Transforming a dark chapter of history

15th Montreal International Black Film Festival kicks off with an exclusive screening of Harriet

Harriet, a poignant biopic of the life of Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave who helped hundreds of slaves to freedom, opened the 15th edition of the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) at the Imperial Cinema on Sept. 24.

This festival presents groundbreaking cinema that moves us, raises awareness and takes us all by surprise. The MIBFF strives to present films that take on important issues in the world, that raises questions that are provocative, that make us smile, that leave us perplexed and, at times, that even shock us,” stated Fabienne Colas, its creator, at a recent press conference.

Hundreds of guests were welcomed on the red carpet by Colas at the glitzy opening night cocktail party. Guests included Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, filmmakers Euzhan Palcy and Jean-Claude Lord, and Telefilm Canada’s newly-minted executive director, Christa Dickenson.

In her brief address, Plante emphasized the importance of the MIBFF, particularly for emerging filmmakers based in Montreal, whose talents would be overlooked because of limited access to mainstream venues to showcase their work.

Before the screening of Harriet, Colas awarded MIBFF Pioneer Awards to Palcy and Lord for their decades of work devoted to making trailblazing and impactful films that illuminated political and humanitarian issues, with inclusiveness at their core.

Palcy is a Caribbean-born filmmaker who has won both a César Award and a Silver Lion Award, and Lord is a Montreal-based legendary filmmaker. In their acceptance speeches, each provided insight into the trials they had encountered as they strove to create films that would enlighten and raise awareness.

In Harriet, Cynthia Erivo plays the leading role. The British actress is a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy Awards-winner, and now there’s buzz about an Oscar for her performance in Harriet.

As Tubman, Erivo delivered a demure, youthful, energetic and very spiritual slave who courageously fled Maryland to freedom while still in her 20s. It is evident that Tubman knows that her innate lack of fear shocks the men in her orbit, but she succeeds in using it as a tool to frustrate the authorities and slave-owners as she leads hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad network. 

Kasi Lemmons, the director, successfully transformed what is an otherwise painful and dark chapter in the history of human suffering into a tale that is inspiring, illuminating and, at times, quite jarring. Scenes depicting the brutality that slaves were subjected to by their owners are included, but Lemmons’ approach is more positive in that the focus is on Tubman’s call to action and her seemingly natural ability to inspire others. A year after gaining her freedom, Tubman returns to Maryland for her husband and discovers that he has remarried, but she quickly convinces some of her relatives and friends to follow her north to freedom instead.

John Toll, a two-time Academy Award cinematographer, provided the stunning backdrop in which Harriet shines. Artfully, he captures the scenery and the foreboding landscape and uses it to portray its threat to survival and the sheer destitution it rendered. Terence Blanchard’s enraptured score enters the scenes, almost as another character and harmoniously and seamlessly moves the narrative along. When despair appears on the horizon, the gospel tracts serve to energize the action. This team delivers an impactful, memorable, yet entertaining tale that is neither preachy nor unnecessarily overworked.

Harriet is a perfect fit for the MIBFF’s mission in that this story is told through a black lens. Notably, at its establishment in 2005, the MIBFF was named the Haitian Film Festival that featured just three films. Along the way it was renamed and this year’s program featured over 90 films from 25 countries. As an additional bonus, Q&A sessions with the members of production crews followed many of the screenings.

“Our focus now is to go beyond awareness with concrete actions that will foster inclusion and diversity, both on and off the screen,” said Colas. As part of its quest to empower the next generation of black filmmakers, several workshops were held that were moderated by a array of directors, filmmakers, and actors. In addition, Colas announced the creation of Quebecor’s Diversity on Screen scholarship to foster diversity in front and behind the camera.

Harriet, this must-see film, had its world premiere at TIFF earlier this month and will open in theatres all across Canada on Nov. 1.  For more information please consult 


Feature photo source: MIBFF


When a threesome veers off track

Honesty Rents by The Hour, a play produced by Infinitheatre, is more than just a hook-up story

The play Honesty Rents by the Hour tells the story of three mismatched strangers who meet at a seedy motel in Montreal for an anonymous threesome. Danny, a student living in the McGill ghetto, is joined by two other carnal pleasure-seekers: Chantal, a wife and mother from St-Eustache, and Pinchas, a Hasidic Jew living in Outremont.

