Host Jason C. McLean and special guest Niall Clapham-Ricardo discuss the 2021 Montreal Municipal Election and whether or not Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal can get back their militant base in time.
Of all the industries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts and tourism were among the hardest. For those that wanted to stay in the public eye, the name of the game has been “adapt or die”, and Haunted Montreal is no exception.
In the past they’ve conducted Ghost Walks and Haunted Pub Crawls led by an experienced actor and storyteller, who reveals the spookier aspects of Montreal history to crowds of eager attendees. Sadly, COVID restrictions and the COVIDiots driving up case numbers have put a temporary stop to in-person events, but thankfully Haunted Montreal didn’t give up, offering their latest virtual event, Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition during the holiday season and into January. I caught the December 27th show.
I should say right off the bat that I’m not going to go into too much detail re: the technical issues related to the event, simply because the host/actor/experienced storyteller hosting it was none other than FTB’s Editor-in-Chief, Jason C. McLean, MY editor. In short, there were technical issues re: shifting from the virtual slide show to the storytelling itself and his costume and delivery, but these will likely be ironed out for future events, and I’d prefer to start the New Year on my editor’s good side.
The stories themselves were great, a delightful and insightful look into not just Montreal’s haunted history, but the history of Quebec itself. I did not know prior to the event, for example, that telling ghost stories over the holidays is very much a Victorian tradition, nor did I know that there are so many spooky tales to be had around me. Even better was that the stories told were a delightful mix of French Canadian myth and legend, and tales with direct links to Montreal’s growth and development.
McLean started with a tale of a Repentigny man, a quintessential French Canadian ghost story blending aspects of rural Quebecois life with Catholic notions of sin and redemption.
The next was about a wealthy industrialist whose ghost allegedly haunts Mount Royal. Though the telling of this story could have been more succinct, the link between the story and actual monuments that can be visited drew many viewers in, with one asking where they could find it in the Q&A session that followed the event.
There was one tale that sounded more like a Darwin Award than a ghost story, but enjoyable nonetheless. McLean followed with another French Canadian tale, by far the scariest of all the ones told that night. Last but not least, he spoke of a building that continues to be haunted to this day despite thousands of annual visitors.
Though McLean could have left out a few “woo” sounds that nearly crossed the line from spooky into silly, the event was enjoyable over all.
If you enjoy quality storytelling with a little history thrown in, you need to check out more of Haunted Montreal’s virtual events. They are fun, fascinating, and different.
Christmas Ghost Stories: A Victorian Era Tradition runs in English and French with various storytellers until January 29. For tickets or more info, please visit hauntedmontreal.com
On the latest FTB Fridays, Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Jon Weisz of Indie Montreal and the Canadian Independent Venue Coalition talk about helping independent Canadian music venues survive during the pandemic and why we should #SupportCanadianVenues
Featured Image from the Canadian Independent Venue Colaition
While our Shows This Week column, both for music and arts, is clearly on hiatus until we can, you know, go to shows again, we thought we’d highlight some of the Montreal and Montreal-friendly music, art, theatre, comedy, film etc. that you can partake in.
Let’s get started…
The image + nation Launches Canada’s First-Ever Queer Short Film Festival
image + nation, Canada’s first LGBTQ+ film festival just concluded its 33rd edition, albeit in a totally online form. While you can still see the films that won awards at the festival until December 12th, image+nation has something else to offer.
From December 9th until the 31st they are running the first-ever pan-Canadian Queer Short Film Festival. This new event is focusing on a few key areas including growing up and growing older as an LGBTQ person, films from countries and perspectives that see little representation in the queer cinema canon and outreach to Francophone communities outside of Quebec.
Wooden Drone’s Never Ending Loops
Montrealer Emmanuel Lauzon, aka electronic music producer Wooden Drone released his debut album this past November 14th. Titled Never Ending Loops, it is a 14-tracks of electronic ambient music meticulously produced over a decade.
That’s right, this is the product of ten years’ worth of work. During that time, Lauzon was also developing the video game We Happy Few as a senior 3D artist. Both projects were released simultaneously.
Wooden Drone will be releasing a single in the new year, but for now (in addition to the full album) we have this teaser video:
Never Ending Loops by Wooden Drone is available for download on Bandcamp
Igloofest Will Return and Has An Online Shop for a Good Cause
Igloofest, the annual outdoor-in-winter music fest has the distinction of being literally the coolest festival in Montreal, but also, due to its timing, one of the few big annual events that actually got to hold an in-person 2020 edition.
This year, with a COVID vaccine’s potential widespread distribution still months away, there won’t be an in-person Igloofest this winter. Organizers are working on a digital version in its place and promise surprises and video capsules starting in January and leading up to the 15th edition scheduled for 2022.
Right now, though, you can buy festival merch. Their online shop, the Iglooboutique, launched this past Thursday, offers items like the classic toque sold at the event each year, hockey jerseys and socks.
If you buy a pair of socks, another pair will be donated to people suffering from homelessness. This is due to Igloofest‘s partnership with Montreal-based Robin des Bas.
