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Film

Introducing The Angler: A Weekly Catch of Cultural Stuff You Don’t Want to Miss

How about Russian opera, environmental cinema, political theatre and DOXA?

By Dorothy Woodend 27 Apr 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about culture and film for The Tyee. Find her previous articles here.

Holy smokes, there’s a lot going on this week in the wonderful world of culture. In light of this fecundity, it seemed the right moment to announce The Angler, the Tyee’s new weekly arts roundup which features a selection of different film, theatre, music and art exhibitions opening in our region.

Where to start? If one has the money and the stamina, you could make an endurance event out of it, running from one thing to the next, chewing on orange slices and powering down sports drinks in some crazed rendition of 675,000 Things to do in Metro Vancouver, but that’s neither wise nor advisable. In keeping with The Tyee ethos of cool, calm, and collected action, we’ve hand-picked some of the very best in cultural offerings opening this week.

So, put on your waders, snap on a hat, and pack a sack lunch, because we are going on a fishing trip.

Sing, Comrades!

As the kids are fond of saying “In Russia, opera sings you!” And in the case of the second annual Vancouver Opera Festival, that’s actually true. The Festival soars into the stratosphere this weekend with a Russian-heavy program. The VOF’s presentation of Eugene Onegin has tapped three Russian singers to bring Tchaikovsky’s masterwork to authentic life and correct pronunciation. Konstantin Shushakov is the eponymous Eugene, while Svetlana Aksenova plays Tatyana, and Alexei Dolgov is Lensky. If you don’t know the opera well, no worries, the gorgeous music is more than enough, but text from Pushkin’s novel also adds weight and heft to the story. Resistance is futile.

Continuing the theme of Russian fatalism is The Overcoat. Familiar to Vancouver audiences from Wendy Gorling and Morris Panych’s theatrical version, James Rolfe’s operatic reworking was a hit when it premiered in Toronto. There is something about Gogol’s short story that seems to bring out the most Russian of qualities. As Dostoevsky said, “We all come out from Gogol's Overcoat" which makes it sound like a coat version of a clown car. But I digress. There is also a Russian Chamber Music Series (April 29), Requiem for a Lost Girl at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre (May 4 and 6), as well as film pairings at The Vancity Theatre. Festivities kick off on the Queen Elizabeth Plaza on Saturday April 28. For those folk who are slightly terrified of opera, be not afraid. No one will scream at you, unless you accidentally step on a soprano.

960px version of Eugene-Onegin.jpeg
Vancouver Opera’s Eugene Onegin has tapped three Russian singers to bring Tchaikovsky’s masterwork to authentic life and correct pronunciation. Photo by Emily Cooper/Vancouver Opera.

What’s up, Eco Doc?

Just when you are tempted to throw your hands in the air, and give up on the human species, along comes a film to convince you to fight on and look for the good in people. Luckily enough, there is just such a film screening April 29 at the Park Theatre in Vancouver. Director Iolande Cadrin-Rossignol’s Earth: Seen from the Heart is an environmental film right down to its swelling strings, and soaring drone shots. But there is something else at work, namely a cast of humans who are dedicated to fighting for all life on earth.

Astrophysicist Hubert Reeves provides the film’s anchoring ballast, as he sits in his garden, speculating on the origins of life, as well its possible end. The sixth great extinction is upon us, decimating entire ecosystems at an unprecedented rate, and brought about by one species alone, the terrible, awful humans.

The destruction of the world’s oceans, the evisceration of the Amazon rainforest, factory farming — you can take your pick from a bevy of horrors. The mountain of expertise annotated here is enough for at least a couple of films, but the tone is decidedly personal, even intimate. The thing that resounds is the present and the future at war. As one of the folk interviewed notes future generations will look back and marvel at the staggering stupidity and shortsightedness of this current crop of humans, who, when faced with mass extinction, merely stuck out their hands for bits of paper money.

But perhaps, the larger question hanging over everything is that of love. If we claim to love the natural world in all of its variegated abundance, why isn’t that enough to actually change human behaviour? It may sound like a rather simplistic question, and perhaps it is, but it feels irresolvable. It is also a question that many environmental films end up grappling with for better or worse. In Earth: Seen From the Heart this takes the form of interviews with different scientists talking about the wonders of the world, whether it’s bioluminescence in the deepest oceans or the vast network of life that exists on top of the rainforest canopy. Environments that we’re (collectively speaking) destroying before we even really know what’s there.

Oceanographer Edith Widder recounts her experience of being in a one-person submersible at the depth of 880 feet, and turning off her lights, only to be surrounded by a veritable sea of bioluminescent creatures, including an enormous squid that was so new it couldn’t even be placed in any known scientific family. She describes this undersea lightshow like Van Gogh’s Starry Night in three dimensions, and explains, “It breaks your heart to see the damage that is done.”

Conservationist Michel Labrecque tells a similar story of wafting over the rainforest canopy in a zeppelin with famed botanist Francis Hallé. As the scientists capture insects, Labrecque asks them if they’re excited to discover new species, and is told that they’re happy when they can actually identify specimens, as most are entirely new to science. Labrecque remembers Hallé saying, “Do you realize our kids and grandkids may never see this?”

