First Annual Indie Filmmaker Showcase does Ottawa Proud

September 28, 2011 2:56 pm

One month after the Ottawa International Film Festival, Ottawa’s film community congregated once more. This time, there were no contests or judges, only fellow filmmakers, casts and crews, supporting each other in their cinematic endeavors. This was at the first annual Indie Filmmaker Showcase, an event that took place at the Mayfair Theater last Thursday.

Instead of competing with big guns like TIFF, Showcase is not interested in being considered in the same category. Rather, it hopes to become the Canadian version of Sundance, “where independent artists showcase more arty films, short films, documentaries, that kind of thing,” explains Jith Paul, the event’s mastermind and man behind Treepot Media.  “I wanted to show that Ottawa has so much going on right beneath the surface. There’s an underground culture of short films.”

Paul’s ultimate hope is that Showcase continues and expands into a multi-annual event that focuses on the craft rather than the business side of the industry. “The reason I wanted to stay away from it being a competition,” he explains, “is that it gets you bogged down in the details. You have to […] justify what gets in and what gets left out. This was more about filmmakers showing their films.”

Showcase is unique in that it was created with the idea of showing Ottawa-based artists’ works. In some cases, films were sitting in the proverbial film cellar, not seeing the light of day.  As Paul explains, “it came about because I have a bunch of friends who’ve all worked on short films, and we were looking for people to see them. And we figured, why not?”

Mayfair Cinema, photo by Samantha Everts

“Why not?” was the overwhelming sentiment floating around the group of creative cinema comrades, at Showcase’s after party at The Barley Mow on Bank Street. “You saw the proof tonight. Ottawa is just blooming with talent,” summarized JF Dufault, the writer and director of one of the films premieres, Fishing – a short about a homeless man obsessed with fishing, until he finally catches a pleasant surprise.

“All it takes is someone to have the idea and then go for it and do it,” Craig Allen Conoley of Partus Films told Ottawa Life, praising Paul for starting the process. Conoley was in the industry in Montreal and internationally, until he decided to come back to work with hometown peers, with a specific reason in mind. “Ottawa’s so great,” he says, “because you can become a dominant force I think here by putting in a lot of hard work, by being honest with people.”

While Canada’s capital now has the Ottawa International Film Festival and the acclaimed Ottawa International Animation Festival – two admitted success stories on an international scale – Showcase grew out of a sense that the community’s talent needs more venues for showcasing their own work. So Paul and other filmmakers rented the Mayfair for the night, and invited Ottawa filmmakers to put up content, which ranged from trailers of series and films, to music videos, to short films, both scripted and documentary.

Two of the most memorable films were ones that touched an emotional nerve, but showed an equal amount of quality of idea and visual conception. Poetry in Motion, a film by the Conoley, had its premiere at this year’s OIFF.  It’s a short documentary, which also plays like music video, about Ottawa award-winning spoken word poet Brandon Wint. As the film opens, there is some confusion as to what we, as the audience, are seeing. In effect, it’s an inverted gaze, as Wint wears a head cam that captures people watching him as he walks down busy streets.

“It’s something he experiences, but we wanted an audience to experience it also,” explains Conoley. No words – just street noise, his telling footsteps and a superimposed acoustic guitar tune. The effect is eerie. But we still don’t fully understand. Why the awkward stares, the uncomfortable glances and sudden eye turns? The camera turns on Wint, a close-up of his face as he walks into a bar and speaks into a microphone. Words come out as Wint describes his experiences in spoken word. We finally understand as he enunciates what he has known his whole life, but what we only look at in discomfort: cerebral palsy. The camera turns on his feet, and the words reverberate in his steps, “different” than ours. The film was haunting…

Craig Allen Conoley, photo by Samantha Everts

Mélodie, Mylène Paquin and Karim Ayari’s short, is another film of note. This time, no words were needed – this short packed a powerful visual punch. Mélodie is a film about a homeless girl who stumbles upon special sunglasses that are seeming portals to a better world, a utopia of sorts. Sunlight and happy people – dressed in all kinds of fairy tale concoctions – parallel the real world of darkness and negativity. The trick is in what she sees verses what others see. Is it the glasses, or her outlook on life? The film ends with the lingering question.

