Cult MTL delivers daily coverage of Montreal's cultural scene, from music and nightlife news to artist profiles to politics and lifestyle columns to event listings and recommendations for things to do.
Like most Montrealers, you’ve probably seen Habitat 67 from afar, or driven by thinking, “Woa, Moshe Safdie is a beast!” Well if you ever wanted to enter into its concrete compartments, you can sign up for a guided tour.
Experimental/electronic all-stars alert: Musician Kara-Lis Coverdale and writer/multimedia artist Kara Crabb headline a night of meditative ambient music and contemporary dance at Église du Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus. Also on the bill are Enters, a new project featuring Alexei Perry Cox (ex-Handsome Furs), author Jacob Wren and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (of Jerusalem in My Heart) and Anabasine & Holobody, aka Danji Buck-Moore and Luke Loseth. 4215 Adam, doors 6:30 p.m., $15/$17, cash bar
Just for Laughs comedy series The Ethnic Show returns for its second run of shows (after taking Monday and Tuesday off), which continues through Sunday, July 21. This year its line-up of comics includes Cristela Alonzo (see our interview with her here) and Chappelle’s Show album Donnell Rawlings (see our interview with him here). Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent), 7 p.m., $59.61
The other popular series of shows at Just for Laughs — The Nasty Show — kicks off at MTelus, with host Bobby Lee, comics Big Jay Oakerson, Bonnie McFarlane. 59 Ste-Catherine E., 8:30 p.m., $53.84
Fans of vintage Britcom please report to the Cinémathèque Québécoise, where Monty Python’s The Holy Grail is screening in glorious 35mm. 335 de Maisonneuve E., 9 p.m., $11/$10 students & seniors
The nature of what is or is not acceptable in contemporary comedy is almost always rooted in a comedian’s membership to any given group or community. Historically this also meant that if you were a member of one marginalized community you could make fun of all the rest. It’s the reason, I surmise, why Jewish comedians felt comfortable making “black jokes” and vice versa, but as the rise of identity politics has given the Left a readily accessible language with which to discuss power and rhetoric and selfhood, who you are and who you aren’t allowed to speak about, or as, is increasingly part of the dialogue we have about all art, in large part because that discussion was an immense lacuna on the cultural landscape for so long.
But of course comedy has always pushed up against standards of acceptability, sometimes to great effect, sometimes to great cringing offence and, more often, some place in between.
I mention all this because shortly after interviewing Christina Saliba, the producer and one of the writers of Lesbian Speed Date From Hell!, a play which is being presented both at Off-JFL and Pride after a successful run at le Festival de la Bête Noir, I heard that Carmen Colas — the organizer of the unaffiliated Lesbian Speed Dating, the community dating event at NDQ — had taken issue with LSDFH!, in particular with a moment involving a man in a wig (a scene since altered as a result of this concern) finding the scene to be transphobic.
Colas explained that they’d been initially invited to play a role in the play, and had read the script and declined the part. It was after seeing the play that they approached Saliba with their apprehensions. Of course, this is one audience member’s impression, but nevertheless one with a definitive tie to the material. Colas was also not alone in having reservations about the play’s handling of trans identity.
Saliba, when asked to comment, points out that the character in question is meant to be “an over the top caricature of straight male culture.” He’s a creep and comes to ill ends. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see how the image alone could rile. The Straight Man in Wig is an old comedic trope, a gag based on the supposed unnaturalness of what another generation called cross-dressing. Then again, this is not a play that courts subtlety. It’s a horror as well as a comedy, there’s blood and gore, an abundance of self-proclaimed “bad lesbian puns,” and the whole production is inspired by John Waters’ Serial Mom and Rob Reiner’s Misery.
We often talk about how comedy ages badly, more than nearly any other art. Yet Colas’s concern about the first iteration of LSDFH! made me think specifically about Some Like It Hot, the 1959 comedy that has aged remarkable gently considering its foundational premise involves two men in wigs. Forgive the spoiler, but Some Like It Hot ends with a reveal: Jack Lemmon’s wig comes off, but somehow not to the consternation of his would-be lover (an elder and rather straight-seeming man), who only says with a shrug, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Somehow this line is performed as tender; somehow it’s not really a joke. However, I’m also almost certain that some readers will disagree with me, will know the film and find the dated premise obscures any charms.
