Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

May 18, 2016 2:18 pm

Focusing on one of Canada’s most controversial cases, Guantanamo’s Child is a documentary which tells the story of Omar Khadr, a Toronto-born Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan by American forces in 2002 and convicted of war crimes at the age of 15. After spending a decade behind bars in Guantanamo Bay, he was transferred back to Canada to spend the rest of his sentence in Ontario and Alberta. Omar’s case is significant since it was the first case of a minor being charged with war crimes since the Second World War. The documentary features Omar Khadr telling his story through a series of interviews conducted just days after his release on bail last year.

Guantanamo’s Child will be premiering in Ottawa from May 30 to June 2 at the Mayfair Theatre. The documentary is directed by Patrick Reed, a documentary producer and filmmaker, and Michelle Shephard, a Canadian journalist and author of Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, which the film is partially based on.

You can find out more at

A Reason to Go Outside: The Baltic-Nordic Film Festival

February 18, 2016 9:56 am

A record-setting snowfall just hit Ottawa. Many of us scrambled to unearth our streets and sidewalks in vain, digging our cars out from under massive layers of cold powder, staring numbly at the flakes as they kept falling. The lucky among us stayed indoors, huddled around the glow of a flat-screen. It was a great time to watch movies.

The snow landed smack dab in the middle of the Sixth Bright Nights Baltic-Nordic Film Festival, which began last Friday and runs until Sunday, February 21. The festival is a compelling reason for the people of Ottawa to leave the house this week. Its films are currently burning brightly at the Carleton University River Building, with Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs and Annette K. Oleson’s The Shooter already setting crowds alight.

Among those films still to show are Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, a documentary about Sweden’s greatest Hollywood export and one of the best actors to ever live. Bergman arrived as a young woman in America and quickly became a household name, turning in one legendary performance after another. This is only the beginning of a deeply personal and revelatory work. In Her Own Words reconstructs Bergman’s life via 8- and 16-mm home movies, diary entries, letters, and old photographs, all knit together by her ghostly narration and interviews with those who knew her. Stig Björkman’s film is the crown jewel of the festival and not to be missed when it screens on Thursday, February 18 at 7:00 p.m.

Also upcoming is Rams, winner of the highly prestigious Un Certain Regard prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Two brothers, Kiddi and Gummi, live on neighbouring farms in the same village. They haven’t spoken in 40 years. Sheep breeders, they enter their rams in the local (very local) annual competition, and each victory and loss drives them further apart. When a disease outbreak threatens their livelihood, the brothers are forced to address their long-time feud. Captured deep in the heart of breathtaking rural Iceland, this tragicomic story screens on Saturday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m.

It’s cold and snowy out there, but the movies showing at Carleton will light up your week. The Bright Nights Baltic-Nordic Film Festival is worth the trek. Tickets are $9 each for CFI members, students, and seniors; free for Carleton students; and $13 for everyone else. Visit for more information. You can find trailers for Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words and Rams below.

Film Review: “Ip Man 3” is a Hard-Hitting Conclusion to a Classic Kung Fu Trilogy

January 25, 2016 1:56 pm

Directed by Wilson Yip
Written by Lai-yin Leung, Chan Tai-Li, and Edmond Wong
Produced by Dreams Salon Entertainment Culture et al.

3 Stars



Early on in Ip Man 3, a young Bruce Lee approaches the Kung Fu master and asks to become his student. Ip Man pelts him with cigarettes and water, which Lee intercepts. Not unimpressed, the master tells the young man to return later. Lee will, but not in any future installment; this is purported to be Donnie Yen’s final turn as the master, in a series of films that has curiously chosen to turn away from what many would consider the most interesting aspect of its subject’s life.

Perhaps this is fair. The story of Bruce Lee, and Ip Man’s role as master, must be all too entrenched in the Chinese consciousness. Indeed, the success of Yen’s earlier Ip Man films led to many other biopics, including acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar-wai‘s The Grandmaster, to the point where Yen worried about an oversaturation of the character. With Ip Man 3, he provides cathartic closure to an original portrayal.

The real Ip Man practiced Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu specializing in close-range attacks. In the film’s fight scenes, which sprawl through inventive locations such as an umbrella shop, a cramped elevator, and the hold of an unfinished ship, Ip Man strikes his opponents at heart-rupturing speeds, races nimbly down staircase railings, and uses flying bodies to turn every available board into kindling. Given the impossibility of the movement on display, I imagine wires were used, but they are difficult to spot. The fight scenes were formulated by famed choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, whose work Western audiences have seen in the Matrix and Kill Bill films as well as international martial arts marvel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I am assuming there is little of the real Ip Man on display here. This is not a shortcoming, as films such as this serve the purpose of expanding legends. We see Ip Man as a family man long devoted to his wife (Lynn Hung) and young son (Wang Yan Shi). He is well respected in a culture that attaches more importance to its Kung Fu schools than it does its police force. But he is also charmingly dense for a sage ­– his wife worries about his absence, and he decides it best to respond by leaving her a note to repair a garment.

The plot is a jumble. Tired of earning money in underground fights, one working-class martial artist (Jin Zhang) believes his Wing Chun superior to Ip Man’s and stages public humiliations of masters to drum up media interest. Mrs. Ip develops an illness, causing her husband to rethink his treatment of her. A contracted gang kidnaps their son and holds him and his classmates prisoner at the local shipping yard. These storylines and others do not complement one another, but function as roads to the next impressive fight sequence.

Boxing legend Mike Tyson makes an appearance as an American property developer and “foreign devil” hell-bent on torching the local elementary school. Lacking only a stringy moustache to twirl, Tyson is able to go punch for punch with Yen. This was no doubt a bolded and underlined condition in his contract. Yen, a veteran martial arts actor, will be in the upcoming “Star Wars: Rogue One.” I like his presence, which like the Ip Man film series is simultaneously kind and intense.

Ip Man 3 is playing at The Mayfair Theatre through Tuesday, January 26. Visit for showtimes.

“The Force Awakens” Fulfills Old Promises, Makes New Ones

December 21, 2015 2:57 pm
Star-Wars-Episode-VII (1)

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt

Produced by Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, and Truenorth Productions

4 Stars



I have to be careful, here. The Force Awakens has been on screens for a few days now, and spoilers abound on the Internet. Those who want to go into the movie fresh are staying far away from reviews such as this one. Every Star Wars fan should see it unburdened by advance knowledge. They should see it and have their expectations met by the movie’s own merits apart from the hype. Director J.J. Abrams and new owner Disney have taken great pains to keep us in the dark on Episode VII plot points. We should be in the dark when the movie dawns on us.

Episode VII is a good film, and an important film, and the film Star Wars fans want and need and have been waiting for since Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1983. That’s accounting for the prequels, which aren’t as bad as modern legend tries to convince, but fail to invoke the fierce nostalgic pang that fuels Abrams’ movie. George Lucas’s constant reinventions of his original and unparalleled space opera have earned him derision from the fans, who feel cheated when Star Wars doesn’t go the way they remember it. Abrams is clearly a fan, and he treats his opportunity and material with a great deal of reverence, and it shows.