Other showings were also memorable. They included Paul’s own collection of Ottawa street shots in Ottawa at Night, Luca Fiore’s easy-on-the-eyes Making a Fried Egg, Karim Ayari’s comedy short The Interview, Kevin Friel’s Tim Horton’s spoof/music video 1 out of 6, Derek Price’s Balance,  and Chris Chitaroni’s Laughter and Profile of a Killer.

We also saw trailers for “Call of the City”, web series “Chum Per Hour”, and documentary feature “How Can a Boy”. Music videos for local musicians Tara Holloway and My Favourite Tragedy were also screened.

As the event wrapped up, and the time for celebrating hard work commenced, conversations led to the budding of creative collaborations, which was another one of Paul’s goals for the evening. Digi60, “Ottawa’s filmmaker’s festival”, had just wrapped up one of its information sessions that evening, purposefully done to coincide with the Indie Showcase.

Shoot on a previous Digi60 film, photo courtesy Digi60 Filmmaker's Festival Inc.

Many of the filmmakers involved in Showcase were previous entrants of Digi60, so the announcement had impact on filmmakers’ plans. Each year, Digi60 creates a “catch” for filmmakers – a theme or parameter they must incorporate into their films.

The “catch” for both the documentary and scripted streams were fully revealed by end of last week. Both entail a “passion” of sorts. The documentary films have to include a “passion” – however filmmakers choose to understand this – and the scripted stream added to that theme, combining “passion” with “kiss”.  On the heels of watching their finished products, this festival gave interested filmmakers an immediate challenge. Anyone can enter – for a small fee and the limit of 60 days to make the film.

Showcase had no such catch. Its mandate was clear: show content produced by Ottawa filmmakers. But it didn’t hide the fact that it was also there as a building-block for professionals in the Ottawa film business, including promoting peer events like Digi60. It was obvious that there was no preferential treatment at Showcase. You just had to be in Ottawa’s filmmaker community, and make it known that you would help in each other’s projects. It was pure democratic filmmaking in the making. One can only hope that the democracy continues.

To find out more about the Indie Filmmaker Showcase go to

To find out more about Digi60 2011, and how to enter, go to

From Stage to Silver Screen Doug Phillips Finds Himself in The Righteous Tithe

September 26, 2011 1:54 pm
Doug Phillips

It is Sunday afternoon, the ten year anniversary of 9/11. I walk into a coffee shop in Westborough, and see my interview subject waiting for me. I think about the state of affairs in the world, and recognize the 9/11 connection to the interview I am about to conduct. Doug Phillips is the mastermind behind The Righteous Tithe, a play-turned-film about the effects of that tragic day on policy and on people. On approach, I see he is reading David Mamet’s Theatre – a clue to the type of storytelling Phillips prefers. “I like Mamet’s book,” says Phillips, “because basically it’s an all out attack on the pretentiousness of theatre and how we’re supposed to think, and I’ve never been in sync with that elitist type of thinking.” Phillips is a realist, and his post 9/11 tale is as real as it gets.

The Righteous Tithe was a play staged in 2009 at The New Ottawa Repertory Theatre and a 2011 film, which had its first screening at this year’s Ottawa International Film Festival (OIFF). It is about a married couple that attempts to cross the border into the United States for a vacation. The man, originally from Britain, has not obtained his Canadian citizenship, which becomes an issue of immigration at the U.S. border – or so they are led to believe. It is a post 9/11 world, and the Patriot Act is fully in effect. The inspiration comes from a mixture of a 60 Minutes episode, Phillips’ own experiences, and his friends’ experiences with border control. “I find realism is much more interesting. Real life is much more interesting than fiction,” he says. The story unfolds as a harsh critique of the American security system. It comes from a mind rife with political astuteness, but low on professional theatre and film experience.