Produced by Infinitheatre and written by Michael Milech, Honesty Rents by the Hour is  a provocative play about the complexity of human nature, relationships and identity.

“They all have comfortable lives that are filled with all the objective markers of happiness, but clearly something is missing. They want more and they have that in common with each other,” said Milech in a phone interview. “As much as they are from different backgrounds, they all have difficulty expressing their unfulfilled needs to their loved ones.”

Honesty Rents by the Hour tackles issues of sexual, religious and linguistic identities and their corresponding prejudices. According to Milech, the play raises questions about “who is our real self—the person that we show everyday, something we keep hidden, or is there any such thing as a real self?”

Faced with these difficult questions, the characters’ desire for a sexual encounter quickly starts to wane.  They strike up a conversation that helps peel away inhibitions, revealing truths previously suppressed. Chantal is cheating on her husband, who she finds boring. Pinchas is still coming to terms with his bisexuality, and his parent’s reaction to it. Danny keeps a cool facade, which hides his lack of confidence. This proves to be liberating and encourages reflection on the reasons for keeping these secrets.

About his character Danny, actor Patrick Keeler said, “Danny questions things about himself that he is uncomfortable with, things that he hasn’t dealt with fully for a long time … He thinks he’s got everything figured out.”

“I think he has to come to terms with his own shortcomings and the fact that he is not as honest as he thought he was,” Keeler added.

Honesty Rents by the Hour was featured at the 2016 Montreal Fringe Festival, where it snagged an award for best text. This is Milech’s first professionally-produced play, and features a bigger set than when it premiered at the Fringe Festival.

“Last time, it might have felt a little lighter and a bit more on the side of comedy,”  said Matt Jacobs, the play’s director. “There are still plenty of laughs, but now it’s got a real grounded feel and a realness that we were not able to reach before.”

The characters are well crafted, interesting and easy to relate to, as are the dilemmas they face.  “I really think one of the reasons this play is so strong is that we, the audience, do not necessarily relate to the characters on the outside immediately, but throughout the play each of them reveal pieces of themselves that I think are universal and really reach out in that way to many, many people,” Jacobs added.

Jacobs hopes Honesty Rents by the Hour will help the audience “look inward and consider the choices that one makes on a day-to-day basis in order to live a happy life.”

Honesty Rents by the Hour runs from March 10 to March 26 at Rialto Infinitheatre Studio. Tickets can be purchased for $17-$25.


Angélique: This is not another slave story

The play sheds light on Marie-Josèphe Angélique’s questionable conviction

Black Theatre Workshop has partnered with Tableau D’Hôte Theatre to produce the award-winning play Angélique, written by the late Lorena Gale. The play gives new life to the real and forgotten story of an 18th-century African slave who was publicly hung for starting a fire that destroyed most of New France, what we now know as Old Montreal.

Marie-Josèphe Angélique’s conviction at 29 years old was based on unreliable evidence and her guilt remains questionable. Gale’s play creates a space for us to reflect on how black people have been and are still treated by authority figures and to question the relationship between the government and the Black Lives Matter movement.

This story focuses on the last four years of Angélique’s life and the usual aspirations that young adults dream of. “I just want to show people that she was a strong and determined human being with goals and dreams, and who was sometimes nice and other times not,” said Jenny Brizard, who plays the protagonist.

“I’m not interested in telling the slave story—we know that one. So, if we’re going to dig a little bit deeper into this story, then we have to look at the people,” said Mike Payette, the play’s director. “For me, the core of this play is really the human condition and those people who are born into, or are privileged to be in a particular circumstance, and what they do with that … it becomes a human story above all.”

Payette and Mathieu Murphy-Perron are Concordia grads who, in 2005, while still students, created Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, to increase the number of Canadian writers’ works being presented on Montreal stages.