Memory is a powerful thing. It’s pretty well common knowledge by now that old favourites return in Episode VII. There are characters we haven’t seen in years, and when they appear onscreen, there is a wonderful exaltation. A prop, a sound effect, a recalled line of dialogue transports us back to our childhoods, watching the entire universe face its potential end at the hands of darkness through the jagged tracking lines on VHS tapes played countless times. It is that old darkness we meet again in Episode VII, that old light, that feeling that old heroes have returned to face a new evil and make things right again.

I am in a complicated position. Suffice it to say that the Western is built on the kind of scene that closes Episode VII. Everything that needs saying is done so in a look. We know the circumstances. We know the stakes. We’ve seen these characters rise, and fall, and rise again, in movie after movie, and their losses and gains are ours. There is poetry here and elsewhere in The Force Awakens, moments that are quiet and restrained, moments that are bombastic and thrilling, with John Williams’ familiar score bridging us backward into memory and forward into the realm of infinite possibility.

What Episode VII has that the prequels don’t is a sense of promise. That promise has nothing to do with digital advancements or more convincing special effects. Episode VII was shot on 35mm film, in old-fashioned 2-D (its 3-D is a better-than-average post-conversion), befitting a long-ago galaxy from far, far away. No, the promise of Episode VII is a refurbished commitment of Star Wars to new worlds, new battles, and new adventures, all rooted in what made fans of the series latch on like mynocks in the first place. More so than any Star Wars film yet made, it’s a commitment to the future of science fiction storytelling, led by those characters who started us on this formative journey. We welcome our heroes back with pleading eyes, and hope they will always fight for us.

A terrific Saoirse Ronan calls a routine “Brooklyn” home

December 16, 2015 2:06 pm

Directed by John Crowley
Written by Nick Hornby (based on the novel by Colm Tóibín)
Produced by Wildgaze Films et al.

2.5 Stars



There are two scenes in Brooklyn that get at a fundamental truth of travelling long distances. In the first, recent Irish transplant Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is sitting across from a date at a New York restaurant. She’s been in America for a while, and it’s her first opportunity to truly communicate what it feels like. She has so much to say that she forgets to eat. Later on, Eilis is back in Ireland, sitting across from another date. This time the young man does all the talking, about all the places he wants to go. The truth is that travel is especially worthwhile if there’s somebody to share the experience with. It’s as important to arrive at a person as it is to arrive at a place.

Brooklyn’s story is familiar, yet compelling: a young woman takes incredible geographical steps to make a life for herself. America holds promise, as it did for so many European emigrants following the Second World War. Sponsored by an Irish Catholic priest (Jim Broadbent), Eilis makes the transatlantic journey to Brooklyn. She takes a room at a boarding house and a job at a department store. She is lonely, and spends her days tending to the guilt at leaving her mother and sister behind.

She meets a young Italian man, Tony (Emory Cohen), at a Catholic social, the kind where doctrine took a backseat to strategic necking. They have dinner with Tony’s family, including his mouthy young 8-year-old brother (James DiGiacomo), puzzled over how the two can get along while the Irish cops are giving his neighborhood such a hard time. Eilis and Tony work together, her coyness and intelligence a perfect match for his bashful earthiness. Then tragedy strikes, and Eilis must return home, and before long she’s feeling pulled in two directions at once.

Other scenes fight to break Brooklyn out of routine. Serving at a dinner for the local parish, Eilis sees what’s become of Irish emigrants who made the journey before her, men who built the city’s bridges and tunnels and became homeless. One man sings a melancholic Gaelic song that comes out like a homesick cry. In other moments, Eilis and her loved ones weep over letters finally arrived from across the ocean. These sequences could have been hokey, but they capture the displacement and loss immigrants felt when it could take weeks to receive bad news. And there are funny scenes at the boarding house dinner table, where Eilis and other young Irish girls contend with their place in a foreign city, while landlady Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) slaves to ensure their adherence to God’s word. Everyone is steadfast in their beliefs, and their arguments are natural.

Brooklyn is a fine movie, but that’s almost the problem. It’s well shot, and Nick Hornby’s adapted script is perfectly functional. But its stakes are dreamy and fairy-tale-like when a greater degree of realism would have served it well. Its pathos is glossed over with exquisite costumes and a punched-up deweyness in its characters. Its location almost seems an afterthought, with few of New York’s big streets and neighborhoods making little more than cameos (most of the New York scenes were filmed in Montreal).

None of this should reflect poorly on Ronan, who gives a terrific performance. On her first journey to America, Eilis enters a glowing door of promise, scared out of her wits. The second time around, she’s expert enough to give advice. To Ronan’s credit, we look into her bright blue eyes and believe her capable.

Brooklyn is playing at the ByTowne Cinema through Thursday, December 31st. Visit for showtimes.

Bryan Cranston makes a name for himself in Trumbo

December 1, 2015 1:47 pm

A scene from Trumbo.

Directed by Jay Roach
Written by John McNamara (based on “Dalton Trumbo” by Bruce Cook)
Produced by Groundswell Productions and ShivHans Pictures

3 Stars

It seems almost quaint now. The politics of Hollywood were once a big deal, rather than an unnecessary interruption into screen time. In the 1940s, newsreels preceded feature films. They showed audiences what was happening overseas as the Cold War began waging. Their footage buried its way into the subconscious of Americans right before they were treated to the latest Gary Cooper movie.

Many Americans, including Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, became Communists during World War II, before it was unfashionable to do so. Communists had helped to defeat the Nazis, after all. Their principles of socialism and sharing seemed ideal following Hitler’s genocidal tyranny. The backlash against Communism under Stalin compromised the position of many well-meaning people. None of those people wanted to encounter John Wayne, who was prepared to drag Russia behind his horse.

Trumbo is a good movie about these sentiments. It’s full of Hollywood figures of the era – Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, Louis B. Mayer. All of these men gather in rooms, eyebrows raised in amusement as they light a five-hundredth cigarette, talking as if they’re all adept at playing the same sordid game of fame and fortune. The amusement stops when a man’s career is threatened. Members of the Hollywood Ten, Trumbo among them, were blacklisted and shunned in polite society. They were named by their peers, who were under contract to the big studios and wanted to keep working. They were publicly shamed in cinemas by gossip pioneer Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who had a son in the navy and thus a personal vendetta. The House of Un-American Activities Committee sought to make an example of “the most powerful influence ever created” – the movies. Naming names was an exercise in survival, and totally unconstitutional.

Trumbo spent almost a year in prison. By the time of his release, his name was no good. He and his associates continued working under pseudonyms. In 1953, he handed a script to screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), a princess-and-pauper story starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Jay Roach’s movie picks up the pace in these scenes, as Trumbo pulls off one victory after another at the expense of Hollywood. Under the King Brothers, producers of schlock, the group of blacklisted writers finds its niche. The Oscars begin piling up. Not a one bears Trumbo’s real name, and won’t until 1975.