From "The Righteous Tithe"

“I didn’t go to theatre school,” explains Phillips. “I didn’t even finish high school. I never wrote a play til’ five years ago. I never even saw a play until six years ago.” In fact, transitioning into a livelihood of writing and acting from one of chimney sweeping and brick lying is entirely incidental. Phillips grew up in parts of London where the idea of being a professional in theatre would get him laughed-at. “It’s not something I ever dreamt of doing,” he says. It began six years ago, when Phillips’ daughter asked him to find a father-daughter activity, and audition for A Christmas Carol production in Theatre Night in Merickville. They got their respective parts, and the rest is history. Well, not quite.

Phillips did not exactly start from scratch. His affinity for prose began long before. He has won regional awards for his short stories. Once he started writing plays, he found the community responded. His first play, Nann Bread – in which he also starred – won an Ottawa Little Theatre award. The Righteous Tithe was also a nominee for best professional production in the 2010 Capital Critics Circle awards, losing out to the NAC. Meanwhile, the closest Phillips ever came to the film world is by being a self-professed film nut. Out of this comes a stage-to-screen crossover, one that Ottawa’s arts community can be proud of.

“A good play doesn’t guarantee a good film,” recognizes Phillips. Films that come from acclaimed stage productions have several things to prove. Can a good play successfully transfer into an equally-good film? Can the actors transfer their winning stage roles into winning screen roles, while holding on to the essence of what made the characters so appealing theatrically? These are just some of the concerns Phillips had to face.

He takes his cues from the right place, in play-turned-film predecessor Proof, the 2005 film gave Gwyneth Paltrow one of her most acclaimed roles to date. “If you want to be a playwright, watch Proof, even as a film.” While not a British-play-turned-Hollywood-film with internationally-renowned starts, The Righteous Tithe has just as much to prove. Much like Proof, the strength of Tithe is in the writing. Set almost exclusively in a small interrogation room, the dialogue and characters carry both productions. The audience experiences extreme fear and anxiety, and it is all encapsulated in one tiny interrogation room.

However, there is an essential difference to the two storylines. There is a distinct message in both, which is that American security measures after 9/11 are overly harsh and encourage discrimination.  What is added in the film is the entire storyline of the immigration officer having a personal tragedy around the events of 9/11. It produces a humanizing effect, where the audience is given reason to empathize with the antagonist’s misguided actions. Phillips says that the play was “much more critical of large government corruption, and the Patriot Act in particular, without having to justify itself.” He later adds: “I never thought I’d thank […] George Bush for anything, but this play is it.”

Doug Phillips

The transition to film could have been too much to bear for film amateur Phillips, had it not been for the lush Ottawa talent surrounding him. Most of the wisdom comes from Ottawa actor Sean Tucker, explains Phillips. Tucker, who plays the threatening FBI immigration officer in both play and film, largely does film now. One of his notable roles is in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. He made an exception in this case because he loved the script, “which I was very complimented by,” says Phillips.

It seems that Tucker’s mind was never far from the film world though. At rehearsal one day, Tucker suggested turning Tithe into a film, after a joking request by Phillips to make him into a film star. While the play’s director, Paul Dirvis, was up for the task, the film guru that also joined the winning team was director of photography Andian Langley. Langley has been one of Ottawa’s busiest filmmakers of 2011, showing three other productions at OIFF, including the award-winning A Violent State.

Low on money and high on creativity, Ottawa had the goods in other ways as well. The setting is brilliantly designed. Here is a hint: next time you go into the Nepean Arts Centre, you might want to poke around and find the room in which they filmed the immigration office. Meanwhile, the claustrophobic interrogation room was set up at an old coffee roasting warehouse on Bank Street. It was also essential for Phillips that the film contain as many of the same actors as they had in the play, as they knew their roles intimately.