To my eyes this encapsulates what is inherently polarizing about jokes, and considering LSDFH! is already a genre mash-up, it feels in many ways destined to invite a clash of tastes, even within the community for which (and by whom) it’s performed. Of course, who exactly is included within a particular community is itself contested, hence the debate over who should or should not make what jokes. Does, for instance, the word lesbian in Lesbian Speed Dating imply cisgendered, or apply to all female-identifying persons? If the word itself has subtle and contested boundaries, then it follows that lesbian jokes do as well.
Bear in mind the vast majority of the cast and crew of LSDFH! are queer, and how that cast and crew feels about the play, Saliba notes, has been on the agenda from the outset. That’s meaningful. One queer cast member expressed to me just how nice it is to be able to embody a queer character on stage, an opportunity they aren’t afforded as often as they’d like. What’s also meaningful is that Colas’s comments seem to have been taken seriously. Writerly and performative discussions are being had, boundaries pushed, boundaries subsequently withdrawn.
Granted, where we express this kind of dialogue can be as meaningful as the content, and one imagines a public statement from Saliba with regards to the initial concerns would have done wonders in a relatively small and politicized Montreal community. Perhaps the production wasn’t initially diplomatic in its handling of the subject matter, but then again, to be tactless is not the same as being offensive, and a great deal of successful (and broadly speaking, inoffensive) humour can still be deeply crass.
It might be worth noting that LSDFH! is also a comedy about online ghosting, about how “cyberspace…creates monsters” with a total disconnect from our real human relationships. And yet here we have it, people talking about a play they saw, how it represents themselves, their friends, their affiliations. Whether or not anyone’s laughing almost seems beside the point when you recognize that this hashing out couldn’t be any further from the cold aloofness we associate with ghosting. It couldn’t be more real. ■
Lesbian Speed Date From Hell! is at OFF-JFL at MainLine Theatre (3997 St-Laurent) July 19–20, 7:30 p.m., $25.75 and during Pride at le Ministère (4521 St-Laurent), Aug. 10 & 15, 8 p.m., Aug. 11, 7 p.m., $15–$20
In the new film The Art of Self-Defense (opening in theatres this Friday, July 19), Jesse Eisenberg plays a meek office drone who turns to karate after a series of humiliating events. This is one of them:
It’s tough to have a
conversation about anything media-related these days without also having a
conversation about diversity and representation. This isn’t a bad thing.
Diversity is good
and, as you’ve likely heard, makes us strong. Representation is important in
all industries but on-screen media representation is perhaps the most
important. We see comedians, actors and news anchors in a way we don’t see CEOs
or loan officers or assembly line workers. Media is a major way people
understand and contextualize reality. As such, issues of representation are
actually issues of validity and existence, a “pics or it didn’t happen”
situation writ very, very large.
Hasan Minhaj clearly
gets this. With apologies to everyone else doing the political comedy news show
thing, Minhaj is the only one who has turned his big break — Netflix’s Patriot
Act With Hasan Minhaj — into something we haven’t really seen before.
As Slate’s Inkoo Kang wrote shortly after the series premiered, “Patriot Act diverges from its predecessor [Last Week Tonight With John Oliver] in one unmistakable way: It lets Minhaj be Minhaj — i.e. an Indian-American comic whose beliefs and reference points are often influenced by his cultural background and experiences as a brown man in America.”
Hasan Minhaj on the cover of Cult MTL’s July 2019 issue
As a brown man in
Canada, this is noteworthy. I’ve been writing about art and artists for 15
years and I can count how many of them looked like me on one hand. As such,
Minhaj’s recent run of success — from The Daily Show to the White House
Correspondents’ Dinner to Homecoming King to Patriot Act to an
inclusion as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world —
has been incredible to witness for two very specific reasons:
One: it’s incredible
to see tangible proof that times have changed.