As Trumbo, Bryan Cranston uses craggy delivery and hunched physique make otherwise routine moments fascinating. Louis C.K., acting as if he time travelled from present day and is trying to avoid suspicion, provides comedic relief as screenwriter Arlen Hird. Writer John McNamara, working from Bruce Cook’s biography, explores Trumbo’s often antagonistic relationship with his daughter Niki (Elle Fanning), and lets Diane Lane beam dutifully as his wife Cleo. Their scenes are flat, and don’t fit with the movie’s reason for being, namely, Trumbo’s cunning and drive to persist as an artist despite his persecution.

The movie joyfully portrays big moments in cinema history. There’s a beautiful shot of Trumbo’s credit on Spartacus, the first to appear on screen in years, reflected in his glasses as a tear comes to his eye. President Kennedy attended the film, crossing protest lines to do so. That powerful gesture ended the Hollywood blacklist era. In archival footage, we see Trumbo make a promise to his daughter, should he ever be exonerated: “I’ll tell her we have our names back again.” Trumbo gives the names, and shows us what they represent.

Trumbo is playing at the ByTowne Cinema through Thursday, December 10th. Visit for showtimes.


Movie Review: Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” breaks the law to show streets of Tehran

November 20, 2015 1:59 pm

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

Written and directed by Jafar Panahi
Produced by Jafar Panahi Film Productions

3.5 Stars

Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” is a movie that shouldn’t exist. Five years ago the Iranian director was arrested for attempting to film a documentary about the social unrest following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election. He was punished with prison time and ordered not to make another movie for 20 years. He has since made three. They are nearly impossible to see in Iran, although as footage from “Taxi” indicates, those who wish to see them may procure them on the black market, the way one might procure a weapon.

The film is shot from the confines of a taxicab as it navigates the streets of Tehran. Panahi himself is at the wheel, operating a small camera mounted on the dash. His passengers come and go. We watch a thief and a teacher debate the merits of capital punishment. There is the impression that a conversation like theirs couldn’t be had just anywhere in the city. Panahi’s taxi is a buffer. His actors enter it from a world that operates on dangerous principles. But that is a real world out there, and if the wrong person had clued into Panahi’s game, the consequences would have been dire.

An injured cyclist, his wife cradling him in her arms, bleeds to death in the backseat as Panahi speeds them to the hospital. The man dictates his last will and testament on video, bequeathing everything to his wife, whom sharia law would otherwise deny. Two elderly women with a full fishbowl hail the taxi, on a comical mission to keep the ill effects of a yearly superstition at bay. A human rights lawyer who brings bouquets of flowers to prisoners speaks with Panahi about his detainment. There is an incredible warmth in their interaction, stoked by the injustices they have faced.

Film is a counterbalance to tyranny. A “film renter” enters the taxi, on his way to deliver a bagful of illegal foreign films. An associate shows Panahi video evidence of his own assault, captured on an iPad. Panahi picks up his feisty 11-year-old niece (Hana Saeidi), a budding filmmaker who reveals the strict regulations imposed on Iranian films. Heroes have to share the names of Islamic saints. No examples of “sordid” realism can be shown. Under these constraints and others, the young girl searches Tehran for examples of beauty, and finds them anyway.

These moments comment on the Iranian government’s black and white tolerance for artistic expression. It is energizing to see a filmmaker work in an environment that so discourages the showing of truth. When “Taxi” won the Golden Bear prize at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, Saeidi accepted the award on behalf of her uncle, forbidden from leaving his country. Panahi’s previous “This is Not a Film” was smuggled from Iran to Cannes inside a birthday cake. Art finds a way.

“Taxi” may be the most important movie playing in Ottawa this week. In the charged days since the recent attacks by ISIS in Paris and Beirut, a newly emerging wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and action has flooded our Western communities. So many of us are ignorant of the millions of Muslims abroad, living out their days with humility and concern for a fairer society. Panahi gives rides to these people and introduces them to us at great personal risk. He shows us their streets. This is a brave and eye-opening film.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is playing at the ByTowne Cinema through Tuesday, November 24th. Visit for showtimes.

Film Review: A Fiery Fassbender Walks the Talk in “Steve Jobs”

November 14, 2015 1:25 pm

Steve Jobs
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Aaron Sorkin (based on the book by Walter Isaacson)
Produced by Universal Pictures et al.

3 Stars

Steve Jobs could be a real jerk. This is the overriding thrust of Danny Boyle’s new film about the Apple co-founder, and it’s hammered home in scene after scene in which the titular character, played by Michael Fassbender, runs roughshod over connections both personal and professional. “I’m poorly made,” he admits to his oft-estranged daughter toward the end of the film. Walter Isaacson, whose biography of Jobs serves as the movie’s chief source material, characterized the CEO’s drastic shifts in behaviour as “Good Steve” and “Bad Steve.” Boyle’s film shows us a Steve who is borderline sociopathic.

The movie is structured in three parts, each set in the fleeting minutes before an important product launch – the Apple Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and iMac in 1998. At the first launch, Jobs charges through every square inch of the backstage area, threatening engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) to make the Macintosh say “Hello” to the audience. How else will the future arrive? Later, Jobs goes out of his way to switch out a bouquet of flowers despite a host of more important things to address. We get the sense he’d outfit the asbestos in the San Francisco Opera House with shiny casing if he could.

One by one, Jobs deals with the significant players in his life. We know the names, even if only in passing. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) was with Jobs when Apple was just an idea in a garage. Despite his joviality, he demands recognition. (“John Lennon wrote ‘Ticket to Ride.’  I wrote the Apple code.”) Marketing Director Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) does everything to steer Jobs on the right path but take a pickaxe and dig a trench. Former Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), concerned about his identity as “the guy who fired Steve Jobs,” tries his best to right his legacy. There is also Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa. Every word spoken between the two begins with a dollar sign.

The film is written by Aaron Sorkin. He wrote another film a few years ago about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who could also be a real jerk. Sorkin’s dialogue pumps like a turbine, requiring its speakers to move about while having fevered conversations about slot numbers and tower dimensions. Just as things get too technical, a great zinger surfaces: “It’s like five minutes before a launch, everybody goes to a bar and gets drunk and tells me what they really think.”

Indeed. There are a lot of beats to hit with these characters, and the pace they require makes “Steve Jobs” an occasionally exhausting experience. Boyle provides a nice container, varying the grain levels of the film to differentiate the eras, doing his best to catch up with his cast as they make their way through a series of enclosed spaces. As the director who shot the claustrophobic “127 Hours,” he was the right pick.

Most of us know Jobs as the man responsible for technologies now so widespread they appear natural. Apple’s launches remain spectacles with all the pomp and flash of landmark cultural events. This is Jobs’ legacy. In the film’s best scene, he and Wozniack argue back and forth in an empty orchestra pit, debating the merits of the conductor. “I play the orchestra,” Jobs observes. Maybe, but for all of his words, no conductor has ever spoken louder than a musician.