But how does a play get turned into a screenplay? The next step in the process was to sit down and decide which parts to keep, and which to cut. Phillips explained that this is essential, as “rewriting is the essence of playwrighting. When you write a play, be ready to change everything.” For one, all the required expositions in the play – the description of traveling in a car and other transition scenes – could now be shown in a camera sequences, sans dialogue. “One little scene has taken two sentences, or 25 words, out of your play,” Phillips explains.

Cast directing was also approached differently. “Film is a more subtle medium,” explains Phillips. He describes having the ability to mutter a sarcasm-drenched phrase under his breath in the film, which he had to clearly enunciate in the play. The final cuts were made in the post-production stages, where parts end up on the cutting room floor. Phillips reacts to this from a playwright’s perspective. “It’s very strange to watch the film and realize those lines are missing. Cause’ I miss them.”

But the extreme difference in making the two was money. “Making a film is a lot more expensive than making plays,” Phillips chuckled. The film was entirely funded out of their own pockets, for purposes of having creative autonomy on such a controversial topic. But the film does not suffer from lack of funding, as production quality far outweighs the size of its pocketbook.

Aside from his new life as playwright and film star, Phillips has taken on the role of teacher as well. He can be found teaching a class on playwrighting at the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama.

The Russian Alexandrov Red Army Choir and Ensemble – Wow!

September 12, 2011 11:07 am

In the late 70s my late father, in his infinite wisdom, took me to the new NAC to see what was then commonly referred to as the Soviet Red Army Chorus. All things Soviet in those days were mysterious and framed in anxiety and just not like ‘us'(sic). The musicianship preceded the ensemble and the cultural curiosities abounded. The prowess of the vocalists and dancers was intensely anticipated. The concert did not disappoint. It was stunning, luxurious and inspiring. I remember leaving so impressed I tried for days to sing the same low notes of the ensemble’s then star soloist with exuberance but little luck still learning the boundaries of my newly changing and sometimes embarrassingly uncontrollable voice.

One of the many talented dancers

This past September 8th I repeated the gesture and took my son to see the Russian Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Ensemble (RARACE) at Toronto’s Sony Centre. They were performing in Toronto after a successful show in Ottawa (August 30th, 2011) as part of their 2011 Canadian tour and as part of the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands. In addition to Ottawa and Toronto the show also appeared in Montreal and Quebec City. This was the production’s seventh visit to the city (the last on this tour). The RARACE serves as the official army choir of the Russian armed forces. The troupe includes soloists, a male choir and dancers who are all accompanied by a full orchestra playing a mix of traditional Russian and western instruments, including the balalaika, the domra, the bayan, the double bass, woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments. The ensemble’s name comes from the founder and first director, Alexander V. Alexandrov. He was a composer, conductor, and professor of the Moscow Conservatory and wrote the National Anthem of the Russian Federation.  The first time the ensemble visited Toronto was in 1961 and their last appearance was in 1989.

The RARACE choir

The evening opened with a sobering solemn acknowledgement of the recent plane crash in Russia that claimed the lives of some former NHL players and members of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team. The interim Russian Consul General introduced a tribute and then a moment of silence accompanied by a mournful vocal dirge by the choir. This was followed by a stirring performance of the Canadian and Russian national anthems which had the crowd roused up with national and cultural fervor.


The show was a non-stop cultural journey packed with memorable melodies inspiring many memories for several in the crowd. Everyone became an honorary Russian for three marvellous hours that night! The brilliance of national costume tantalized the eyes and the swirling, acrobatic dancing performed with ease amazed the crowd. When melodies were recognized by some audience members,  whispered singing could be hear throughout.  Art and music share that wonderful power and that was evident throughout the evening. At every turn there was an opportunity to clap along to rhythmic numbers and even sing along. Patriotic songs, new and old, were accompanied by projections on video screens above the choir. There were comedic routines that did not fail to illicit laughter and pokes in ribs. The imagery of glorious Russian battles and re-enactments, former Soviet-style factories and working-the-land imagery was engaging not only in its grandeur but also through the way it was presented. The haunting, romantic and seductive tonality of the balalaika and the incredible range of the bass notes of the vocalists gave the evening its sparkle. In essence, the audience was immersed into a stirring and engaging visual history lesson.