Featured Image from Mother Bunker (2020) playing at the I+N Queer Short Film Festival
If you’re involved in a project or know of one that you think should get coverage here, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com We’ll do our best, but no promises
In what has got to be their earliest partial lineup announcement ever, or at least in a while, Osheaga has given us the headliners for its 15th Edition. It will be Foo Fighters on Friday, Cardi B on Saturday and Post Malone on Sunday.
The event is scheduled to take place July 30, 31 and August 1 in Parc Jean-Drapeau, so it might still be a bit of time before we get the full lineup. Those are usually released in March, anyways.
This early announcement, while sparse, is quite welcome. After a summer devoid of in-person festivals and a spring and fall devoid of live in-person shows of any kind, it’s good to know that what is arguably Montreal’s largest music festival will be roaring back next year, and with some huge names, no less.
It’s also a reminder that while Montreal is pretty much locked down now, there are some things on the horizon like a vaccine, a return to semi-normal and, by the end of the summer, Osheaga.
Comedian and writer Jenny Hagel has good advice for aspiring writers: just write….but also…fake it ‘til you make it. I chatted with Jenny Hagel recently about the writing process, as well as her upcoming appearance at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which, like most live entertainment events in 2020, will be held online.
Jenny Hagel has a graduate degree in Writing for the Screen and Stage, and cut her comedy teeth while performing for five years with Chicago’s legendary improv troupe, The Second City. Hagel has written for many comedy TV shows over the years, and currently performs and writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers.
While she won’t get the chance to perform in Montreal for this year’s (online) Just for Laughs Festival, she has visited before, and the town left her feeling all warm and fuzzy. Tired of people kissing Montreal’s ‘Charming European’ ass, I worried that Montreal was getting smug, and asked Hagel if there was anything that miffed her about Montreal.
“My brother lived there for a little while, I used to visit him and man, what a beautiful, beautiful place. No, I probably have a different baseline for miffed, because I’ve lived in New York, so when I go to any other city, I go ‘These people’s manners are amazing!’”
My French is terrible though…I speak Spanish, I don’t speak any French. The one time I drove to Montreal, I listened to a French CD in the car the whole way up there, trying to learn phrases, to be a polite traveller, to be able to have some phrases when I got there. I’ll be honest, it was years ago, so those phrases have all left my mind. I tried at least, although I’m sure people in Montreal, when they heard my French accent for one second were like ‘No no, this does not help.’
But when I travel, I always feel the weight of the stereotype of the terrible American tourist, so I try very hard to be a one-person goodwill ambassador. I’ve tried really hard to reset that balance.”
Jenny Hagel’s upcoming Just for Laughs show with Amber Ruffin (Drunk History, The Second City, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Amber Ruffin Show), Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be live and unscripted. I asked Hagel if she had any memorable improv calamities she wanted to share.
“Oh absolutely. One time when I was touring with The Second City we were doing a show, and the whole audience was a convention of economists, and I’m sure are very interested in economics, but they were not interested in laughing. At least they were not interested in the jokes we were providing, and it was truly, truly, a gruelling and silent 90 minutes, I’ll never forget it.
I think about 45 minutes in, I thought ‘Well I took two semesters of economics in college, I’m sure I can pull out some fun economic references,’ and I really tried, and they were also not interested in those. I think I tried to pull out something about a PPF curve or something, I really was digging deep. Nothing worked. It was really a rough hour and a half of my life.”
Hagel went on to describe the format of this weekend’s Just for Laughs show, where she and Amber Ruffin ‘will be asking each other questions that they have not seen before.’
“Basically we’re going to be interviewing each other. We’ve done a lot of panels in our lives where the moderators ask the two of us questions, but this one, we don’t have a moderator, so I’m going to interview Amber, she’s going to interview me, we’re going to go back and forth, so we each have a list of questions the other hasn’t seen.
We each dug up a clip of the other one performing — I don’t know if it will be embarrassing, but it will be something that the other person doesn’t know is going to be shown, so it’ll be fun. When you do a certain number of panels, over time you start to get the same questions over and over, so I think it will be fun to answer questions that we weren’t expecting.
Oh, and I’d love for people to check out The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock if they’re able to.”
Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin also plan on discussing their approach to writing, and will be giving advice for aspiring writers. I asked Hagel if she could give us an overview of her advice for writers.
“I think I would just say write. I mean nobody wants to hear that, it’s not sexy advice, but it is the most real advice. The best thing you can do if you want to write is just write.
The best thing you can do when an opportunity comes along is to be prepared and have a bunch of writing to show someone. Like (if they say) ‘Hey, I saw you before, you’re great, do have any writing samples?’ If you haven’t written them it is too late, because they want them then.
Or they’ll be like ‘Hey can I see them tomorrow?’ You can’t go home and stay up all night and write a body of work, so the best thing you can do is be writing all the time.
“If you have one particular writing form you are trying to succeed in, write that as much as you can. If you are interested in a bunch of different writing forms, try them all out, and do them over and over again.