“Steve Jobs” is playing at The Mayfair Theatre through Thursday, November 19th. Visit for showtimes.

Film Review: “Room” opens a door on abuse, wonder

November 7, 2015 12:37 pm

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Emma Donoghue (based on her book)

Produced by A24, Element Pictures, and No Trace Camping

3 Stars

It’s astounding to consider that a person could go missing only to reemerge years later. The actual case of Elisabeth Fritzl, imprisoned for 24 years in the basement of her father’s Austrian home, raises unsettling questions. What would it be like to breathe fresh air again? To feel grass under your feet? How would the trauma of being locked away and abused complicate your view of the world? How would you connect the person who disappeared with the person who’s now much older, finally on the other side of those walls?

Lenny Abrahamson’s Room provides thoughtful answers. Its vessel is Joy, abducted at 17 by a stranger asking for help. The movie opens seven years into her imprisonment in a tiny backyard shed. She has a son, Jack, who’s just turned five. We start doing the grotesque math. But there’s an obvious tenderness between the two. Jack has never been outside. His mother satisfies his burgeoning curiosity. Room is the world. Chair, Toilet, and Mouse are its citizens. The only window looks straight up into Heaven, where Jack came from. A television points at other signs of life, but it might as well be a window into another planet.

At night “Old Nick” punches in a code at the door, and Jack peers through the slits in a makeshift wardrobe as terrible acts unfold. This tender world has horrible truths, and Abrahamson and author/screenwriter Emma Donoghue force us to look at them through a child’s eyes. When Joy finally tells Jack about the outside world, her descriptions come gushing out in random, beautiful details. Trees aren’t just TV creations. They’re real. So are turtles, squirrels, and dogs. Would you believe it?

Room has two distinct halves. In the first, we root for Joy and Jack to overcome their awful circumstances. Things take an unconventional turn in the second. Another movie bent on audience catharsis might have focused on the fate of the man who kept them locked up. But Room is a story about survivors of abuse, and how they come to terms with an inevitable aftermath. Freedom is only the first step. Imagine cowering at the sound of a closing door. Imagine the people in your life growing old, divorcing, getting on with their lives in your unexplained absence. Imagine where you’d fit in.

Brie Larson continues her streak of impressive dramatic work following Short Term 12 and Rampart. William H. Macy, Joan Allen, and Tom McCamus give important if understated performances as proprietors of life beyond the walls. Most impressive is young Jacob Tremblay, wholly believable and sensitive as Jack. In a movie that raises this many questions, he’s our path into understanding what’s real.

Room flails a bit toward the end, not quite sure where to land its characters once they’re jettisoned. But it works as a film very much about wonder. The sky is so big and open. The world is a whirlwind of sight, sound, and taste. Everyone’s in a hurry. There’s so much space and so little time. When Jack hears a phone ringing in person, he gasps. When he finally sees a real-life dog, it’s a mythical encounter. There is beauty despite suffering. We are fortunate to see it.

Room is playing at the ByTowne Cinema through Thursday, November 19th. Visit for showtimes.

Lloyd Frost Provides Social Commentary with a Groove

October 30, 2015 11:55 am
1 SAW Gallery live performance CD Release oct 24 2015

Photo courtesy of Ben Dionne © Blue Plazuela Music.

Lloyd Frost has many tales to tell.

Frost is a Montreal-born singer/songwriter and musician who lives and plays his songs in Ottawa.

Lloyd has recently released The Sun Is Rising and Other True Stories, an 11 track album. People have told Frost that it is a bit of an unusual album, and Frost agrees.

While each track features a different genre (ranging from rock to Latin), Frost says that the one thing that holds it all together is his voice.

The creation process was an organic one for Frost. While recording, it was suggested that Frost invite Latin musicians to play on the track “In Everyone’s Eyes.”  While on a trip to Nicaragua, Frost reached out to folk and protest Nicaraguan musician Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy.

3 Sun Is Rising POSTER

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Frost © Blue Plazuela Music .

After listening to Frost’s recording of the song, Godoy agreed and provided Frost with a crew of musicians. Frost says that the band provided a great live and Latin feeling to the track.
Along with the record, Frost poured his soul into the creation of two films and a photo exhibit.  Frost describes the connecting theme among the projects as something that he likes to call “social commentary with a groove.”

While we discussed Frost’s pursuits, it quickly becomes clear that Frost has been very busy.

Frost’s first film, In Everyone’s Eyes, has been screened around the world and has won two awards: Best Music Video at the Awareness Film Festival 2014, a well as Best Art Short-Short Film at the Eugene International Film Festival 2013.  

Filmed entirely in Cuba, Frost describes the film as a poetic and slyly subversive look at the life of Cubans.

Although Frost acts as the singing narrator through the film, he believes that the real star of the short is the Presidio Modelo.

The Presidio Modelo is an abandoned Cuban Panopticon prison that is now derelict and open to the public. At one time, however, the prison had held brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.

2 CD Cover

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Frost © Blue Plazuela Music .

Frost used the prison during filming, and describes it as very peaceful, very sunny and quiet.  

“I filmed there twice and nobody came in. All you could hear was the clip clop of horses’ hooves. It’s a very strange place. It’s really emblematic of what Cuban people have told me: ‘We live in an open prison.’”

The second and most recent  film, titled The Sun Is Rising, is a musical short based on two songs off of Frost’s album: ‘The Sun is Rising’ and ‘December 12/8.’

The film examines the armed conflict and fatal shooting at Parliament Hill, as well as Charlie Hebdo in France. Filming took place at the National War Memorial here in Ottawa in 2014, as well as in Paris and the French Pyrenees in 2015.

Frost explains that the film takes the audience through three stages: naïveté, awareness and question.

The film made its debut at The Toronto Independent Film Festival, and is currently in submission for many other film festivals.

After completing the album, Frost felt the need for a visual component.

“After the album, I knew I had to make a visual representation. I realized that I had to produce it myself. (The) Cirilo and Hebdo (shootings) happened, and I knew that I had to document it. For many years I’ve been doing travel writing and photography, so that was the natural outgrowth of the album.”

Frost’s photo exhibit can be viewed at Vistek Ottawa In-store Gallery until November 6th. Titled Singer of Songs and Stills, the photos on display are captures from Frost’s visits to Cuba and France.

4 In Everyone's Eyes POSTER

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Frost © Blue Plazuela Music .

On October 24, Frost debuted his album The Sun Is Rising and Other True Stories at SAW Gallery. With a room full of attentive people and outstanding food being served by Le Caveau Mediterraneen, Frost says that the event was a success.

The Sun is Rising and Other True Stories can be purchased at and as a digital download or physical copy. Physical copies of the record can also be found at both Compact Music locations in Ottawa.