Historical costumes of the RARACE

It was evident through their reactions that the audience was wildly impressed. At times, personally, the performers took my own breath away. The lasting quality of so many of the tunes and renditions of timeless popular music kept the crowd captivated. I was transported back to my first experience with my father so many years ago…The evening commanded, demanded and accompanied attention. It stirred deep emotion and memories.

The excited chatter heard in the lobby and on Front Street as we spilled out of the complex was testament to an evening well enjoyed and time suspended by the engaging, spirited and musical treat that is the Russian Alexandrov Red Army Choir and Ensemble.

(All photographs courtesy: David Cannon and thanks to Victoria Lord for hospitality and promotional information)

Opera Lyra Ottawa kicks off with a Double-Bill of Italian Classics and Ottawa Stars

September 10, 2011 9:27 am

“The show must go on.” It is an adage familiar to all that hear it. While its origins come from theatrical arenas outside of opera, the statement is a perfect fit for Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera Pagliacci – the tragic story of famed clown Canio who finds he must go on performing, even after learning some devastating news. In fact, it may just be the metaphoric counterpart to “Vesti la giubba” [Put on the costume], the famous tenor aria from the opera.

Gaetan Laperriere (playing Tonio) and Yannick-Muriel Noah (playing Neda) practicing a scene from from Pagliacci.

The show is set to go on for a long time for three young, home-grown stars. Ottawa natives Wallis Giunta, Jonathan Estabrooks and Yannick-Muriel Noah – originally from Madagascar, she spent part of her life in Ottawa – come back to starring roles in Ottawa Lyra Ottawa’s 2011-12 season openers Pagliacci and the opera with which it often gets associated, Pietro Mascasgni’s Cavalleria rusticana. Estabrooks plays Silvio in Pagliacci, alongside Noah, who plays Nedda. Meanwhile, Giunta is Lola in Cavalleria rusticana. These are three soloist roles for three up-and-coming singers. This is a big deal in any measure; performing in their home-town is an added bonus. The three stars are old friends. They grew up doing the Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festivals and other singing competitions.

“I was so happy, I felt like I could do anything,” Giunta says of her reaction to getting the part. Giunta has been living and performing in Toronto since moving there at the age of 19, has been regularly performing in Europe, and has recently been making the transition to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she is part of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. However, Ottawa still holds a special charm, she explains. “Coming back here to work has been a really important career goal for me, because this is the company I started with.”

Wallis Giunta (Lola in Cavalleria rusticana) and Jonathan Estabrooks (Silvio in Pagliacci)

There is a definitive theme of connecting to roots in this entire scenario. The two works being staged changed the Italian Opera landscape, as they were showing “verisimo”, or “true to life”, characters. Instead of portraying romanticized royals, these characters were regular people. The works became hugely successful, particularly as they connected with the everyday person. It parallels Giunta ’s experience of working in Ottawa:  “A the Met, everything is go big or go home. […] Companies like [Opera Lyra] are what’s going to keep the art form alive. Everyone from the community gets involved, they get students in in the chorus, like I did, they get volunteers. […] I like working with companies that you can really feel a connection to the root of why you’re doing it, where it’s not just a job.”

Estabrooks also notes people’s perception of the opera is far from reality, and is closer to the theme of the two works. “Opera companies all around the world are struggling to get people into seats. People kind of look at opera and they often think stodgy, not for the average person. And I think, if anything, opera has always been an art form that was for everybody.”