“At Late Night with Seth Meyers, I write monologue jokes, and I did not know how to do that originally. I learned how to do it by applying to late night jobs.
One time I had to do an application, I watched several monologues by the host of the show I was applying to and I transcribed them. Then I looked at them on paper and said ‘OK how do these feel?’ and then I wrote a bunch of stuff. I’m sure they were very terrible at the beginning, and a little bit less terrible later on, and slightly less terrible after that.
And over time, it’s just truly like going to the gym and doing reps. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is just keep writing, and it may not feel like it’s getting better, but it is.”
I expressed my admiration for Hagel’s old school ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude, and meekly mentioned the growing pile of Idiot’s Guides I have piled on my coffee table.
“But that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it. It sounds silly, but I like to run, and I am not a world-class athlete at all, but I know that every time I run, I go a little bit farther, and my legs are a little bit stronger. You don’t want to strive to wake up one morning and be a genius, you want to be just a little bit better each time.
You also want to know that every once in a while, no matter how good you get, you’re going to write something that stinks. That happens to me every week — I turn in so many things each week that inevitably, many of them, I would say most of them, are rejected.
And your job is just to keep coming up with new things, and it’s OK — some will be great, some will stink, a lot will be somewhere in the middle, and all of that is OK.”
Hagel and I discussed how writers have to learn how to be prepared to deal with endless rejection…
“But I don’t even think of it as rejection, I think of it like…if you watch someone play baseball, you watch somebody take a bunch of swings, right? Every time a batter misses a ball, it’s not rejection, it’s just ‘OK, well that one didn’t connect. So let’s hope the next one connects.’”
On comedians/late night comedy in the COVID-19 era:
“You know that’s a great question. I think ‘comedians’ is such a big category, and there are so many different forms comedy can take, that I don’t think that there can be one answer to that.
I know for television, during the spring and summer, a lot of late night shows found ways to tape from home — do safe, remote work, and I think that’s what helped late night shows survive. Now some of those shows are starting to bring it back — like the host is in the studio, and SNL had a small audience last week.
So I think that the way comedy is surviving is the way that we are all surviving, in general in the world, which is to continue to adapt to each new phase of the pandemic, to each new challenge that the pandemic brings.”
On the challenges of doing comedy without a live audience:
“I think you just have to go more on gut, like when you’re writing a late night show that has an audience, then the audience tells you what works and what doesn’t, right? And I think without the audience, you have to go with your gut.
One thing I have really liked about that, and not to say that the pandemic is good, but I feel that an interesting outcome of it, is that I think that shows have started to gravitate a little more to their own weird, quirky personalities, because then it becomes less about writing and choosing jokes by committee.
Then it becomes more like, ‘OK, what is the culture, what is the belief set, the comedic taste of this show?’ It emerges a little bit more specifically, which is interesting to see. But I certainly wouldn’t take this over a normal world, where we all get to be together.”
I asked Hagel if she ever wrote jokes that were so outrageous or ridiculous that she never expected them to get on the air at Late Night with Seth Meyers.
“I think that happens all the time, like if you write enough jokes in a row, you stop being able to tell what’s funny to other people. It probably happens at least once a week where I’m like ‘Oh really? OK!’ and then meanwhile, there are other jokes that I think are a complete slam-dunk and my boss will be like ‘Pass,’ and I’m like ‘Really…OK.’”
“That’s absolutely one (Hagel’s ‘How to Properly Wash your hands’ skit) where I pitched it and was like ‘Well obviously this is not gonna get approved,’ and boy, to my surprise, the next thing I knew, the props department was building a bunch of different skeleton hands for me.”
On the 2020 COVID-19 “everything on Zoom” reality:
“I don’t know, I think it’s a mixed bag, I think everybody thinks it’s a mixed bag. There are some days when I think it really helps, like one day recently where I had a crummy day, and it just happened that a group of women that I’m friends with, one of them texted ‘Hey should we all Zoom tonight?’ Fifteen minutes later we were all on Zoom with a glass of wine, and it really helped.
And then there are some days where I feel like if I have to look at one more human face on a screen I’ll die. So I think it’s probably like a weird blessing and a curse to me, and to everybody — I think we’re getting both a little bit of solace and a little bit of loneliness from it at the same time.”
Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.
Stand-up comic Andy Kindler loves Montreal. He loves it so much that he’s even (half?) joking about moving here one day. He loves the rest of Canada too, for that matter. Well, most of the rest of Canada.
During my recent chat with him, I got the impression that he was a low-key Canada-phile — he knew quite a bit about our geography, culture, politics, hockey, official languages, and he even had a shocking position on The Great Bagel Debate.
Andy Kindler is a stalwart comedy veteran from Queens, New York, known not just for his well-honed stand-up routine (with appearances at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show), but also for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and his many appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. He is also a contributor to the Daily Show, and is the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers.
Local comedy fans may know Kindler from his legendary State of the Industry Addresses at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Andy Kindler has given the speech, which has become a cult institution among comedy fans and industry insiders alike, every year since 1996.