Taking Filmmaking to the Limit

September 30, 2015 10:23 am

Think you can make a 7-minute short film in 60 days? The Digi60 Filmmakers Fest puts Ottawa film buffs to the test, providing a rewarding and challenging opportunity for the aspiring filmmaker.

Ramsay and Mulligan. Image courtesy of Frank Pomerleau.

Ramsay and Mulligan. Image courtesy of Frank Pomerleau.


Jennifer Mulligan is a screenwriter and producer, originally from the Pontiac region of Quebec. She is currently working with producers and directors in Ottawa and Vancouver on several short and feature film projects. Emily Ramsay is a writer and director who has created several films which have screened around the world. She believes in the growth and sustainability of an Ottawa film industry and hopes to support it for years to come. She co-owns Say Ten Productions with Derek Price and is studying Scriptwriting at Algonquin College.

Together, Mulligan and Ramsay are the festival’s co-executive directors. Ottawa Life chatted with the co-directors about this year’s fest, the challenges it has faced and opportunities it gives filmmakers.

OLM: What is Digi60?

The Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival is a grassroots, local “catch” film festival where filmmakers have 60 days to create and complete a seven-minute short film. These films are evaluated by a jury of industry professionals from across North America. The films are screened at a public gala event, taking place this year at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre.

Digi60’s long time mandate has two important components: to provide opportunities for new and emerging filmmakers to create and screen their work while networking with other filmmakers, and to build a professional skill base for the participants of the Festival to enter the filmmaking industry.

OLM: How did Digi60 first start?

Digi60 began in 2003-2004 when a handful of filmmakers were required to film their 5-7 minute short film on DV cam and digitize their work. Now with the affordability and availability of DSLRs, many more people are able to enter to festival.

OLM: What is the ‘catch’ theme for this year’s entries?

The catch for this year’s festival is “Memory.” In 2015, we have kept our catches as a theme so that there can be a wider interpretation of what the catch could mean to each registered filmmaker. As part of the film festival deliverables, they also create a short explanation as to how their film relates to the catch or how they interpreted the theme for the festival.

OLM: Who is encouraged to enter?

We encourage new and emerging filmmakers who want to challenge themselves and are motivated to take advantage of opportunities for industry networking. We want to see the evolution of new talent and foster filmmakers as they grow within the industry by allowing them to see Ottawa as a viable city to take up work in film and media.

OLM: What are some challenges that Digi60 has had to overcome?

Recently, funding limitations have led us to rethink the expansion of the festival. In 2014, Digi60 took over the Summer Institute of Film and Television (SIFT), but this organization used to run on thousands of dollars and was funded by all major Canadian film and television giants such as Telefilm, Harry Greenberg Fund, Shaw, Bell, etc. We have to evaluate how we can acquire sufficient funding to be able to offer SIFT to the next generation of emerging filmmakers in Ottawa and across Canada.

Image courtesy of Frank Pomerleau.

Image courtesy of Frank Pomerleau.

OLM: What are some of Digi60’s triumphs?

Digi60 has seen many of its films move on to various local, national and international film festivals. We pride ourselves on creating festival catches that are open to creative interpretation allowing the films to have a screen life after Digi60 is over. Several members of our filmmaking and alumni community have gone on to become active working members of the Canadian film and media industry.

OLM: Do you feel that the pressure put on filmmakers to make a film in a short amount of time causes better work?

Not always. This is part of the challenge – to balance the amount of work to complete and to have a successful short film. As filmmakers can’t seriously begin to plan the film until the catch has been released, there are definitely some who begin working on it right away, and others who wait until the last few weeks before they even think about it and end up rushing through. There are also varying levels of skills at the festival – not everyone has experience with writing, filming and editing a short and not everyone has easy access to gear, actors and resources needed. It’s all about balancing the workload to come up with the best possible work. Luckily we have great sponsors who allow rentals and access to gear for our filmmakers such as SAW Video Media Art Centre and Parktown Studios.

OLM: How does Digi60 benefit local filmmakers/artists?

Digi60 has been benefiting local filmmakers and artists by offering an all-encompassing experience to create short films twice a year. The filmmaker begins with their idea, and ends by seeing their final product on the screen. They also get to experience networking and workshop opportunities, and valuable prizes such as industry passes to festivals, events and training workshops. Filmmakers also end up presenting a film that may influence producers hiring for their set, so creating work that is a solid representation of the filmmaker’s capabilities is always a plus.

The Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival will be taking place on December 11th (Documentary Short Films) and December 12th (Narrative Short Films) at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre.

To find out more about The Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival and this year’s catch and screenings, please visit their website at

What Happened to ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ After They Robbed the Casinos?

August 13, 2015 12:03 pm

The American Comedy Ocean’s Eleven (2001) was an unusual work by Steven Soderbergh. The light hearted movie was a remake of a 1960 movie bearing the same title. The movie had an all-star cast, featuring big names like George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. The two sequels, namely Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, wrapped up the pulse-pounding trilogy. Please note that online casino guides like give you a list of the best online casinos to play with a huge welcome bonus. It’s always better to play online before going to Las Vegas.

Plot Summary

Daniel Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) are partners in crime who come together with a plan to rob three casinos simultaneously. They manage to convince their mutual friend Reuben Tishkoff, played by Elliott Gould, to sponsor the heist. To put the plan in motion, they recruit eight other members in their troop, each of whom specializes in certain criminal activities. These eight members are comprised by actors Matt Damon, Berney Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner and Shaobo Qin. Julia Roberts plays the role of Daniel’s ex wife and she is the present girlfriend of Terry Benedict, the owner of the 3 casinos the troop plans to rob.

The movie was a box office success and earned critical acclaim. But the question is, what happened to ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ after they robbed the casinos? Let’s see where they are today!

What have the actors been up to?

George ClooneyGeorge_Clooney_18_10_2011

In 2011, he acted in the movie The Descendants which fetched him the Golden Globe award for best actor. In 2013, he won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for producing Argo. He was also nominated for six categories in the Oscars. In the same year he also starred in the hugely successful sci-fi movie Gravity with co-star Sandra Bullock.



Brad Pitt330px-Brad_Pitt_2,_2013

In 2014, Pitt married Angelina Jolie, eight years after publicly acknowledging their relationship. The couple now has six biological and adopted children. In 2014, Pitt starred in a Second World War film named Fury, which was a major box office success and earned $211 million worldwide. His upcoming film By the Sea, where the actor will star opposite his wife, is scheduled to be released in 2015.



Matt DamonDamon_cropped

In 2013, Damon acted in a science fiction named Elysium and in 2014, he worked in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. He also made a minor appearance in Interstellar as Dr. Mann and his latest movie Downsizing is about to hit theatres.