Murphy-Perron said, over the years, they had considered staging Angélique: “We knew off the bat that to do it alone would be a disservice to the production and that it would be best if we were able to pool resources with some of the other fantastic companies in town.”  He added that Black Theatre Workshop’s mission of fostering and promoting the black Canadian experience created “a seamless collaboration that has resulted in a perfect marriage of a very Canadian story and a very black story.”

The production will be the play’s Quebec premiere, and is being put on to celebrate Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Many of the cast members are Montreal natives. Gale was born in Montreal and was a highly-respected actor and director.

“There’s been a lot of conversation happening about systemic racism, and those are good conversations to be having.  We see racism in the judicial system when really it’s much deeper than that, since our institutions were built on white supremacy.  So, when we sign petitions for a parliamentary commission on systemic racism, it is important to look at its beginnings in this country, and I think Angélique does that,” Murphy-Perron said.

Angélique runs until April 2 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts.  For more information, visit


Performance art and history

Performing artist, Howard J. Davis, debuts his film, C’est Moi, based on black Canadian history

Performing artist Howard J. Davis marked his debut as a filmmaker with C’est Moi, a story based on a little-known event in black Canadian history. It is a reminder of the many forgotten incidences of racial injustices that pepper Canada’s past.

Set in 18th century New France—now known as Montreal—C’est Moi is the tale of Marie-Josèphe Angélique, a slave in her late 20s who was convicted, tortured and hung for starting a fire that ravaged what is now Old Montreal. The fire was allegedly part of her plan to escape her slave-owner, but the evidence presented at the trial was inconclusive. “The beauty of storytelling is that the audience should be left to decide,” said Davis.

Angélique is “an emblem of resilience against slavery in Canada,” said Davis. He added that a big inspiration for imagery in the film was Joan of Arc.

C’est Moi was filmed in Montreal, with dancer Jenny Brizard starring as Angélique. The music and lyrics were composed and written by Davis.

The creative process for C’est Moi began eight years earlier, in 2008, during his first year at Ryerson Theatre School, said Davis. He said the story was first performed as a dance, then in spoken word before Davis decided to make it into a film. Davis decided on cinema as the most appropriate way to tell Angélique’s story because of the intimacy this medium allows.

Unapologetic about the length of time it took him to complete this project, Davis said, “I am at such a formative stage of my career that I should be allowed to take my time, and to let things sit and see how they resonate.”

Born in Britain, and of mixed race, Davis was raised in Kelowna, B.C. and lives in Toronto. Davis said he was attracted to the performing arts at a very early age, and he can’t think of a time when he was not performing—either at home with his two sisters or while at school.  Despite the fact that neither of their parents were involved in the performing arts, Davis’ sisters are also performing artists. He added that, while growing up, he idolized British actor and comedian Sir Norman Wisdom, and was mesmerized by the films he starred in.

Davis is  a member of the Dora Award, an annual arts award in Toronto, winning ensemble for Passion Play, and also a cast member of the Dora Award for nominated play Bombay Black.  More recently, Davis was promoted on set of Downsizing and was given a speaking part. Downsizing is a soon-to-be-released film directed by Alexander Payne.

Davis said he submitted C’est Moi to several film festivals and has launched a crowdfunding website to help defray the associated costs. The trailer for C’est Moi is available at, where anyone interested in viewing the film can sign up to receive information on screening dates and locations.


A theatrical look at a refugee’s life in Canada

Teesri Duniya Theatre is making a statement with another politically charged play, The Refugee Hotel.

The Refugee Hotel is a politically charged, dark-comedy play that chronicles the experience of Chilean refugees and pays tribute to the positive influence their Canadian hosts had on their resettlement. The play was performed in English with Spanish surtitles on a screen. Put on by the Teesri Duniya Theatre, the play features four Concordia grads, including Mariana Tayler, Sally Singal, Gilda Montreal and Charles Bender.