The three artists really have come full circle. Estabrooks started in the Opera Lyra boys’ choir when he was only seven. “Music was always part of my life growing up,” he explains. “For me it really is a full circle – to go from the choir to principal artist. That, in and of itself, is exciting for me as an artist.”

Luminary Richard Leech, in full costume as the famous clown Canio from Pagliacci

Meanwhile, both Noah and Giunta were part of The Young Artists Training Studio – now renamed the Young People outreach program – Opera Lyra Ottawa’s youth-centred project. Noah was part of the chorus for an Opera Lyra production of Tosca while, at 15, Giunta was part of the chorus in Madam Butterfly. Coming back to perform in rusticana, Giunta  found that people on the production team had gone to high school with her, the art director, Tyrone Paterson, and the stage director, Michael Cavanagh, were also behind Madam Butterfly. This time around, she finds herself centre-stage. It’s her first time performing as a soloist in Ottawa.

But Giunta may be better known to Ottawans for altogether a different reason. In late 2010, she made a deal with local couturier and wedding dress maker, McCaffrey Haute Couture. “The connection is mutually beneficial,” says Giunta. While the beauty is the fresh face for McCaffrey, the clothier also designs dresses for Giunta’s public events and recitals.

Her connection to Opera Lyra Ottawa has also proven lucrative. In her work abroad, she says that she has been “constantly told that […] a disproportionate amount of talent comes out of this city. So, I don’t think he [Paterson] needs to make excuses to use local talent. It says something about the teaching here and the opportunities.”

For Paterson, “It’s a matter of the stars aligning in a lot of ways.” The reunion, while perhaps serendipitous, was not the main reason for the casting choices. “First off, it was deciding who’s best for the roles, and the fact that they happened to be from Ottawa is a great resounding bonus.”

Vera interviewing Wallis Giunta (Lola in Cavalleria rusticana)

“It made for an interesting alignment with what’s happening in Ottawa now,” argues Paterson. “It shows how Opera Lyra is helping the young singers […] bridge the gap.” Paterson is referring to stages of development that Opera Lyra encourages. Through the program, talented youth can come in to be part of the chorus, than participate in the training program, which is a springboard for them to become professional singers. So for him, the reunion is also a source of proof that Opera Lyra’s youth program is producing palpable results. “I can take great pride in the fact that this is working. It’s a fruition. You plant the seeds, and we’re seeing the trees grow.”

Opera Lyra Ottawa presents Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana on September 10, 12, 14 and 17 at NAC Southam Hall. For more information go to

Get A Taste of Wellington West!

September 8, 2011 8:08 am
Taste Emailer

The 5th Annual Taste of Wellington West (which includes Hintonburg, Parkdale Market and Wellington Village) is slated for Saturday, September 17 from 11am to 7pm.

Organizers promise this year’s Taste of Wellington West will be more flavourful than ever! According to Annie Hillis, Executive Director, Wellington West BIA: “Thirty-five of our finest restaurants and food shops will tantalize your taste buds with samples of their specialties. As well, over 50 shops and services will show off their unique tastes with sidewalk sales and presentations! We’re featuring a big and shiny classic car show, kids’ play area, bike parade, street performers and lots of live music. And don’t miss local business owners giving demonstrations (like how to do a beehive hairdo), fashion shows and even a Tea Party with City Councillor Katherine Hobbs (Ward 15 Kitchissippi) on the back of a pale blue pickup truck!”

Also on hand will be roaming musicians, amazing puppeteers, balloon artists and breakdancers. Finish up the day by heading to the Carleton Tavern to enjoy local rebop and swing with jazz legend Bill Jupp and his Sextet, and see if you’ve won the raffle draw for a trip to Quebec City.

Wellington West is rapidly gaining a reputation as Ottawa’s most culturally, creatively and culinarily-diverse neighbourhood. If you’ve only heard rumours about Wellington West’s cornucopia of multitudinous delights, now is the time to check them out for yourself!

For a full list of activities and venues, visit

Recent Posts