Of course, this year’s address, his 25th, will be a little different, given 2020’s quote-unquote “uncertain times.” To be read in that gravelly voice that radiates grim empathy…you know, the voice that now narrates every commercial…
I asked Kindler how stand-up comedians were faring during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially when a live audience is the lifeblood of the industry.
“I mean everyone is scrambling. I started doing Cameo…do you have Cameo up there? Like if you want a comedian or celebrity to wish you happy birthday or give you a pep talk, you go on Cameo. So what I’ve learned from that is that people will not pay $45 to hear me say happy birthday…but they will pay $35! So if I needed the cold slap of reality in my face, I know what I’m worth now.
The other thing is that I’m doing this speech for the first time virtually from home, and I actually think I’m the only person who looks forward to not having an audience. I mean I know it’s gonna be weird, but so many times I spent in the past castigating the people who aren’t laughing.
And I won’t be sitting down for the speech, I’m gonna put a little effort into it, I’ll be standing. And I’ll be dressed nicely from the waist up. I always dress nice, my mother used to say ‘You mean you wouldn’t wanna wear a dress shirt, open-necked?’ You always gotta have a nice shirt.”
While on the topic of virtual comedy, I asked Kindler about how he has taken to the whole ‘everything online’ zeitgeist of 2020.
“Well in some ways I feel like there’s a green, eco-friendly side to this, and a lazy side to it where I would love to, in the future, not go back to going in for every interview. I actually like going in the studio, but I do think that in some ways, that having Zoom, you can do a lot of things that you had to be in person for, but you can do them remotely now, so I think we’ve learned things that way. It also makes you really focus on what you’re doing because you have so much time on your hands. But obviously I think we’re all hoping it (COVID-19) lifts.”
This being Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address, I asked him to comment on the most notable changes in the industry since he gave his first address.
“Yeah, it’s an unbelievable anniversary, unbelievable that I keep the streak going. I think in 1996 it started. So what happened is the first time I came to the festival (Just For Laughs) was ’93, and I had written an article for National Lampoon called The Hack Comic’s Handbook, you can find it on my website.
Then I did a live demonstration of hack comedy in 1995, and Bruce Hills (President, Just For Laughs) said ‘Why don’t you do another speech?’ and then my manager came up with the idea to roast the industry, and it just became a thing, like a summer camp kind of tradition where I would just give the speech.
I think that what’s changed for sure, is that when I first started coming to the festival in ‘93, it was right when a lot of comics were getting sitcom deals from comedy festivals — you had Raymond (Romano), Tim Allen — all these people got deals from the festival, so you had a lot of presidents of the networks there, so there was more of a charged atmosphere. Everybody knew what sitcoms were coming out and all that kind of thing, so it was…not easier, but I knew how to focus it better.
Now, it’s to the point where there’s no fall TV season. I mean yeah, there are fall TV shows, but it’s all changed. But I kind of like it now, because I like the festival now, not the virtual version, but I’ve liked the festivals in the past few years because it feels like people were up there to have fun. And there are actually really great fans in Montreal.”
The most pressing issue Kindler addressed was whether he would bring up Louis C.K.’s penis, which he has discussed at his previous two addresses. We also discussed who else in the industry deserves to be blasted in this year’s address.
“Nah…you know, I think at this point I will get off of his penis (chuckles), but I probably will bring him in at some point. But you know what, there are so many other people to talk about. Like Joe Rogan. And it used to be I would make fun of Jay Leno, but I kind of want to apologize to him because I used to make fun of him just for having bad comedy…but now, with Adam Corolla, he’s not just a horrible comedian, he’s also saying that COVID-19 is fake.
And everybody is going after Chris D’Elia as a person, but let’s not forget that he was also a horrible comedian. What he was doing on stage, it was also a crime.
So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle this thing, but I am totally going to tackle this idea of these people who weren’t very good at stand-up comedy who have gone into things like…Adam Corolla does shows with Dennis Prager and all this right-wing media about how there are no safe spaces on campus, it is a very odd and disturbing trend, so I’m gonna analyse that a little bit.”
No interview with a New Yorker is complete without getting their take on the great Montreal vs. New York Bagel Debate, and Andy Kindler’s response genuinely surprised me. Poutine, and other Montreal and Canada-related topics were touched upon in this exchange, and his proficiency in French also came up.
“Well certain things about Montreal are always going to be great. The bagels will always be the greatest in the world. I decided to try Montreal bagels one year, and they’re lighter and they’re sweeter (than New York bagels). I took a bunch of them to my family in Long Island, and they didn’t travel well, and they made fun of me for years. But overall I much prefer, right out of the oven, a Montreal bagel.
I don’t know what it’s called…oh yeah, the smoked meat. When I first tried it, it was ‘Oh my God it’s the greatest thing in the world,’ but that did wear off. And let me say something…not that anyone cares about poutine, but there’s nothing charming about it. It’s a national joke, right?