In the aftermath of the Chilean coup d’état in 1973, Canada welcomed over 7,000 Chilean refugees. At the time, a right-wing dictatorship seized power from the democratically-elected government. The dictatorship tortured and killed those they considered dissidents and imposed severe economic control by the state, according to Paulina Abarca-Cantin, the play’s director. Canada’s offer to these reluctant immigrants was a beacon of hope that soothed their physical and emotional pain.

Abarca-Cantin said the play is based on her story, as well as Carmen Aguirre’s, the playwright. “It is her true story and it is also mine, except that Carmen arrived in Vancouver and my family arrived in Montreal,” Abarca-Cantin said.

The play takes place in Montreal during a snowy week in February 1974. The story is told from a child’s perspective, a technique used to represent the refugees’ innocence upon arrival, explained Abarca-Cantin. She said some refugees opposed the dictatorship, while others, such as teenagers, were exiled despite not having yet formed any political leanings.

The Refugee Hotel opens with a monologue by eight-year-old Manuelita (Mariana Tayler) describing the determination and courage these refugees required to adapt to their new country. Although delivered in a child-like tone, the message is loaded with wisdom that comes from the processing of childhood memories later in life as an adult.

Much of the play takes place in a hotel, where Manuelita and her family are staying. Pat Keleman (Sally Singal), the social worker overseeing their resettlement, is caring and kind, but speaks no Spanish, causing the family to misunderstand everything she says. Each day, more Chileans arrive at the hotel and they quickly bond and share details of their escape—a cathartic and helpful part of the healing process.

The Refugee Hotel tells the tale of Chilean refugees who fled to Canada after a coup d’état overturned the government in 1973.
Photo by Jean-Charles Labarre

Eventually, to everyone’s relief, Bill O’Neill (Charles Bender), a Canadian NGO activist, visits the hotel and uses his not-too-fluent Spanish skills to communicate with the refugees. Having O’Neill in their corner helps the refugees understand Canada’s commitment to helping them rebuild their lives.

“My character is an activist,” Bender said. “[He] would have sat in front of the government to try to convince it to change policies [on refugees] by showing up with placards.”  He added that O’Neill “is a free-spirited kind of guy,” who worked alongside an interfaith church and helped the refugees find jobs, apartments and furniture—unlike the bureaucrat social worker who did nothing but check the boxes on her government-issued forms.

The Refugee Hotel is ultimately about love and its power to heal,” Aguirre stated in the program notes. “It is the best way I know that I can send on a love letter to new people [refugees],” Abarca-Cantin said.

The Refugee Hotel is playing everyday except Fridays, until Nov.13 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, at 5170 Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road. Student tickets are $18.  A talk-back with the audience takes place after each performance.


Au Contraire Film Festival opens with comedic appeal

The film festival addresses the issue of mental illness through the visual medium

Stand-up comic Christophe Davidson gave a humorous and personal insight into his struggles with mental illness during his performance on the opening night of the Au Contraire Film Festival at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 25. The festival aims to change our view on mental illness.

Davidson said the first sign of his mental illness manifested itself as he was about to board a plane from Singapore to Cambodia, during a comedy tour in Southeast Asia.  He said he He said he thought that, rather than filling out the forms at security, he would do chi for about 45 minutes in front of the security guards.  He recognized his actions as a sign that he was unhinged, and returned home to seek the help he needed.  He joked that, after a year and a half in treatment, he still isn’t sure he is bipolar.  He refers to it as his, “bipolar bear,” since it can track him down from miles away come back into his life. “So right now it might be miles down the Arctic tundra and maybe it will find me again,” said Davidson.

A screening of the musical documentary Patient’s Rites immediately followed Davidson’s comedy routine. The film portrays the personal experience of Issa Ibrahim, its director. Ibrahim was involuntarily admitted for 20 years to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, in New York, after being found innocent by reason of insanity for the murder of his mother.  This insightful and informative film offers an armchair view into Ibrahim’s world as he struggled with mental illness, and attests to the healing power of art as a form of therapy.  In the film, Ibrahim describes himself as “a psychiatric survivor.”