The combination of great beauty and great sadness runs throughout the film. But as Karel Myrad, from the David Suzuki Foundation explains, it is the speed at which things are unravelling that is truly shocking. What he thought would take 30 years (the de-icing and opening of the Northwest Passage) in fact took 15 months. “That’s when I got scared,” he says.

Greed and short sightedness don’t seem sufficient to explain such incredible destruction. So, is there any answer other than the fact that humans are terrible?

Most of the information in Earth: Seen from the Heart is not new, but seeing it collected provides a certain weight and gravity. As Reeves notes, even in his small corner of the world, he has witnessed a steady decline in bird and insect life. The wild fecundity, the balletic dance of swallows, the chorus of frogs has gradually dwindled to deathly stillness.

But the film is not a eulogy for the natural world, as much as it is a reminder that the battle is still being fought. And, sometimes, it takes reaching a terrible breaking point before you can kick from the bottom and head towards the surface. Or, as philosopher Frédéric Lenoir states: “A crisis is when things cannot continue as they are.”

So, are we there yet?

Perhaps…

But as social scientist Mayer Hillman says in the Guardian: “So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

Whether it’s moral philosophy, science, biodynamic farming, or, yes, culture — the only thing to do is to work (hard) for change.

Even as politicians circle and snap like velociraptors, other folk appear to be moving on towards something better. This is also the message of Zack Embree’s film Directly Affected: Pipeline Under Pressure. If you missed the screening on Earth Day, there are added screenings on Saturday, April 28 and May 3 at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver. After watching the film, if you’re feeling sufficiently inspired, head up to Burnaby Mountain and get yourself arrested. That also counts as a cultural experience.

The Chemical Valley Project

Another different work that contends with First Nations, heavy industry, and the fight to protect this fragile and fraught land takes place at the Ignite Festival at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. In the tiny community of Aamjiwnaang, sisters Vanessa and Lindsay Gray fought a David/Goliath battle against the Canadian petrochemical industry. Broadleaf Theatre’s Kevin Matthew Wong and Julia Howman use a variety of different methods including documentary-theatre, projections design, puppetry and performance to unpack Canada’s tangled legacy of racism and environmental devastation, while the possibility of genuine reconciliation hangs in the balance. The Chemical Valley Project plays May 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Blindside

Stéphanie Morin-Robert’s one-woman show Blindside runs from April 26 to 28 at Studio 1398. Blindside is a personal and charming work that explores, among other things, what happens when dodgeball and glass eyes collide. (In a couple of words, it’s eye-popping.) All puns aside, this is a lovely show, and Morin-Robert is an easy presence onstage. I asked the show’s creator about the origins of the work, as well as her own experiences of performing it for different audiences around the world. “I try and react to things as though it's always the first time I'm experiencing them, and this approach really allows me to be as present as possible with what's actually happening in the room. When I last performed Blindside in Winnipeg, someone actually passed out during the show.”

The intimate, bodily nature of the work, does take some getting used to, as the poor soul in Winnipeg found out, but it also breaks down barriers between performer and audience. As Morin-Roberts notes, “When I first started performing the show, I would have to disconnect emotionally from some of the material. However, the more I perform it, the more comfortable I am with how vulnerable and honest the work makes me.”

Through personal anecdotes, storytelling, puppetry, and video projections Blindside retraces some of the most seminal experiences in Morin-Robert’s life, after losing an eye to cancer at the tender age of two. The darker and thornier issues are only glanced at, and after a few bouts of eyeball licking, and a wee bit of contemporary dance, the show reaches its gentle conclusion. As its creator explains, “My hope is that they [audiences] leave the theatre feeling empowered to embrace and celebrate what makes them different from the people around them.”

DOXA Documentary Film Festival

DOXA launches on Thursday, May 3 with the world premiere of Teresa Alfeld’s The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical. For those of you old enough to remember the fiery Mr. Rankin, it’s an immersion in old school Vancouver, and an object lesson in what could have been. What if developers had been gently shown the door, what if social housing had been a real priority, so many questions, so many issues. Stay tuned to The Tyee for more intensive coverage of all things documental this week.

See Saw

The Museum of Vancouver, The Museum of Anthropology, and The Audain Gallery all have ongoing exhibitions devoted to First Nations art making and culture. This is also your final opportunity to see N. Vancouver at The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, naturally. The show closes on Sunday, April 29.

There is apparently an Avengers film opening, but The Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque both have fun stuff happening this weekend, including the Vancouver premiere of Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. Fiennes previously took on Slavoj Zizek, and before that artist Anselm Keifer, so she is used to outsize things, but Grace Jones is a powerhouse of a presence that occasionally threatens to overwhelm the film itself.

The Vancity Theatre also offers a dazzling montage of movie musical numbers, all arranged and presented for your eyeball orgasm by curator Michael van den Bos. For even more oracular ravishment, skip over to the Cinematheque to partake of a new restoration of Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Director David Lynch says art is a lot like going fishing, you just have to throw a line out and see what bites. Here is a shining catch of sleek, silvery beauties — art, performance, image and activism — for your delectation.

Yipee ki-yay! Get along, little fishes.  [Tyee]

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