Two: kids who look
like Hasan Minhaj get to see him writing and acting and performing and speaking
his truth in front of thousands of people, which makes them think, “Hey, I can
do that, too.”
“I just feel super
grateful that I was given a shot,” he says, warmly, over the phone from New
York. Some people don’t sound like themselves over the phone; Hasan Minhaj
sounds so much like himself I want to reach out and touch his famously coiffed
“The fact that I have
a shot, and that I’m one of the first people to host a show like this that
comes from my background, I know that this is an incredible opportunity. You
don’t get a whole lot of cracks in this business, so, if I have this
opportunity, I want to say something. It’s why I opened the [series] with an
episode on Saudi Arabia and [an episode on] Affirmative action. I wanted to
indict my own community and I wanted to indict my own religious
That Minhaj, a
Muslim, started Patriot Act by taking a shot at Saudi Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman, who allegedly masterminded Washington Post
journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination, was a hell of a brush-back pitch.
In throwing it, he was making a statement: I’m not here to fuck around.
The experience of
interviewing Hasan Minhaj is an exercise in getting more than you ask for. I
wanted to know whether he felt like he had a responsibility to communicate his
lived experience as an Indian-American, he gives me a riff on the Spider-Man
“great power, great responsibility” bit. His thoughtfulness is refreshing, but
it betrays something else: incredulity.
“I would have never
have thought that we’d be living in an era now where all of us — whether it’s
you with writing or others with comedy and film — would finally have this
moment to be able to put that into art,” he says. As if flashing back to every
dirty look and “this is not for you” comment I received back in the day, I
catch myself nodding like a perpetual motion drinking bird.
“We’ve reached this
cultural tipping point,” he continues. “A lot of us are children of people who
immigrated to the United States and Canada in the ’70s and ’80s and we’ve now
come of age, and have had time to reckon not only with our parents’ experiences
but our own experiences navigating identity and the sort of insider-outsider
relationship [we have] with our country.”
He makes reference to
Mindy Kaling, Kumail Nanjiani and Aziz Ansari but also to Dev Patel and Riz
Ahmed, all of whom were born between 1978 and 1990. He says “country” but he
may as well say “the west.”
Having his own show,
he says, allows him to “open up conversations [he’d] never seen on the dozens
of late night and satire shows that exist in the world,” and is largely why he
makes references to “Indian uncles” and “the chai.” It’s why he casts his net
further afield than only mainstream (American) things and issues, and why he
doesn’t shy away from covering “Indian elections or corruption in cricket or
Brazil, Bolsonaro and the rainforest or what’s happening right now in
Hasan Minhaj is going
for broke. He’s shooting his shot. He’s trying to get it all done before his
mom wakes him up and tells him it’s time to go to school.
“There’s been so much
white space that has existed and that hasn’t been discussed for the longest
time,” he says. “While I have this opportunity, I’m going to put my foot on the
gas,” he says.
It merits mention that Minhaj didn’t only talk to me about the brownness of it all, but those were the parts of our talk that felt the most important to tell you about. Minhaj took a shot at one of the world’s most powerful people in his first show because it needed to be said. So did all of this. ■
Queering the Map: On-site is a “community-generated counter-mapping platform for LGBTQ2I+ moments, memories and histories in relation to physical space,” a project that aims to “collaboratively archive the cartography of queer memory.” Though the official opening event is happening tomorrow, Queering the Map begins today with Encrypt Your Nudes, a free workshop on online self-defense, hosted by Liane Décary-Chen. 4th Space (1400 de Maisonneuve W.), 1–4 p.m., free
Montreal-based Mali-rooted griot Djely Tapa produced her recent record Barokan with fellow local Afrotronix, combining Mandinka tradition, desert blues and contemporary arrangements and aesthetics. Tonight she plays le Ministère as part of the ongoing Nuits d’Afrique festival (which also opens its Village Nuits d’Afrique in Place des Festivals today). 4521 St-Laurent, 8 p.m., $20
The 12th edition of the I Like It comedy showcase at l’Escogriffe has a secret line-up of comics (see some clues here) plus co-hosts Amanda McQueen and Steve Patrick Adams. 4461 St-Denis, 8 p.m., PWYC
Kopfkino is screening James Cameron’s 1986 classic Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien from 1979, preceded by Martin Reisch’s award-winning short Sadstronaught II. Bonus: free popcorn! Bar le Ritz (179 Jean-Talon W.), doors 7:30 p.m./8:30 p.m., $5
Another local film screening series, DeuXX, takes over Mile End’s Cinéma Moderne to mark the 10th anniversary of Jennifer’s Body, the first Hollywood horror film written and directed by women. 5150 St-Laurent, 9 p.m., $11.50/$13
Ti-Agrikol (the smaller space beside Village hipster Haitian restaurant Agrikol) hosts its weekly QTBIPOC party The Juice, promising new tunes and new grooves from DJs Juice and MVCOKO. 1840 Atataken (bka Amherst), 9 p.m., free
This year’s edition of the Just for Laughs Ethnic Show opened last week at Club Soda, and it’s definitely worth a look. Featuring the prodigious talents and disparate styles of stalwarts including Robby Hoffman, Dave Meherje and Donnell Rawlings, it’s more than worth the ticket price.