He wrote the lyrics and composed the music for the film. In the opening scene, Ibrahim sings a song that contains catchy but jarring lyrics, accompanied by guitar.  This song gives the audience insight into his state of mind.

Songs and monologues move the story along, while the images show Ibrahim using the various forms of art expression he learned while hospitalized, to help him to understand his illness and to his crime of killing his mother.  Ibrahim then embarks on the long process of taking control of his life.

Patient’s Rites concludes on a positive note with Ibrahim stating his determination to continue to create and use his art as a therapy for mental illness.

After the screening, an informative Q&A session with Davidson and Ibrahim took place with Dr. Karl Looper, chief of the department of psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital, and Dr. Harvey Giesbrecht, a psychoanalyst, as moderators. A reception followed.

This opening gala was a benefit for the Donald Berman Up House, which provides support to people suffering from mental illness.


Battered: Jealousy, violence, love and redemption

In this new play by Arthur Holden, characters both suffer from and enact violence

Battered, a play focusing on the acts of aggression that occur when jealousy seeps into a relationship, opens Oct. 18. I sat down with Arthur Holden, playwright, and Diana Fajrajsl, director, to discuss how it came together.

This two-act play revolves around two couples. In the opening scene, Bobby Lyons (Brett Watson) and his girlfriend Filo (Gitanjali Jain) are angry at each other and it is soon revealed that Filo’s broken arm was an undesired consequence of their latest confrontation. A judge orders Lyons to get anger management counseling, and he starts his treatment with Eleanor (Susan Glover), a psychiatrist.  However, Eleanor is also facing issues with her lover, Frederick (Shawn Campbell).  Throughout the play, Holden said, everyone commits acts of violence but are also its victims. In spite of this, hints of redemption as the play’s central theme are detectable.

Holden said the play’s title represents the various ways in which people commit acts of aggression against each other. “There are times when we do things physically to each other that we shouldn’t do, never intending to cause damage,” he said. According to Holden, aggression can manifest itself emotionally or psychologically, sometimes deliberately or accidentally, even by simple gestures. “People can [also] say things to one another that leave no physical scars, but that change relationships and personalities forever,” he said.

At first glance, it would appear the story is sourced from the ongoing social discourse about violence against women, particularly those that occur in romantic relationships and marriages. However, Holden revealed that the play started out with basing two characters off of his friends, who are actors. Then, he came up with scenes that captured their performance styles.  Holden explained as the play developed, he decided to add another couple and, again, these characters were based on people he knew. “I was really writing for people, rather than about an issue and, as I wrote, I realized that I had a subject that I liked—guilt and violence are things that matter to me.”

According to Holden, Battered does not seek to deliver a message on violence.  “Along the way, I realized that I was writing about something that has political significance—most stories do ultimately … but I like plays that raise questions more than provide answers.”

Fajrajsl said since this is a newly-released play, it was important for her, as the director, to be as mindful and faithful to the author as possible, and not give the audience a sort of pre-digested meal. She said in preparation for this directing role, she read On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz to help enhance her understanding of the difference between the emotionally-charged forms of aggression that humans display, and the instinctual aggression that manifests in animals. “The actors I am pretty much leaving alone since they actually know more about their characters than I do because they did about three workshops of the play,” said Fajrajsl.  Battered was part of Infinitheatre’s 2014 Pipeline series, where the public was invited to offer feedback on the play.

Battered opens on Tuesday Oct. 18 and runs until Nov. 6 at the Rialto Infinite Studio, 5711 ave. du Parc. Student tickets are $20.


Opéra de Montréal: the 2016-2017 season

The Wall, Don Giovanni, Dialogues des Carmelites and more are coming to Montreal

The Opéra de Montréal announced the lineup of its 2016-2017 season at the pressroom of the Olympic stadium on March 3. The list of performances includes Aida, Don Giovanni, Dialogues des Carmelites and La Bohème, but it was the announcement of a new operatic adaptation of The Wall by Roger Waters, a founding member of Pink Floyd, that really had people talking.