But what am I complaining about? It’s really hard, coming from LA or New York to complain about Montreal, I mean when I first went there in the 1990s, I was single at the time, women’s legs were taller than me, I couldn’t even believe it. And the French, everything French, I just love it. And the food, the French food…it’s really hard to get tired of it. But I will say this — Montreal is very touristy.”
When the topic of politics was sideswiped, Kindler brought up a Canadian political figure I was not expecting.
“You know what, I like that Chrystia Freeland. I don’t like Bill Maher, I can’t watch him anymore, but I used to like her when she’d go on Bill Maher. You know, Canadians are better people than Americans. I know you have prejudice up there, and I know you have First Nations issues, but anything bad you’ve got, down here, it’s dwarfed — we’ve done it worse and with less taste.”
On performing in Canada’s Western provinces:
“I remember going out west, it was the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that’s how old I am, I used to play the Western part, and I remember I used to bomb a lot. I was bombing in Edmonton…these crowds were not for me, and the bartender was like ‘Yeah it’s hard to impress us because we have everything here.’ Y’know, they’d just won all those Stanley Cups, so they were very smug in Edmonton. But it’s pretty amazing how diverse the crowds in Canada are, from Halifax and Vancouver, to Montreal.”
On speaking French:
“I speak French very poorly. I took French in grade school, it was terrible, it was in New York and Queens: ‘Bone-jouar class…ou est le porte, ou est le fenêtre?’…so when I go into a room (in Montreal) now, it’s ‘Where is the window, where is the door?’”
On Donald Trump:
“At least you have a regular government there. I’m gonna get in trouble, but (Trudeau isn’t bad) compared to a fascistic madman running around. Well you know the thing is, there’s a Comedy Central clip…there used to be a show on Comedy Central called The Root of all Evil, Louis Black hosted it, and I actually argued that Donald Trump was the root of all evil, and I was making fun of Trump University. So I don’t want to say I’m a seer, but I pride myself on being the first person to compare Trump to Hitler. At least Hitler was a veteran. So that’s basically my take on it.
So you know I’m holding on by my elbows, or whatever you hold onto when you’re trying to keep yourself suspended over a vat of hot oil. I just can’t think past November, I think America is going to be sunk as a country if Trump gets re-elected. We’re in such a deep hole, because it literally is like Orwellian times a million.
Everybody he puts in every department knows nothing about the department, and just wants to undo that department. There are so many parallels (to Hitler), I mean people in the conservative Weimar government, they thought they could play ball with Hitler, people made fun of him. He obviously was smarter than Trump, there are so many parallels — he looked like a crazy man with the way he talked and everything. Actually Trump looks a lot like Mussolini, you know how he shakes his head up and down, self-satisfied.
I don’t think he’s gonna win. I think he might implode before, he’s going nuts I think now, it’s really crazy. That Mary Trump book, I got it and I love it. You really see how he is a sociopath. That will never change (Trump’s support from his base), it will always be about that 40%, but I don’t think he’s gonna get people coming onto him like he did four years ago, I think people are scared of him.”
(Ed’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the news that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19)
What else Andy Kindler is working on:
“I do a podcast called Thought Spiral, and my co-host is Josh Elvis Weinstein, he used to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We advertise it as ‘Two jews, two microphones, two hours,’ so it’s basically us just bantering, I really love it. It took me a long time to love it, because it’s a different kind of skill, but we’ve been doing it for three years, so if you need more of me, that’s where I would go to. And I do have an album that’s still available in digital download anytime you want, it couldn’t be any less COVID dangerous.
You know what? You want an answering machine message? I’ll do it for you for $25.”
Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced today “with a heavy heart” (as he put it), that the provincial government is placing the Greater Montreal Region (including Laval and the South Shore), the Quebec City region and the Chaudière-Appalaches region on Code Red due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. This takes effect midnight on Wednesday (early morning Thursday) and means:
- A ban on home gatherings (with a few exceptions)
- Bars and casinos must close
- Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only
- Movie theatres, libraries and museums must close
- Houses of worship and funeral homes will have a 25 person limit
- Being less than two meters apart will be prohibited
- Masks must be worn at demonstrations
It’s interesting to note that schools will remain open. According to Legault, this is so parents can still go to work. As such, businesses like hair salons and hotels will remain open.
For the past decade and a half, the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) has had a mission to foster diversity by showcasing Black stories from around the world. This year, in spite of everything that’s happening, and also because of it, MIBFF’s mission will continue.
Given the current reality of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the fact that COVID is still raging around the world and disproportionately impacting communities of colour, a festival that gives a platform to Black artists that would otherwise be invisible more than makes sense — it’s essential.
Understandably, the format will be different this year. MIBFF’s 16th Annual Edition will be almost exclusively online.
Most film festivals operating for the first time without the in-person cinema experience have been forced to geo-block their content to a particular region or country. MBIFF’s lineup, though, will be available to stream all around the world.
Speaking of that lineup, this is Canada’s largest Black film festival and this year features 120 films. An All-Access Pass costs $49 and gives you access to all of them throughout the festival’s run.