In the middle of it all is the show’s host
Cristela Alonzo, whom I spoke with before she hit town but after a particularly
empowering and sticky pilates class that, hot as it probably was, pales in
comparison to the July humidity in Montreal. That’s not me saying that, it’s
the person who doesn’t live here — such is the enduring quality of our swampy
This interview has been edited and condensed for
Cristela Alonzo: The weather
during the festival is brutal! Every time I pack for the festival, I have to
pack the lightest, layered clothes I can find. It is brutal over there.
Dave Jaffer: Yeah because it’s a humid hot. Humid hot makes
you want to kill yourself. Dry hot makes you want to have a beer.
CA: That’s actually like the best way to say
DJ: Hasan Minhaj and I were talking a few weeks ago about how it’s kind of rare for him, a popular brown-skinned performer, to be interviewed by a brown-skinned arts journalist. You and I are doing that again right now. What’s it like being part of this cultural moment in re: diversity which, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, wasn’t really available to either of us?
CA: In a way it’s interesting because it’s so groundbreaking for so many people, but the reality is that it’s sad that it took this long to acknowledge that we exist. You mention Hasan Minhaj. I understand his points of view and we have so much in common. Coming from an immigrant family, [he and I] understand that you don’t even have to be the same culture to find things in common with other people.
As a Latina, as a Mexican, I live in the United States in the time where politically, my community is just being vilified constantly by the administration we have, so to go to a country like Canada and host The Ethnic Show is kind of like a reminder that we are actually all human beings with hearts and souls, and we can make people laugh, and laughter is part of an emotion that we need to showcase more.
DJ: Hasan Minhaj told me that laughter is a device to relieve tension, and to release tension. It happens, and then we’re all in that place where the ice has been broken, we’re relaxed, and I think that’s a great place to start any conversation about, like, “Hey I’m a person, too” or “Hey I have rights, too” or “Hey this administration is destroying my community and please listen to me!” And even though I don’t really want to be a bummer, I’m curious: how has this administration and its brutal policies affected the way you go about doing your job?
CA: After the 2016 election I actually stopped doing comedy for about a year or so, actually maybe even longer, because my community, I don’t think we were ready to laugh. We were scared. So what I did, I stopped doing stand-up and devoted my time to travelling the country, visiting my community, helping raise money for DACA students to pay their application fees to stay in this country… I wanted to make sure immigrants were taken care of. I didn’t think we were in a position to laugh, because we were just letting the dust settle.
And let me tell you that through those experiences and talking to people, and communities that are very affected directly by this administration, through the severity the laughter was still so important. Laughter is such an extreme emotion. A lot of us actually laugh when we feel very sad.
DJ: What is the point of your comedy? What is your
comedy trying to do for people, and also for yourself? What are you trying to
achieve other than a laugh?
CA: The only thing that I try to do is to actually connect with people who can share my experiences. I don’t have a specific agenda. I can tell you that years ago, I was one of the most if not the most-booked comedian on the college circuit here in the States, and I would get booked in Iowa, Wisconsin — states where people would think, “There aren’t any Latinos there, how are you going to do these shows?” And I’m thinking, “I speak English and I was born in the United States, so what do you mean?” I don’t understand that. People are people.
