreme Ice Survey, Balog crawls onto high, fragile ice shelves to shoot straight into a crevasse. He ropes himself to the shoreline while taking stills of glacier-fed waves smashing onto ice floes. He scales and belays down steep walls of ice, all the while in pain from a much-operated-on knee which doctors say he shouldn’t even be walking on. His eldest daughter says she’s never seen her father so passionate about any project.

 

The most visceral scenes, besides Balog’s own stunning imagery of glaciers and Arctic ice, are the outlines on a topographical diagram that carve out how much polar ice has disappeared in the last 10 years, compared to the previous century. After managing to film one ice peninsula, the length of five football fields, breaking off, Balog is inspired to capture the same activity at one of the world’s largest glaciers in the Arctic.

 

He assigns two young assistants, stranded amidst frozen oblivion for two weeks, to keep a camera trained on this glacier. Sadly for us and the planet, and yet fortuitously for the filmmakers, the monumental wall of ice, higher and far bigger than the entire Manhattan skyline, rises up 600 feet, turns on its side, and “calves” (breaks) off. The process takes an hour.

 

I think that this remarkable, 75-minute documentary should be required viewing in all schools and workplaces.

With multi-festival awards from Sundance and Telluride to Hot Docs, it offers beautiful cinematography by director/co-producer Jeff Orlowski. Editor Davis Coombe does an excellent job of weaving together Balog’s stills with his indoor public appearances and footage from helicopters, dogsled and canoe. Both writer Mark Monroe and co-producer Paula Du Pre Pesmen, repeat their respective roles from the Academy-award-winning documentary The Cove about the slaughter of dolphins.

 

Some critics charge that Chasing Ice is more emotion than science, but researchers interviewed in the film confirm Balog’s findings. The documentary doesn’t give a platform to the political naysayers who dismiss global warming, yet its website provides a list of top 10 questions that people ask about climate change. The site also provides the resource skepticalscience.com.

 

Meanwhile, veteran Arctic researcher David Barber, director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, warns that North Pole ice, which used to be considered impenetrable, is now more like Swiss cheese. When he first visited the Arctic in the 1980s, the ice there usually receded only about a few kilometres offshore by the end of the summer. Today, he must travel more than 1,000 kilometres north into the Beaufort Sea to even find the ice.

 

James Hansen, a climate scientist with NASA, says: “The scientific community realizes that we have a planetary emergency.” Peter Wadhams, one of the world’s top ice experts from Cambridge University, told The Guardian this month that Arctic sea ice will collapse within four years (in the summer months), calling this “a global disaster.”

 

Here in British Columbia, the Sierra Club recently announced that the province’s 2010 carbon emissions are four times higher than those reported by the provincial government last June. The B.C. Liberals stated then that 2010 emissions had dropped by 4.5 percent to 62 million tonnes. But the Sierra Club report “Emissions Impossible?” reveals that these emissions total more than 250 million tonnes, when emissions from fossil fuel exports and forests are included. Click here to read more at Sierra Club BC.

What can you do? Stay informed. Ask how your lifestyle and purchasing choices affect global warming. Join groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org and support the ones that are educators and advocates for the planet, including scientists and politicians.

Join with like-minded others. Calculate your ecological footprint. Drive less or not at all. Walk and bike.

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September 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm Comments (2)

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