Here are some of the highlights:
- The Cuban: A film by Sergio Navarretta about a young woman who meets and unexpectedly becomes friends with an elderly Cuban musician while working her first job at a nursing home.
- Black Market: This is a series of free panels focused on the industry side of cinema. Topics include: Racebending in Film and Television, Black Stories Matter, and Black Women Behind the Lens.
- MBIFF in the Neighborhoods: When we said the festival will be almost exclusively online, this is the exception. It will take place at the Maison Culturelle et Communautaire de Montréal-Nord, and feature screenings of Mahalia Melts in the Rain and Briser le Code, followed by discussion.
- Black Boys: A documentary from Executive Producer, activist and two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins and writer/director Sonia Lowman celebrating the full humanity of Black men and boys in America and revealing the emotional landscape of racism in order to ask the viewer to re-imagine a different world.
- Canadian Films: This year MIBFF is putting a spotlight on Canadian filmmakers.
The 16th Annual Montreal International Black Film Festival runs from September 23 to October 4. You can watch all 120 films whenever you want during the run of the festival by purchasing an All-Access Pass for $49 through MontrealBlackFilm.com where you can also see the full lineup.
By CHRIS DODD
A good many years before John A. Macdonald’s statue was pulled down from its perch in Montreal’s Dominion Square, my high school history class had a debate on the case of Louis Riel. In real life, Riel stood accused of high treason by the government of John A. Macdonald for the ‘crime’ of resisting the transfer of a Métis settlement to the Canadian government. Our class assignment was called: Riel. Hero or villain?
Riel, as you might remember, went onto become the villain in the real story. He was ordered executed by Macdonald and hung in effigy by my history class, which is regretful, since it was my part of class project to defend him. But what chance would a 15-year-old student have as the defender of minority rights when the only knowledge on the topic was gained from books written by English setters?
As an adult armed with knowledge obtained outside of the education system, it is now tempting to weigh Riel’s ‘crime’ against that of some of North America’s colonizers, whose actions are rarely put to such ‘hero or villain’ scrutiny. Take Christopher Columbus for example, accused of genocide, slavery and torture of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. He is celebrated as a hero in the United States, whose shores he never reached.
George Washington made it to Mount Rushmore despite owning slaves, who some history books prefer to call ‘domestics.’
Canada’s own John A. stands accused of supporting the starvation of First Nations people, instituting the residential school system, and condemning Riel to his death. Hero or villain? Well, when you see his face on your money, and his name on schools, highways, a mountain, and an airport, you know the verdict has been reached.
But there was no ‘hero or villain’ debate in my high school history class about Macdonald, although our teacher did throw in a few ‘fun facts’ about him just to make sure that Canadian history didn’t seem too boring. “Oh sure Macdonald was a drunk,” the teacher joked, and “Macdonald married his cousin too, but both of those things were fairly common in those days.”
“Even our heroes have warts,” our teacher said, a familiar refrain that is still heard today “but Canada needs heroes, and Macdonald built our nation,” so that was the end of the story. If only I could go back in time to ask some very uncomfortable questions about those ‘warts’ and the nation that Macdonald was trying to build. Somehow it was never mentioned in my class that Macdonald was the architect of policies so disturbing and inescapably racist that greater knowledge of this history would undermine Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.
Macdonald recently joined a growing list of bronzed ‘national heroes’ felled by protesters around the world, from Confederate American leaders like Robert E. Lee to the British slave trade profiteer Edward Coulson.
British PM Boris Johnson accused demonstrators in his country of trying to “…censor our past,” and “impoverish the education of generations to come.” Donald Trump, being the American President who, when asked during a TV interview, was unable to recall the name of a single book he had read, somehow felt privileged to provide lectures on history, saying “We should learn from the history,’ to his partisans on Fox News, “and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again.”
Reaching for the low bar with a more conciliatory tone than Trump, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the Macdonald toppling unacceptable, but added “Of course we need to fight against racism, but that is not the way to do it…we have to respect the history.”
But this is the same Legault who insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, although it’s difficult to tell, since one sure symptom of systemic racism is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge it. But the ability to express such surefooted opinions on racism from those unlikely to experience it is a Canada-wide phenomenon, starting with education systems that entrench ideas about the British and French ‘founding’ of Canada at the expense of other perspectives. That is what makes Macdonald a hero and Riel the villain. It is also what makes these men lecturing about the need to respect history absurdly hypercritical.
Behind much of the ‘history’ of Canada is the uncomfortable truth that the original plan for Canada was as the North American version of 19th century Britain, designated one of the ‘White Dominions,’ a not so subtle way to distinguish Canadians from others in their global Empire that needed to be ‘colonised’ and ‘civilized.’ Canada’s First Nations stood in the way of that vision, especially since they held valuable land and incompatible cultural values.
The problem with not learning much of this in school and having to find it out for yourself (along with topics such as the existence of slavery in Canada, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the segregation of racial groups on undesirable land such as Halifax’s Africville, the imposition Chinese head tax, and so much more) is that a large part of the population will never know much about them. The sad part about erasing parts of the past that don’t suit the dominant narrative is that it contributes to the ongoing marginalisation of non-White people in the country — in the present.