Throughout those shows I realized, actually, that I had to find common ground so that people could understand where I was coming from, and aside from being Latina, I was also raised in a Catholic family, I was also raised in poverty, I also had struggles that a lot of people here of any race seem to have. So it actually helped me in cultivating this sense of commonality. ■
The Ethnic Show continues at Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent) from July 17-21, various times, $59.61
Cristela Alonzo will also be part of the Wanda Sykes gala at Place des Arts’s Salle Wilfrid Pelletier (175 Ste-Catherine W.) on Friday, July 26, 7 p.m., $42.80-$121.09
A new standard of skateboarding and community support was achieved this weekend in Montreal as a new legacy bowl was inaugurated with the Canadian stop of the global skateboarding competition Vans Park Series.
After five years based in Vancouver, Vans Park Series (VPS) found a new Canadian home in Montreal’s Olympic Park. The legacy bowl, named the Vans Bowl, had been in the works for roughly two years as a collaborative effort between Vans and the Olympic Park to promote skateboarding in the city as a permanent fixture.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, male and female skaters
from around the world competed, setting the standard of what’s possible on the
new terrain. Fans, friends and families piled onto the bleachers to watch as
Pedro Barros and Yndiara Asp claimed the top spots of the event with phenomenal
and new runs.
In an enclosed booth just off the bowl itself, skateboarding
legend Tony Hawk was recording the live web broadcast of the event. As he
changed his shoes just before heading to the recording space, he noted the
diverse terrain of the Vans Bowl, which “takes a lot more skill set” than when
he was the one competing.
fact that there’s now skateparks in these places is the biggest difference. We
would go make a halfpipe and then tear it down,” said Hawk. “I’m so thankful
they’re providing these facilities.”
The entertainment wasn’t restricted to the bowl itself, but spilled onto the VPS “village” which included pop-up shops, games, caricatures by Bob’s Burgers character designer Jay Howell, creative griptape workshops, photo exhibitions and a mini skatepark open to the public.
Alex Kelso, a local parent, was there with her five-year-old
son Kyle for the better part of two days, saying Kyle was having the “time of
“It’s a strong community. You can travel around the world and if you skateboard, you can go to any kind of skate spot and meet some new friends. That’s how you connect,” said Kelso. “Being here with this day with all the people loving skateboarding is so amazing. It’s a special day.”
skating the mini park on Friday, Kyle immediately went home to call his friend
Max, urging her to join him the next morning. Max, eight, who was wearing a
purple and pink leopard helmet topped with a rubber mohawk, was one of the
young girls receiving free lessons from Annie Guglia at the park’s Skate Skool.
and encouragement is the driving force behind not only this event, but
skateboarding, and it’s a community that now more than ever is including women.
Guglia has been a staple in the Montreal women’s skateboarding scene for years,
and an active voice in advocating for it. Not only was she hosting lessons, it
was also her first time competing in the event.
“It’s awesome to have girls and guys paid the same. Not just paid but getting recognized the same. It inspires the little girls to come to the skate park and feel welcome,” said Guglia.
also noted the quick growth of women participation in recent years.
“In 2012 we knew every single girl in Montreal. There were 18 of us and we all knew each other. Now if I go to a skatepark there’s at least two girls I’ve never seen before,” she said. “The interest of girls is growing a lot faster than guys right now.”
the recent surge of female participation in Canada that pushed Vans Global
Marketing Director Bobby Gascon to finally include women at every VPS stop. He
explained that encouraging this participation was key for this year’s Montreal
“I have a sweet spot for what we’ve been able to achieve with women and to see the level from the first events we’ve done in 2015 to how some of them are so good today, how much they’ve excelled and performed and the field is growing,” said Gascon. “You can already kind of see the legacy for skateboarding’s future and how it’s growing and prospering for women. For me, that’s the biggest achievement.”
