Film Festival mini reviews

I spend a lot of time thinking, researching and writing about culture, creativity, technology, business and global economics. It gets very abstract, to say the least.

As much as I enjoy that work, I need to get out of the strategic stratosphere and into the here and now of cultural experience to recharge my soul and my work. After a week in the desert feeding on the cacophony of creative collision that is Burning Man, I return to Toronto in time for the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Bubble


My favourite film of the festival so far, Eytan Fox’s The Bubble tells a classic Romeo & Juliet story in a highly politicized context. Tel Aviv indie slacker Noam meets Palestinian boy Ashraf at a checkpoint while fulfilling his army reserve duty. Ashraf drops into “the bubble” of Tel Aviv, where modern cosmopolitan life continues amidst a sea of violence and chaos. They are star-crossed lovers in post-9/11 Israel and Palestine, and as the story unfolds towards its inevitable conclusion, it explores the nuances of life in a bubble made ultimately impossible by the intractable political reality at the front lines of interminable conflict. It does so without becoming didactic or taking an overt political stance and is ultimately sympathetic to the individuals embedded in the forces of historic struggle. With a beautiful score by Israeli pop star Ivri Lider, The Bubble is both romantic and painful, funny, charming and heart-warming while ultimately unsentimental. This film was rejected from recent European festivals due to the recent war in southern Lebanon and a boycott of Israeli films. That was a mistake, as this is exactly the kind of film that can engage opposing sides in much needed dialogue. Banning cultural expression is no solution to political conflict.

DarkBlueAlmostBlack (“AzulOscuroCasiNegro”)

A first feature for Spanish director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, DarkBlueAlmostBlack tells the story of a young man seemingly trapped by socio-economic status, circumstances and family obligation but ultimately separated from the life he desires by his own fear. It is a light-hearted and charmingly written film, with some great performances. Antonio del la Torre (who also appears in Almodovar’s latest Volver) is particularly good as the brother who arrives home from prison with plans for his own future. Arévalo in the end argues that embracing our limits is, ironically, the beginning of our journey to overcome them.


Bamako is a bold, innovative film from Mali director Abderrahmane Sissako, and it uniquely takes on globalization from the perspective of African society through the device of a trial against the World Bank and IMF that takes place in a small village. An audacious undertaking, Sissako is successful at presenting the complex issues surrounding the structural adjustment policies of global economic institutions and their impact on the life chances of individuals and developing world societies. The writing is intelligent, articulate and passionate and the delivery by the mix of actors and non-actors that take part in the trial is invigorating, refreshingly absent the sloganeering of western armchair activists. See it if you can.


A documentary by Montreal-born Mohammed Naqvi that features the story of Mukhtar Mai, a woman struggling for justice in her native Pakistan after being the victim of gang rape. She is raped as punishment for a crime her brother is alleged to have committed against a woman of the powerful Mastoi clan in her village, in the tradition of “honour for honour” . Mukhtar finds the strength to raise her voice and finds the resources to bring justice for herself and ultimately for future generations of girls in her village. She draws international media attention, which brings pressure on the Pakistan government, and uses her fame to raise money for schools, roads and a planned hospital. Education is presented as the ultimate solution to empowering future generations of women. Mukhtar Mai is doubtlessly an inspiring figure of strength, and a hero to many. The film, however, would probably have been better served by delving into the Mastoi clan’s original allegations and perspective and the socio-cultural context. The Mastois, and the government, are often depicted as duplicitous and comically idiotic which plays to the audience’s sentiments but ultimately glosses over deeper questions worth exploring.

Lake of Fire

Rounding out the last of my very serious issues films, Lake of Fire is a documentary that explores the issue of the abortion debate in America in an intense, and graphic, way. Tony Kaye, director of the remarkable American History X, explores the issue unflinchingly with the keen eye of an outsider and ultimately does not take a stand. As Kaye described in the Q&A, both sides are right. However, the violent anti-abortion extremists of the religious right are exposed without sympathy, and I was drawn to make mental connections to religious extremism in general and terrorism in the current global context. There were a number of interesting observations by those that work under threat of violence in clinics. A woman observed that the overwhelmingly single middle-aged angry male Christians that haunt their front door seem to get voyeuristic pleasure from watching women they know have had sex as they enter the clinic. Interesting political questions are asked, like why the religious right does not take as active a stance on the right to life of the born as for the unborn. Should they not be for universal early childhood healthcare, reducing poverty and family violence? Kaye is a true auteur, who took 20 years to make this film, which he still considers to be unfinished.