The rest of the crew

As for the other members of the terrific crew, Bernie Mac announced his retirement from his 30-year-old acting career in 2007. In 2008 he died of cardiac arrest. Casey Affleck is playing the lead role in Triple Nine, a thriller which started shooting in 2014. Scott Caan has been seen in movies like Into the Blue (2005) and The Dog Problem (2006). He is also pursuing a successful career in photography. Eddie Jemison has been spotted in a number of films and TV series including Coffee, Kill Boss and Franklin & Bash. Carl Reiner has also appeared in several movies and Television Series. Don Cheadle has starred in a number of box office biggies since Ocean’s Eleven, including Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and his latest, Captain America: Civil War, is due in 2016.

Can You Guess Which Heroes Star in the Fantastic Four Reboot?

August 4, 2015 12:04 pm

Hollywood is at it again, giving a brand-spanking-new reboot to an all-time favourite. The Fantastic Four are coming to cinemas on August 6, with Marvel newbies Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Miles Teller taking the roles of The Four under the aegis of director Josh Trank. Have a look and see if you can guess which four heroes will be starring in this movie from the infographic below!

FF Hulk

FF Johnny

FF Wolverine

FF Sue

FF GhostRider

FF Reed

FF Spidey

FF Thing

Celebrating the Women of the Oscars

February 19, 2015 2:00 pm

The glitz, the glamour, the gowns!

This time of year can only mean one thing–award season! Hollywood’s biggest night is almost here, and OLM has a fun way to mix up your Oscar party!

This years Academy Award nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role have all delivered outstanding performances. Why not celebrate these incredible women with a signature cocktail on Oscar night?

Pick one to represent your favourite performance, or make them all for your guests to choose from, its up to you!

Take a look at the nominees and make your prediction before the big night arrives!

Rosamund Pike
Gone Girl
Based on the hit novel of the same name, Pike portrays the role of Amy Dunne, a young wife who disappears from her quiet Missouri neighbourhood under suspicious circumstances. Pike’s bone-chilling, jaw-dropping performance builds a multidimensional character that manages to be both likeable and terrifying.

Rosamund Pike: English RoseEnglish Rose

1.5 oz. Iceberg Vodka
3-4 oz. Fever Tree Premium Tonic Water or your favourite tonic water
1 oz. Rose’s Lime Cordial
Grapefruit Zest
Lime Wedge
Rose Petals

Pour Iceberg Vodka into a chilled martini glass with ice
Add Rose’s Lime Cordial and Fever Tree Premium Tonic Water or your favourite tonic water
Stir gently, then garnish with grapefruit zest and lime wedge
Add rose petals around the bottom of the glass, for presentation

Marion Cotillard
Two Days, One Night
In Two Days, One Night, Cotillard is nominated for her performance of Sandra, a factory worker who has two days to convince her colleagues to forego their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Another stunning performance from this celebrated actress.

The French KissMarion Cotillard: The French Kiss

2 oz. Iceberg Vodka
0.5 oz. Chambord
1 tbsp. Simple Syrup (equal parts boiled water and sugar)
2 tbsp. Cranberry Juice
3 Raspberries
Lime Wedge

Muddle four raspberries in a cocktail shaker, then add ice, Iceberg Vodka, Chambord, simple syrup and cranberry juice
Shake well and strain into a rocks glass with ice
Garnish with raspberries and lime wedge

Reese Witherspoon
In one of the most anticipated films of the year, Witherspoon’s performance in Wild does not disappoint. Her portrayal of Cheryl, a young woman determined to reclaim control of her life by undertaking a thousand-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, is spectacularly emotional and deeply inspiring.

Southern CharmReese Witherspoon: Southern Charm

2 oz. Iceberg Vodka
2 oz. Apple Cider
0.5 oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and boiled water)
Apple Slice
Cinnamon Powder
Cinnamon Stick

Combine sugar and cinnamon powder in a separate dish
Dampen the edge of a chilled martini glass and rim with the sugar and cinnamon
Combine Iceberg Vodka, cider and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake well, and strain into the martini glass
Garnish with an apple slice, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick

Julianne Moore
Still Alice
As Alice Howland in Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays a college professor and mother of three grown children who receives a diasnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Moore’s exquisite, tear-jerking performance in this role is devastatingly heart breaking.

The Seasoned VeteranJulianne Moore: The Seasoned Veteran

1 oz. Iceberg Vodka
1/2 cup Spicy Tomato-Vegetable Juice (V-8)
2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1 dash Hot Sauce
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1 stalk of Celery
1 stalk of Asparagus
Lemon Wedge

Salt the rim of a short glass and fill a cocktail shaker with ice
Add Iceberg Vodka, spicy tomato vegetable juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce, salt and pepper to your preference and shake well
Strain into the glass and garnish with a celery stalk, asparagus stalk and wedge of lemon

Felicity Jones
The Theory of Everything
Felicity Jones is nominated for her portrayal of Jane, a young woman whose undying love for brilliant scientist Steven Hawking helps him to defy a prognosis of motor neuron disease. Jones’s performance is touching and sweet and she faces the unthinkable challenges that life has brought her way.

Felicity Jones: The EvergreenThe Evergreen

8 oz. Iceberg Vodka
1 English Cucumber
1/2 cup Fresh Mint Leaves (loosely packed)
2 tsps. Granulated Sugar
2 tbsps. Fresh Lime Juice
2 oz. Orange Liqueur
Soda Water
4 Mint Leaves

Cut 4 thin spears of the cucumber for garnish
Peel the remainder of the cucumber and quarter lengthwise
Scrape out seeds with a spoon and discard
Coarsely chop cucumber, then puree in a food processor until smooth and strain
Muddle fresh mint for 10 seconds in a cocktail shaker, then add sugar, lime juice and ice
Shake well; add cucumber juice, Iceberg Vodka, and orange liqueur
Shake again and strain into four glasses filled with ice; add soda water to fill glassses
Garnish with cucumber spears and additional mint leaves.

Who do you predict will take home the prize this year? Let us know!

Enjoy the show, Ottawa Lifers!

Click here for more information about Iceberg Vodka.

European Union Film Festival: One Mile Away

November 13, 2014 12:00 pm
one mile away3

The European Union Film Festival will snitch the dirty, yet exhilarating details behind the often concealed truths of gang wars with the film ‘One Mile Away.’ Unveiling social progress is possible when two rival groups adjoin with a purpose.

Street gangs generally operate on the pretense of restricted solidarity, power claims, disturbance and crime. Gang members do not sit with their components for a Thursday night social; unless, of course, Friday morning funerals are also on the agenda!

one mile away 2But imagine an opportunity to witness some of these raging and extremely rival cliques undergo transformation from violence and hate, into peace and reconciliation? You likely wouldn’t want to miss it!

Mark your calendars for the European Union Film Festival, taking place November 13-30 at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. Discover the chance to give evidence to the truth that anything is possible—even peace and harmony between gang rivalries!

For nearly 30 years, award-winning films from the Canadian Film Institute have illuminated themselves annually in the Nation’s Capital. Tickets range from $10-35. One Mile Away will be featured on Thursday, November 20, at 9:00 p.m. General admission is $12.

“ONE MILE AWAY is a powerful film about tolerance, forgiveness, and community,” –Canadian Film Institute.