Lizzie Armanto, Yndiara Asp and Jordyn Barratt
participation and recognition was also a key in the new Vans Bowl itself.
Gascon said the previous location at Hastings Bowl in Vancouver was built at a
time where women were less involved, thus designed with a strictly male
is a VPS certified course, where it’s a key even playing field,” he says.
“Women are as impressive as the men, the park is designed accordingly where we
have both women and men approving the designs before we go into final
Montreal is only now getting state of the art skateparks, it has been named one
of the best skate cities in Canada for quite some time.
Riley Boland has been a competitor is VPS for a number of years, and a known
face in skateboarding around the world. Montreal, however, holds his highest
love Montreal, it’s the best skate city to me. The scene, the people. It’s a
tighter scene, you can skate anywhere and there’s people around,” says Boland.
“I’m excited that [this bowl is] permanent. Obviously Hastings is always
there, but these bowls usually when you skate them they’re just temporary. This
all the competitors, the new bowl meant a new terrain to figure out, leaving
out any chance for a familiarity advantage.
Barros, who has now taken home first place at the Canadian VPS stop for three
consecutive years, says he just wanted to have a good time. After an impressive
run by Cory Juneau, Barros needed a major score to surpass Juneau in the
standings. But instead, took the opportunity to have the most fun he could on
his last run.
“When you’re out skating with your friends having a good time, it’s usually about that and the results are usually consequences. I was already pretty satisfied thinking Cory [Juneau] won the contest today because his run was insane,” says Barros. “So I kind of just got in my last run like ‘whatever, all or nothing here, second’s good enough for me, or third.’ I’m really stoked I got to be here in Canada another time and have a good time with my friends and walk out with the first place, which is insane.”
In the end, Pedro Barros was followed by Cory Juneau in second and Tristan Rennie in third. Sharing the first place podium for the women was Yndiara Asp, Lizzie Armanto came in second, and Jordyn Barratt finished third.
Tristan Rennie, Cory Juneau and Pedro Barros
Barros was beaming, continuing to skate the new bowl with the other competitors once the event was over. After changing his shirt a few times, he took a break from skating and praised the Canadian skate scene, noting that if it wasn’t so cold, he would move here. “Canada has an insane vibe. The people still have a really good energy and they bring that out when they’re here cheering on. This park came out amazing.” ■
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting beautiful Nova
Scotia in the Maritimes. Aside from being an insanely fun vacation, I took
advantage of my time there to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier
21 for research I’m conducting on a book.
Pier 21 is the place my parents first set foot in Canada as young Greek immigrants embarking on a new life. They are but two of the more than one million immigrants Canada welcomed here between 1928 and 1971. When the museum guide informed us that the current gateway on the first floor — the entrance through which immigrants passed before undergoing all the required customs questions and medical tests — was the same spot where those immigrants had stood at that time (even the floors have been kept intact), I found myself unexpectedly overcome with emotion.
Something I’ve thought of often suddenly became tangible and real. I tried to imagine my young parents, speaking no English or French, tired and possibly confused and afraid, relying on the kindness of customs agents and volunteer translators. I thought of their hopes and dreams and what this gateway, as the first point of contact with their new country, represented to them — what the gateway of immigration still represents to new immigrants and asylum seekers.
Dutch immigrants at Pier 21, circa late 1940s.
The museum’s waterfront building has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto tiny Georges Island in the Halifax Harbour. When the Acadian Expulsion began in 1755, the island was used as a prison for hundreds of Acadians over the next decade. The very first prisoners were the deputies who pleaded the Acadian cause before the Nova Scotia Council. The facilities on the island were inadequate and living conditions were terrible.
The Grand Dérangement, or Great Upheaval as it’s referred to in English, is a shameful chapter in Canadian history. The thriving Acadian communities were perceived as a possible threat by British authorities, after the French and Indian War came to an end because of their French language and culture and Catholic faith.