Roger Waters spoke at the Opéra de Montréal’s upcoming season announcement on March 3. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

This new piece, entitled Another Brick in the Wall – the Opera, will be part of the celebrations marking Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Waters, representatives of Opéra de Montréal and Montreal’s 375th Anniversary Committee were present at the announcement.

Waters said he wrote The Wall because of an unpleasant situation that occurred at the OdM 40 years ago that involved him spitting in the face of a spectator who appeared on stage during a Pink Floyd performance. Waters explained he spat because he perceived that the audience was not really listening to the music and lacked appreciation. He admitted to being a little fuzzy about the precise details of the event, but mused that at his age his memory shouldn’t be trusted anyway. However, he said creating The Wall certainly helped him move on “from the enmity of spitting in someone’s face towards a position where love becomes more important than that enmity.”

Waters said he was initially dismissive when he was first presented with the project because most symphonic versions of rock music he had heard sounded disastrous. “They [usually] stick slavishly to the melody,” he said, which is why he has consistently rejected all requests for commercial presentations of The Wall.

Waters said he had not really been involved in the development of the project so far. Composer Julien Bilodeau has been given complete creative freedom over the music, which he said is a dream come true, but Waters remains the librettist—the words are his.

Another Brick in the Wall – the Opera will be presented next March and will feature an all-Canadian cast.

Michel Beaulac, the OdM’s artistic director, described the season’s lineup as an operatic journey spanning two centuries of music, which includes several classical works. He explained that traditionally the Opéra de Montréal launches and ends each season with popular operas that he referred to as “blockbusters.” Those would be Aida in September, a grandiose, yet tragic tale of love and betrayal that is set in politically unstable Egypt; and La Bohème in May, a tale of love, youthful dreams and illusions.

Waters has created an operatic adaptation of The Wall that will be shown in the 2016-2017 season. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Beaulac said he is completely committed to casting Canadian artists as much as possible and that 80 per cent of this season’s casts are Canadian. He added that young Canadians who have taken off in the operatic world across the globe would play most of the roles in Don Giovanni. “I chose that work because I could put together all those young artists who are great ambassadors for both Montreal and for Canada,” he said.

Beaulac pointed out that staging Don Giovanni and Dialogues des Carmelites provided excellent opportunities to showcase Canadian operatic talent. He said he had deliberately included the latter opera with Montrealer Serge Denoncourt in mind because he is such a talented stage director and, “it is one of [Denoncourt’s] fetish operas—he is completely overtaken by the story.”

Beaulac remarked that planning an opera is not easy, but it is important to have the best artist for each role. This means that in addition to possessing the right singing voice, they have to look the part and be able to act the role convincingly. He said he never schedules an opera until he has succeeded in attracting the artists he wants for each role.


Subscriptions for the season or single tickets can be purchased at the box office at Place des Arts or at The Opéra de Montréal offers a special rate of $25 for front row seats for all their productions to all students under 30.


History and geography converge at the Côte-Saint-Luc Library

The library is now hosting two exhibits by David Chandler and Stanley Sklar.

This is the last week to see two separate exhibits linked by themes of geography and history at the Côte-Saint-Luc Library. These displays are produced by two local residents—an antique map collector David Chandler and an artist Stanley Sklar.

The 1760 map was published in a British periodical, London Magazine, just a month after the surrender of Montreal in September 1760. The slightly exaggerated inset view of Montreal shows how it was more or less impossible to defend the city since it was on a hill inside the fortifications. Many of the streets remain much the same today. Photos courtesy of David Chandler and Stanley Sklar.

Antique Maps from the Holy Land to New France, by David Chandler, offers a unique opportunity to examine original limited-edition maps. This exhibit features 56 maps and is divided into two parts: 17 maps feature the Holy Land and its surrounding area, and the remaining maps portray early North American and Montreal geography.

The 1815 map by John Melish is historical (not contemporary to the date published) and from a military atlas. It is interesting since it also shows the region around Montreal but the actual Old Montreal map dates from 1760. Photos courtesy of David Chandler and Stanley Sklar.