This 90-minute, English showcase reveals the hardships, risks and attitudes taken towards ceasing a 20-year turf war between two prominent street gangs in Birmingham, London, UK.

Gangs, riots, shootings, drugs wars, weapons and fear, are what seem to have led Birmingham to achieve status as ‘the city with the highest murder rate in England’.

Director Penny Woolcock, winner of the Best British Film award, initiated the beginnings of peace between enemy gang members Shabba ‘Johnson Crew’ and Flash ‘Burger Bar Boys’ through a hush-hush meet. Woolcock set up the crews with mediators, advisors and a recognized social purpose. Her efforts were fruitful and have resulted in safer streets for UK residents.

To discover how the story unfolds, purchase your tickets by phoning 613-232-6727 or online here.

Gorilla Doctors: Problems and Solutions

October 9, 2014 11:50 am

In conjunction with the Canadian Museum of Nature’s screening of Gorilla Doctors, OLM will be publishing a three-part series written by the documentary cinematographer Michael Boland. The screening takes place Thursday, October 9.

Part Three: Problems & Solutions

Gorilla Health Care

Approximately 70 per cent of the habituated mountain gorilla population are used for ecotourism, specifically in Rwanda, which brings in $270 million of foreign income. But, “because gorillas share 98.5 per cent of their DNA with humans, they are susceptible to most human diseases,” said Dr. Cranfield. “They can become exposed to human diseases with potential transmission from the local communities, ecotourism and the trackers and guides—in all, thousands of people a year. In a suspected outbreak of measles in 1989-90, we vaccinated 60 gorillas, pointing out the possibility of doing this for other diseases to help mitigate disease risk. Many experts from different areas had arguments it was too invasive on a preventative basis. So without this type of protection in the population itself, we need to try and reduce the risk of exposure. This can be done by teaching methods of improved hygiene in the local communities, enforcing and improving the tourist regulations and running employee health programs for the trackers, guides and their family members. Otherwise the result could be devastating.”



52 Media crew film Gorilla Doctors and Virunga Park Rangers, Virunga National Park, DRCongo. Photo: Bryn Hughes

It’s a 60 kilometre drive from Musanze to the border town of Gisenyi. We crossed over to Goma in the DR Congo with Dr. Mike Cranfield and were met by the Gorilla Doctors Head DRC Vet Dr. Eddy Kambale. The contrast between Rwanda and the DR Congo is large. For 32 years the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko had taken its toll on one of Africa’s largest countries, leaving it in shambles in 1997. The country has never recovered. Goma was a wild-west town with virtually all dirt roads. The road up to Rumungabo, location of the Headquarters of Virunga National Park, was no better. It was a 90-minute drive and you needed a 4-wheel drive to ensure arrival. The road was fraught with danger.

Although there are many different rebel groups operating in the DR Congo at the time, the M23 group had been occupying the Mikeno Sector, or gorilla sector of Virunga National Park since April 2012. It made monitoring and treatment of gorillas extremely difficult and often times impossible. In March 2013, fighting broke out again involving the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army in the ongoing brutal civil war. On this very road from Goma to Rumungabo, 22 people were recently reported killed. The orphan’s annual exams were postponed until security allowed the Gorilla Doctors to resume travel to Rumungabo. In early November, UN forces were called in to assist in the extracation of the M23 and they were successful. The rebel group surrendered and Virunga Park was re-opened to tourists.

More than 140 Virunga National Park rangers have been slain in the line of duty in the last 10 years. The rebels warned the rangers not to enter the park and if they did they would face execution. But the rangers continued their job as the guardians of the park’s wildlife. The endangered mountain gorilla population in the Virungas experienced a nearly 20 per cemy increase in the early 2000’s. But in 2007, at least 10 gorillas in Virunga National Park were murdered by rebels, including silverback Senkwekwe. The killing of the gorillas was a political message: “Don’t interfere with our business. Otherwise, there will be trouble.”

Emmanuel de Merode, a Beligian prince, has served as Chief Park Warden of Virunga National Park for the past seven years. “The civil war has been going on now for some 20 years and it’s widely recognized that the underlying cause of that war is the illegal exploitation of the park’s natural resources,” said de Merode. “The locals can generate income by cutting down the trees to create charcoal. It has become a $35 million trade boom that has wreaked havoc on the critical habitat. Our park rangers have become quite effective in protecting the gorillas and their habitat. That translates into less charcoal coming out. That was the thinking back in 2007, to undermine our efforts by killing the gorillas. If they kill all the gorillas then there’s no reason to protect the forest.”


Dr. Eddy Kambale of Gorilla Doctors checks in on orphan Matabishi, Senkwekwe Centre, DRCongo. Photo: Bryn Hughes

De Merode certainly knows the inherent problems, but he also has a solution. “Our biggest challenge is rebuilding the corps of rangers so they can do an effective job. Security, if well managed, can stabilize the region.”

He went on to outline two key factors: electricity and tourism. Water in the park could be harnessed for electric power, which would alleviate the harmful dependence on wood for charcoal, and thereby foster growth and the fight against poverty. As for tourism, Kenya’s financial coffers are topped up by tourists to the tune of $3.5 billion. The entire budget of the DR Congo is $3.4 billion.

“Right now we explain to the rebel groups that we’re mere actors in the conflict because we’re in their war zone,” said de Merode. “As for the gorillas, they don’t move even when the fighting erupts. They just go about their business. At this moment, for the mountain gorillas, their survival is uncertain.”

By Michael Boland C.S.C.: Director and Cinematographer

Multi-Gemini Award-winner and Emmy nominated Michael Boland was co-producer, co-director and  DOP on A Team for Peace. Michael is one of Canada’s foremost documentary cinematographers. In a career spanning 36 years, he’s either filmed or directed and filmed such landmark documentary series such as Millennium; Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, The Struggle for Democracy, Ken Dryden’s Home Game, The Fifties, Flightpath, and countless more. Michael cut his journalistic and story-telling teeth on Canada’s flagship current affairs series the fifth Estate in the early 80’s. Since then he’s gone on to do work for National Geographic, the BBC, Discovery USA, and every other major American Network that’s taken him extensively to every continent on the globe. It’s with a keen eye for picture and human compassion that Michael will apply his skills to any project. He has just published an eBook on his experiences in the documentary genre entitled ‘Through the Lens of My Eye; Adventures of a Documentry Cameraman’.

More information can be found on the Gorilla Doctors blog.

Gorilla Doctors: The Impact

October 2, 2014 12:00 pm

In conjunction with the Canadian Museum of Natures screening of Gorilla Doctors, OLM will be publishing a three-part series written by the documentary cinematographer Michael Boland. The screening takes place Thursday, October 9.

Part Two: The Impact of  The Gorilla Doctors

Gorilla Doctors have a motto, ‘Saving a species, one gorilla at a time.’