Close to 12,000 men, women and children were piled into ships and deported to Anglo-American colonies, England and France. Their coveted lands, which they had turned into fertile farmland thanks to their knowledge of a complex dyke system that kept the tides away, were confiscated. While the confiscations happened in vastly different eras, the opportunism hidden behind so-called preventative security measures immediately reminded me of what happened to Japanese Canadian fishermen during the Second World War. At that time, the federal government decided to remove all Japanese Canadians residing within 160 kilometres of the Pacific Coast, place them in interment camps, while confiscating and selling all their property. Another shameful moment in Canadian history. There’s many more where these came from.
Protest against Japenese internment in Canada
I visited the Grand-Pré historic site and the memorial
cross erected on the bank of the Minas Basin, the exact spot where, centuries
ago, Acadians were forced onto boats and deported from their homes. Located in
Nova Scotia’s beautiful Annapolis Valley, Grand-Pré means “Large Meadow” in
English. That’s exactly what it is. Surrounded by peaceful farm fields, the hot
summer air gently swayed the grass back and forth, the bright meadow green
contrasting sharply with the muddy brown of the receding tidal water’s deposits.
Colourful blooming white and yellow wildflowers dotted the landscape and the
It was all quite serene and bucolic-looking, if not for its sad history that weighed on me like a ton of bricks. Standing there, looking out into the distance, I felt surrounded by the spirit of thousands of innocent people who were caught up in assumptions about their presumed political loyalties and a battle for power they had very little to do with, people (half of them children) forced off their land, most of whom would eventually die from drowning, starvation, imprisonment and exposure. While many did make it to other lands, they were often not welcomed and mistreated there as well. Essentially, the British carried out ethnic cleansing.
I’m currently reading The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home
After the Holocaust by Zelda Abramson and John Lynch. Contrary to the image
of Holocaust survivors today as deeply tragic victims of genocide, the book
details how they were initially treated with suspicion or as freeloaders, an
unfortunate burden to the receiving countries, with many of their new fellow
citizens failing to even acknowledge the unimaginable trauma they experienced.
Last week, Guatemalan asylum seeker Yazmin Juarez appeared in front of the U.S. House Oversight Committee to tearfully testify on the death of her 19-month-old daughter Mariee, whose illness was left untreated while they were in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
“I watched my baby die slowly and painfully,” she said
through an interpreter. “We came to the United States where I hoped to build a
better, safer life for us. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Juarez if she had
experienced a culture of cruelty at the detention centre, Juarez said that an
ICE agent had told her, “You know, this country is for Americans. Trump is my
president, and we can take your little girl away from you and lock you in
Critics of Trump’s immigration policy say, “The cruelty is the point.”
A migrant detention centre in McAllen, Texas, June 10, 2019. Photo by U.S. Office of the Inspector General
But the cruelty has always been the point when political abuse, economic opportunism and marginalization of the “other” intersect. Humans have a history we always fail to learn from. As a result, we always repeat what should be unthinkable for us to keep repeating: war, political oppression, marginalization, discrimination, nativist xenophobia, fear of what’s different, extermination, lashing out instead of coming together.
Last week, at least 58 people died after a boat carrying
migrants capsized off Tunisia. Only three survivors have been found so far,
according to news reports. Rescuers say the death toll could be over 80.
Six hundred and sixty-seven people have died or have gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year, so far. Since 2014, that number has climbed to over 18,000. At least 678 that we know of were children. That’s just the people we can account for. Only the bottom of the sea knows how many more have disappeared without a trace.
If they do make it on those rickety boats and unseaworthy rafts to the other side, more than a third of migrants face human trafficking or exploitation, according to the UN. These migrants aren’t a “problem,” they’re desperate people fleeing conditions so bad they’re willing to risk their lives and the lives of their children for a chance at a better one.
No one wants the unwanted. We send them away. We fear them, distrust their motives, don’t believe their stories of desperation, criminalize efforts to save them, display arrogant levels of NIMBYism and abuse and exploit them once they reach the shore. Still… they soldier on, hope being the carrion light that gives them the will to survive. It’s extraordinary, this resilience that they wrap themselves in. History is recycled every single day around us. Like the Bay of Fundy tides that roll in and roll out every 12 hours like clockwork, we repeat ourselves as each wave of immigration and human desperation comes crashing at our door. Sadly, I’m not yet convinced we’ve learned any lessons from our past. ■
The Fantasia Festival began on Thursday and continues till Aug. 1, bringing three weeks of genre cinema to the theatres on Concordia’s downtown campus. Here is our latest review round-up:
A decapitated head rolls into a young cellist’s apartment. The body can’t be found and the teenage musician doesn’t remember a thing. How could it involve a corrupt cop, a sex worker with a heart of gold, a confident school girl and a dog named Gustav? A tangled web connects all of these figures into a grim tale spun from rampant corruption and moral decay in modern day Hong Kong.