Still, it is an open question whether dismantling statues is the best way to reclaim history by those left out of it, or as an effective way to protest against racial inequality. Well, actually no, that question is already settled. Macdonald’s downfall has been universally denounced by the press and has provided red meat for the culture war. Such acts are referred to as ‘thuggery’ by some right-wing commentators. The latest example of ‘cancel culture,’ others cry. “An angry mob out to steal ‘your’ history and culture to impose their own,” shout many social media posts.
But how is it not also considered ‘cancel culture’ when the lack of diverse voices in Canada’s mainstream media means that popular opinion is often reflective of that same narrow range of views? Meanwhile, the history, struggles and accomplishments of minorities are minimalised, or even ignored.
These commentators should consider it a privilege not to have been subjected to the ‘cultural genocide’ of the residential schools system. The victims of that system might walk past a statue that reminds them that the country that ignores their history also honours a man who called their people ‘savages’ who ‘must be removed from their parental influence to acquire the habits and modes of White men.’ Is that not also part of the history we have to respect, M. Legault?
We can also question Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, saying that such acts of ‘vandalism’ are “…not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.” But how many concrete achievements toward these goals have been ticked off by the Trudeau government in its five years in office, to match all the talk about the strength of Canada’s diversity and reconciliation with its First Nations?
Action is what happens when people get tired of such talk. Marginalised groups turn to desperation only after they talk about their experiences and notice few people listening.
History has not been changed by pulling down statues of racists. But doing so opens a window for dialogue about history that would otherwise not take place. Such drastic action is often ‘plan B,’ as it is often said. Many other ways of raising awareness about issues of social injustice have been tried. But how has that been working out?
Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video
Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:
It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.
This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.
I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.
Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!
Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.
My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.
So Far, Not So Good
For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:
Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).
Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.
While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!
Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.
So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.
That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.
The Statue Will Go
Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.
It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.
This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.
Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.
Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.
Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.
Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.
Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video
In spite of indoor public gatherings of up to 250 people being allowed, Montreal’s annual Fantasia Film Festival has opted to go online this year due to COVID-19. The event is described as a “cutting-edge virtual festival, taking place August 20 to September 2, 2020.” Among the festival’s offerings this year is the film Anything for Jackson, a horror film whose subject matter is reminiscent of the 1970s films of the same genre. I had the privilege of speaking with star Konstantina Mantelos about her role, and the effect the pandemic has had on the film industry.
Anything for Jackson is about Mantelos’ character, Shannon Becker, who at eight months pregnant is kidnapped by a pair of elderly Satanists, played by Canadian actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. The two Satanists are hoping to bring back their dead grandson via a Satanic ritual involving Becker’s unborn child. When I pointed out the similarities of the plot to 1970s horror films, Mantelos enthusiastically agreed.
“When the director and writer first met with me they referenced Rosemary’s Baby meets Hereditary. They really pulled on a lot of older, classic horror film ideas and they modernized it. They’ve taken a new twist on horror films that are happening right now and used these themes as metaphors for real life things that we face. It sounds like a zany concept, but there’s a lot of love in the story, there’s a lot of themes of motherhood and caring for those you love, and that’s really what’s at the centre of the story.”
I wondered if given this ongoing trend in horror, Mantelos felt the film’s subject matter was especially relevant given the current apocalyptic times, or whether Anything for Jackson was just a bit of fun. Mantelos laughed and said it was a bit of both.
“I think there’s an interesting factor in the story, an older couple trying to bring back their grandson with no regard for the fact that they are doing this to a young woman who has her future ahead of her and who has this child that she would love and be her own. There’s a sort of selfishness there, as well-meaning as these two are, as you’ll see in the film that they are quite endearing, at the end of the day there is a sort of slightly larger metaphor of older generation: what’s happened to the planet, what we as a younger generation are facing now. There’s a little bit of that. We discussed it when we were working on the film that we think is not a prominent theme in the film, but what I think can be gleaned from it.”
When I asked which of the countless horror sub-genres Anything for Jackson fell into, Mantelos said that despite the subject matter seeming quite campy, the movie sits more within the realm of reality.
“The stuff that we’re facing is quite out of this world, but the way it’s dealt with is in a quite down to earth, dark manner.”
Given the intensity of the part she plays in the movie, I was curious as to the challenges she faced working on the film. Mantelos laughed at this question, discussing the challenge of playing someone who is eight months pregnant when she herself has never been pregnant.
She did some research and reached out to friends who have been pregnant. Mantelos speaks affectionately about how helpful her co-star Sheila McCarthy was when speaking about her own pregnancy experience, and about the extreme emotional and physical changes involved. She described the heavy jelly-filled pregnancy vest she had to wear throughout most of the filming day, and the challenge of being chained to a bed for much of the film.
Given all the talk in the media about the decline in the arts due to the pandemic, I wanted to know how it had affected Mantelos’ work. She pointed out the obvious decline in auditions she was getting, as well as many productions shutting down.