A helpful catalogue is available that offers valuable pointers that illuminate the information the maps contain. The maps are beautiful to look at and it is easy to appreciate the dedication and patience cartographers expended in producing them.

“I am a visual person,” said Chandler, a retired high school teacher whose love for maps began in childhood while living in the Maritimes. Chandler mentioned he started collecting antique maps in the early 1980s, and now owns thousands. “To see the big picture you need a paper map,” he said.

Chandler explained that the cartographers of antique maps usually never visited the areas they drew. Instead, they relied on reports from travellers and ship captains and used existing maps, along with a good measure of their imagination.

My attention was drawn to the La terra de Hochelaga map, which was created by an Italian cartographer in the 16th century when “[Cartier] went back home and nobody in France gave a sweet damn about him coming to New France, not even the king … and he could not get published at all,” said Chandler. The map was eventually published in an Italian book and shows Mont Real as the location for Mount Royal.

Chandler pointed out that some antique maps were deliberately embellished when they were created, referring to the Cartes du Lacs du Canada map as an example. He said it is suspected that the explorer, Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, “realized that he had not named anything after his benefactors back in France … so he created four or five little islands in Lake Superior that can be seen in the map of 1744.” Chandler said because cartographers copied from one another, these islands remained on maps until the early 19th century.

Blue House (25.5″x30.5″x12.5″). Photos courtesy of David Chandler and Stanley Sklar.

The exhibit can be viewed in the Community Art Space section of the library until Jan. 31.

Stanley Sklar’s art exhibit offers another dimension on the theme of history and geography that is guaranteed to evoke memories of home. This exhibit contains miniature replicas of buildings such as houses, famous restaurants, a food stall and a synagogue that are transformed by Sklar’s meticulous attention to the details he added to each scene.

Sklar, an award-winning designer of women’s eveningwear, studied draping at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where he discovered “working on a mannequin with fabric and pinning, creating and shaping—that was my love,” said Sklar. In retirement, Sklar combined this passion with his skills as a designer and a creator to develop a new artistic expression that is three-dimensional.  

Schwartz’s (20’x17’x9′). Photos courtesy of David Chandler and Stanley Sklar.

The fusion of the many little details that come together in the miniatures make the pleasure the occupants derive from their living space almost palpable to the viewer, while the busy scenes communicate the existing community spirit.

To transform these structures into homes Sklar said he replicated what he saw and took a multitude of pictures. In addition, he said he also spent time at the sites observing life in the neighbourhoods.

The homes displayed are encased in clear boxes and can be purchased. The exhibit is located in the fiction section of the library and will continue until an end date is announced.
The Côte-Saint-Luc library is located at 5851 Cavendish Boul.


Discover the details of a beloved writer’s life

The Pointe-à-Callière Museum is hosting Investigating Agatha Christie until April 17

Agatha Christie’s first visit to Montreal happened in 1922 as part of a world tour she did with her first husband, Archibald Christie, and now she is back in town. Get to know her at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, where visitors can discover the many unknown aspects of her life that informed her literary process.  

Learn more about the inspirations, passions and reality of Christie’s life.

The Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit opened in Montreal in early December and marks the 125th anniversary of her birth. Christie is the British author and creator of sleuth characters such as Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Many of her 66 mysteries, six novels, 150 short stories, 18 plays and two memoirs inspired films and television series. Christie has a way of mixing banal, everyday life events with mystery and intrigue by way of relatable characters who happen to be skilled detectives.

Although Christie died in 1976, the exhibit is designed for visitors to experience the tour in her company, almost as if she was holding the visitor by the hand. To create this experience, curator Élisabeth Monast Moreau had to listen to over 15 hours of recordings Christie made during her later years while working on her autobiography. Moreau described this process as similar to spending that time with Christie, which is made precious by the fact that Christie was known to be quite reserved and rarely gave interviews. Moreau described her as a very down to earth, yet practical, a woman who felt that she had to contribute something to the world. Even Christie’s own voice can be heard throughout the exhibit using strategically placed headphones.