Gorilla Orphans

The Senkwekwe Orphan Centre, located at the Virunga National Park headquarters in Rumangabo, was built in 2007 in honor of the murdered silverback. When we arrived, the orphanage had just received a three-year-old male found in a field by local farmers outside of the park. Cranfield’s assumption was the young gorilla was a victim of poachers who could not find a buyer and just abandoned it. He was given the name Matabishi, which means ‘Bonus’. When he was brought to the sanctuary, he was kept separate from the three resident mountain gorilla female orphans while he served out his quarantine period and received much needed medical attention. The mountain gorilla females, 11-year-old Maisha and 7-year-old females Ndakasi and Ndezi, were rescued as babies from the Senkwekwe family after the ’07 massacre.

“No mountain gorillas had ever been raised in captivity,” said Mike. “We developed protocols of feeding both market food after careful washing and food brought down in from the forest. Secondly, a couple of park rangers and specifically Andre Bauma were brought in on a 24/7 caregiver basis. This has been a total success story.”

Orphaned Matabishi gets a quarantine exam from the Gorilla Doctors,  Senkwekwe Centre, Rumangabo, DRCongo.

Orphaned Matabishi gets a quarantine exam from the Gorilla Doctors,
Senkwekwe Centre, Rumangabo, DRCongo.

“However, despite the health monitoring of the orphan’s caregivers, there was an outbreak of human herpes virus, diagnosed through extensive DNA sequencing at UC Davis. In captivity it has been reported that human herpes simplex can cause mortality in great apes. After some debate it was apparent that the release of these animals back into the wild would risk the health of the entire population of 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif. For now, Maisha, Ndakasi and Ndeze will continue to live in their large forested enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.

Dr. Mike and Eddy prepared a table and Matabishi was sedated. For the next 30 minutes the vets performed an extensive examination on the young male, taking blood and saliva samples. The vials were then tested at the Gorilla Doctor’s lab in Musanze. A clean bill of health came back a few weeks later. Matabishi could now be introduced to the three females. Eleven-year-old Maisha never had a baby to call her own and Matabishi needed a mother for protection from the other two females, but the introduction had to be done carefully for everyone’s safety. Caregiver Andre Bauma isolated the young male inside the compound building and then brought in Maisha. Within seconds she wrapped Matabishi into her bosom and began to utter a low murmuring sigh. Presto! The adoption was complete. Matabishi buried his head into her hair and clung to her neck with both arms. He now had the mother he so needed.

I’d been in Africa nearly four months and it was time to fly home… then came the call. It was from the Fossey Fund’s Karasoke Research Centre to Gorilla Doctors. It was an emergency. An 18-month-old male gorilla had been caught in a rope snare in the Bisoke Volcano region and it had to be removed immediately.

Freeing an Infant from a Poacher’s Snare

“A snare is always a medical emergency. As the youngster tries to bite and pull on the snare to free himself, the rope begins to tighten, causing damage to the limb,” said Cranfield. “After three or four days the hand or foot becomes dead. After a month or so the limb will fall off and the exposed part could become infected. Remember what happened to the silverback, Getty and the consequences of infection. I’m sending Dr. Jean Felix and Dr. Noheli at dawn tomorrow. I suggest you change your flight and go with them.”


Orphaned Matabishi gets a quarantine exam from the Gorilla Doctors, Senkwekwe Centre, Rumangabo, DRCongo. Photo: Michael Boland

The number one threat to the gorillas is trauma from snares. On average, 1500 snares of varying types are confiscated each year in both Rwanda and the DR Congo. The poachers are usually after antelope and other small game but invariably gorillas are captured in the traps. When a young infant is trapped the Gorilla Doctors must anesthetize the mother in order to free and treat the infant. The anesthetic is a ketamine/metadomidine mixture and they’re fully anesthetized for 40 minutes, which is plenty of time for the vets to provide medical treatment and collect samples for further testing.

Virunga Park Rangers show the forest snares they have seized, Rumangabo, DRCongo. Photo: Michael Boland

This snare intervention would be extra challenging because this family contained three large silverbacks who could potentially become agitated over the intervention. The Karasoke Research Centre therefore provided 12 trackers for the sole purpose of forming a ring around the Gorillas Doctors for protection from charging silverbacks.

Again, it was a hefty trek up to 9,500 feet at the base of the Bisoke Volcano. On the way up, we spotted the dominant and second ranking silverbacks ranging down in the gorge, far from the ensnared infant, which was a relief to the entire field team. We saw the mother with her infant as she crossed the upper part of the gorge and made into the forest. We were on her trail. She finally stopped at an open spot and Dr. Jean Felix aimed his dart gun and hit her exactly in the left upper shoulder. She did not make a sound. She simply pulled the dart out and strolled off. Within five minutes she was anesthetized. The Rwanda Head Vet grabbed the infant and quickly administered a mild sedative. The baby screamed then all hell broke loose.

The third silverback was within hearing distance and charged our group but was blocked by the trackers. He began to speed around the other side and the trackers had to move fast to establish the quadrant of protection, beating the bushes and making noises as they went. The footing was horrendous. The vegetation was trampled vines. One small slip and I would be flat on my ass. There was not any room for my tripod. The sequence would have to be all hand-held. While the trackers held the roaming silverback at bay, Dr. Jean Felix quickly removed the rope snare from the baby’s left wrist. The two vets spent the next ten minutes taking blood and saliva samples before administrating the reversal drug that would re-awaken both mother and baby. I could see that Dr. Jean Felix was operating on adrenaline because the silverback was constantly trying to break through the tracker-barricade. Then we all backed off 30-40 feet away and waited for the reversal drug to take effect. Mother soon began to arouse and instantly cuddled her infant. She was slow to her feet but would soon be re-united with the family. Gorilla Doctors had done their job. We trekked back down the mountain.

“You can’t work with and be close to this species without being in awe of them. You become involved with the lives of the different families and individuals on a level that normally doesn’t happen with wild populations,” said Dr. Cranfield. “So do I have the best job in the world? You bet. I get to look after the most beautiful creatures in the world!”

By: Michael Boland C.S.C.: Director and Cinematographer

Multi-Gemini Award-winner and Emmy nominated Michael Boland was co-producer, co-director and  DOP on A Team for Peace. Michael is one of Canada’s foremost documentary cinematographers. In a career spanning 36 years, he’s either filmed or directed and filmed such landmark documentary series such as Millennium; Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, The Struggle for Democracy, Ken Dryden’s Home Game, The Fifties, Flightpath, and countless more. Michael cut his journalistic and story-telling teeth on Canada’s flagship current affairs series the fifth Estate in the early 80’s. Since then he’s gone on to do work for National Geographic, the BBC, Discovery USA, and every other major American Network that’s taken him extensively to every continent on the globe. It’s with a keen eye for picture and human compassion that Michael will apply his skills to any project. He has just published an eBook on his experiences in the documentary genre entitled ‘Through the Lens of My Eye; Adventures of a Documentry Cameraman’.

More information can be found on the Gorilla Doctors blog.

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