Perhaps some lighter fare for the rest of the festival? No Borat for me. L’Homme de sa Vie and Snow Cake next.

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Burning Man as Laboratory of the Future

Burning Man 2006 – IKONOS

Originally uploaded by Gatecrasher.

As seen from space, the temporary city of over 35,000 people makes its presence felt.

So many thoughts on my recent experience at Burning Man. Art festival. Intentional community. Radical self-reliance. Radical self-expression. Neotribal confederation. Anarchic socialism. Experiment in human organization. Emergent property of human creativity.

It is remarkable. More to come…

Librarians are Hot!

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a number of librarians and fell in love. Librarians are unsung heroes. Scholars and caretakers of ancient knowledge throughout the history of civilization, the modern librarian continues this tradition in a world that is increasingly information rich, but often context and knowledge poor.

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Our community public libraries are hubs of civic engagement and culture, social development, commerce, technology access and lifelong learning. Librarians are connectors and libraries are sites where social capital is accumulated and distributed for the public good. Librarians are also eminently practical, with strong ties to their communities. They have the potential to function as interdisciplinary resources and community builders who enable innovation and creativity.

In a rapidly transforming society, resources this valuable need to exploited much more intensively. Librarians have a critical role to play in helping us grasp our collective and individual futures and enhancing our quality of life.

Hug a librarian today.

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Find meaning through participatory education?

In the spirit of Jane Jacobs and the “In My Lifetime” meme, I thought I would highlight the issue of education. In the last book she published before her death, the cautionary Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs’ points to modern western civilization’s obsession with credentialing and certification, driven by professional aspirations or systems of qualification, at the expense of education. To Jacobs, the decline of broad-minded education is reducing our civilization’s ability to adapt to change, at the same time that change is accelerating and our problems becoming increasingly complex. We would be wise to heed her warnings, as we would have been to heed her warnings about modern/rationalist urban planning in 1961.

I am interested in educational and lifelong learning alternatives that enhance our human capacity for creativity and integrative thinking, which is so sorely lacking and so crucial to our future. Economists and environmentalists must bridge intellectual and dogmatic divides in order to integrate their perspectives on the world and solve some of our most pressing challenges. In a radically globalized “world is flat” economy, any job can be outsourced, not just manufacturing jobs. Value creation increasingly will become contingent on individuals creating unique jobs and new social roles for themselves, rather than following a predesigned career pattern.

Every individual born into this world needs to develop the tools and and skills to navigate this chaos and complexity in order carve out a meaningful and highly individuated path through life. To find meaning. This calls for creativity to be made a central, not marginalized, element of our education system. This student documentary about an open/participatory/experiential/free school is inspirational. (via Boing Boing)

There are interesting parallels to how Open Space unconference practices provide a platform for creativity and inspiration, as evidenced in a community of practice we call BarCamp. And in how Open-Source software projects govern themselves. Participation versus the lecture method; leadership that can come from anywhere; self-organized and self-governing; the close connections between learning, play and the creative moment. Practices such as these are exciting innovations that are gaining increasing attention and momentum. These practices may yet undo the damage of industrial-age education methods and prepare us for a radically altered future and its rapidly accelerating rate of change.

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Ontario Budget: Cities, Creativity & Innovation

The interesting times continue in the technology and creative industries in Ontario and the Toronto region. I thought I would post a summary of today’s Ontario provincial budget speech, as it relates to research and innovation, the technology and creative industries and creative communities.

The big theme here is that cities, creativity and innovation are becoming major areas of government attention and investment. This is necessary to help transform the Ontario economy from it’s industrial present to its knowledge and creativity-driven future. Livable cities, cultural vitality and social inclusion of disenfranchised communities are central to achieving these goals. (See Richard Florida)

Given the macroeconomic context and the nature of global competitiveness, I expect that future budgets and governments will continue to invest in these areas. This is not a momentary blip or flavour of the month, but the beginning of a steady march of change. This transition marks a historical opportunity for creative professionals, innovators, community builders and social entrepreneurs to step up and carve out a place for themselves in this future.

A long-ish overview of some key areas that won’t be extensively covered in mainstream media follows, along with my thoughts and perspective on the underlying issues. After the jump…

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