G-Affairs traffics in a lot of cop movie and thriller tropes but is only interested in them as tiles in a grimy mosaic depicting a broken city where morals are falling apart at every corner. The fluorescent-lit school life of teenagers is rife with bullying and sexual advances while the shadowy world of adults is littered with crooked cops, organized crime and parents who abandon their children. Whenever we discover a new connection between two characters, it’s never played as a surprise twist but merely a shrug: of course, why wouldn’t they be connected? No one can get away from the rot.
The splintered storytelling is held together with a solid use of flashbacks and voiceover, allowing us a glimpse into the inner lives of G-Affairs’ players. Despite a very gimmicky use of chapters starting with the letter “G,” director Lee Cheuk Pan and writer Kurt Chiang deliver a confident story of overlapping lives affected by corruption in a lawless city. (Yannick Belzil)
G Affairs screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 15, 6:30 p.m.
Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland
If David Lynch had a Canadian daydream on a flight returning from Central Europe, it might look something like Bruce McDonald’s latest film Dreamland. This is definitely not the kind of film you would see at your local Cineplex, but thanks to Fantasia you can check it out on the big screen.
Stephen McHattie fans will revel in his dual lead roles: In one, he is the strongman for drug-dealing pimp Hercules (Henry Rollins). Their relationship is based on love and loyalty until children become involved; his unwillingness to support his boss’s new venture supplying young girls to pedophiles rapidly comes to a head when the little brother of a girl in his apartment building seeks his help finding his sister. A parallel and intersecting storyline sees McHattie reprising his Chet Baker persona from an earlier short film, as a heroin-addicted trumpeter who becomes a target of Hercules’s after an offence. McHattie is dispatched to “send a message” to the trumpeter, adding to the film’s potent hallucinatory quality, which escalates as it proceeds.
Dreamland will surely stand as one of the great unclassifiable works in McDonald’s already unusual and eclectic filmography. It’s a noir fever dream, anchored by McHattie’s distinguished performances, which push the hardboiled, absurdist tone to the limit. No one but McHattie could deliver lines about killing without hesitation, but be unwilling to fight a man for his finger with such gravitas. Attention must also be paid to the film’s rich tapestry of supporting characters, including the wonderful couple who operate the pawn shop and Juliette Lewis’s Countess, who provides a flighty running commentary on everything from colonialism to aboriginal issues to gun control while planning the seating arrangements for her brother’s wedding. We would be remiss not to mention Tomas Lemarquis’s performance as the aforementioned brother, who has one of the best on-screen entrances in recent memory. To say more would spoil the fun.
While not designed for mainstream consumption, Dreamland is a dense treat for those who crave freewheeling experimentation in genre cinema.The languid yet opaque narrative will leave viewers with a great deal to unpack, spurring hours of contemplation, conversation and debate. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)
Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland screens in Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W) on Monday, July 15, 2:10 p.m.
For the full Fantasia program, go to the festival’s website ■
As part of Just for Laughs, “mad, risqué and uniquely eccentric” quasi-clown Trygve Wakenshaw presents his show Nautilus tonight and tomorrow night at Place des Arts’s 5e Salle. 175 Ste-Catherine W., shows at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., $42.26
The Backstreet Boys are playing the Centre Bell with opener Baylee Littrell, but if you want to see them, you’ll have to find a ticket on Facebook. Yes, this one is actually, somehow, sold out. 1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montréal, 8 p.m., sold out
Another blast from the somewhat recent past, Scottish indie darlings Belle and Sebastian, are playing MTELUS. 59 St-Catherine E., 8 p.m., $49+