“Funny story, we shot this film — it was a three-week shooting schedule. We literally wrapped on the day that all production got shut down. I essentially went from this very hectic, busy shooting schedule to coming back home to Toronto and essentially being stuck in my house!”
Though auditions have shut down, Mantelos has found a way to make the best of things. She has used the isolation to be productive on personal projects, including screenwriting and producing, which she’d never had time to sit down and give the attention they needed. She mentions that being stuck at home allowed her to complete the first draft of a script she was working on.
When I asked her what else she was getting up to during the pandemic, Mantelos mentioned doing a movie marathon, where she watched a film every day and posted about it on Instagram. Though she no longer watches one every day, she’s already reached 160 movies, mostly fiction. In addition to the movie marathon, she has also been baking, recently making a strawberry and cream bread from The Hobbit Cookbook.
Given how much adapting the arts have had to do since the pandemic started, I asked Mantelos if she thought the changes would be permanent. In response, she mentioned that Anything for Jackson is set to come out on Super Channel Fuse in October, which was planned in advance.
“They’re doing a really wonderful job, and part of it is nice because things like Fantasia are things I always wanted to participate in or have participated in and attended, but a lot of people don’t know that there are things that the public can buy tickets to and the average Joe can get tickets to a big movie premier, and it’s really amazing that it’s accessible. In that way it’s nice because now people are going to be able to access the premier all across Canada, and that’s something wouldn’t have happened if we were doing a traditional red carpet premier in the theatre.”
Anything for Jackson premieres tomorrow, September 1, 2020, as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. Info and tickets available through FantasiaFestival.com
Some Montreal transit fares will be going up as of October 1st.
After a few months of record low ridership on the Metro and bus travel in Montreal essentially being free, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is now gradually returning to front-end boarding (requiring payment) on all bus routes. Transit users will, in some cases, be paying a bit more to ride on the STM’s network this fall.
The biggest price hike will be the monthly pass, going from $86.50 to $88.50. The ten ticket combo, the three day pass and the weekly pass will each go up by 50 cents, or $29.00 to $29.50, $19.50 to $20.00 and $26.75 to $27.25 respectively.
The Unlimited Evening Pass (6pm to 5am) will remain at $5.50 and the Unlimited Week-End Pass (Friday 4pm to Monday 5am) will go from $14.00 to $14.25. For the first time, though, both will cover not only the Island of Montreal, but the entire Montreal Metropolitan Region (including Laval and the South Shore).
The price of a single ticket ($3.50), two tickets bought together ($6.50) and the Trudeau Airport Shuttle ($10) will remain the same.
It’s been a few months since we’ve been able to have a drink and check out a band with others in public. It’s been considerably longer since we’ve been able to do that at the Jailhouse Rock Café.
The now-legendary Montreal music venues closed its cell door at 30 Mont-Royal Ouest for the last time in 2001, so we’re talking almost two decades. Now, thanks to a new book by Domenic Castelli (if you remember the Jailhouse, you know who he is) you can relive the scene.
The Jailhouse Rock Café – Show Posters 1988-2001 Montreal is exactly what it sounds like and then some. It’s a visual history of the venue from its early days as Bar La Terrasse and then as Jailhouse under original owner Jacques Corbo to when Castelli convinced his brother David to buy the place in 1998 and the Castelli Bros moved everything around, turning it into the venue most of us remember, and right up to when the landlord refused to renew the lease.
Jailhouse was mostly known as a punk venue, and for good reason. Many a local and touring punk band graced their stage (and wrote on the backstage wall).
But the venue also featured rockabilly, ska, rock, you name it, they had it at some point. They even had burlesque, vaudeville and horror theatre all rolled into one.
Full disclosure: I was part of that particular show, Dead Dolls Cabaret, and yes, some of our posters are in the book. I also went to other shows at Jailhouse, some where I had friends in one of the bands and some just because.
While I only really started going to local shows in the later years of Jailhouse, the whole book is full of memories for me. That’s because in those days, you didn’t have to actually go to the show to remember the poster.
Show posters were part of Montreal’s landscape. You couldn’t walk around the Plateau without seeing a bunch of them.
Whether they were made by a professional graphic designer or the bassist who also happened to draw, they were art. A lost art form that comes alive again in this book.
While there are plenty of photos, both on stage and back stage, as well as the odd set list, newspaper listing and bit of text explaining things, the show posters are key. And they look great, even on a computer screen.
Of course this is meant to be a physical coffee table book, the kind you invite a few friends over to look at over drinks while listening to music from the Jailhouse era.
Featured image courtesy of Domenic Castelli
This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.
Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.
“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”
Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.
While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:
“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”
For more information: hahaha.com
We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.
As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.
That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.
After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.
Not sure how? I’m here to help.
This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.
First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.
If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.
You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.
While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.
Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.
Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.
You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.
After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.
You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.
A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.
If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.
Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.
You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.
However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.
You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.
That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.
We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.
Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)