In a May 2012 interview with The Guardian, Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, described her as a “fiercely private” recluse—very little about her private life had been available to the public until now. The Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit reveals Christie’s love for travel and her willingness to embrace the different cultures she encountered, but most importantly it reveals her deep passion for archeology and the key role she played in the discovery and preservation of ancient artifacts found in Mesopotamia, even though she was not an archeologist.

Christie was involved in archeological digs and some claim she was the most prolific as a writer during those years of her life.

The exhibit is meant to encourage Christie readers’ further appreciation of her work by revealing literary inspirations and to encourage those who haven’t picked up her work to do so, said Moreau. “For years, the museum wanted to present an exhibition that mixed Christie’s work with archeology, because … this part of her life experience is not known as [well as] her novels,” said Moreau.

In fact, Christie spent close to 30 years on her husband’s archeological digs in Iraq and Syria, where she worked as an active member of his team.

Moreau shared that the 320 items on display are the result of a collaborative effort between the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, John Mallowan, Christie’s nephew, and Prichard. Objects displayed include first editions of Christie’s books, letters and postcards she sent from Canada and a model of the Orient Express she took to Mesopotamia, and later made famous through her work.

The second floor of the exhibit offers a focus on Christie’s activities while on archeological digs and contains many priceless artifacts on loan from the collaborating museums. Of note are the head of a deity that was excavated by Mallowan in 1938, Christie’s cameras and her 1937 Remington typewriter, items of clothing that belonged to Christie and Mallowan, a relief of Nefertiti and Akhnaton and a headdress and necklace made of gold and lapis lazuli. There are also photographs, taken by Christie, of ancient sites and treasures that modern audiences can no longer enjoy as they have recently been destroyed by Daesh.

Exhibit goers can listen to Christie’s voice describe everything from preparations for her ventures into dig sites to her explaining the process of developing photographs in the sweltering heat. Although it appears that Christie was kept busy while at the dig sites, she was most prolific as a writer during these years, according to Moreau. But Christie was known to have fun too; through the headphones, she describes a workman’s foot race she organized to mark the end of the dig season at Tell Arpachiyah, in Syria, in 1933.

Moreau said that working with Prichard on this exhibition was “like a dream, because … [he wants people] to get to know his grandmother and her work.” She added that he attended the exhibit’s opening and said that he was left speechless.

Before visiting the exhibit myself, I reread a few of her short stories to get a reminder of her literary style, rather than drawing from the movie and T.V. adaptations of her work that so readily come to mind. Visiting the Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit truly enhanced my appreciation for her work.


The exhibit continues at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History Complex until April 17. Student tickets are $13. Every day at 1:30 p.m., the museum offers guided tours in English free of charge.


Spiritual growth depicted in photography

Justin Kingsley’s photography exhibit, Georges & Guy, explores two individuals and their passion for karate

The Georges & Guy photography exhibit by Justin Kingsley portrays the intimate relationship that exists between two friends who are passionate about karate.

Justin Kingsley captures two individuals practicing “katas.” Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

Georges St-Pierre is a mixed martial artist and former Welterweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Guy Guindon, a Saint Sulpice priest and a karate master, has practiced this sport with St-Pierre for many years.

Karate is traditionally linked to fighting and self-defense. However, the photographs and videos featured in the exhibit focus on the metaphysical aspect of this sport. To attain and maintain the required mental conditioning, self-discipline and humility, karate artists are required to practice “katas.” This word is used to describe the patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs, on a regular basis.

Exploring a metaphysical aspect of karate through photographs. Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

According to information contained in the exhibit’s pamphlet, when St-Pierre informed Kingsley that he would be meeting Guindon at the Saint Sulpice Seminary later on one day to practice katas, the photographer said, “a priest, a church, two black belts, a few katas and a makeshift dojo instead of catacombs. I had to be there.”  So he grabbed his Leica M6 camera and joined them. “I relied on the same photographic tools I’ve known for years and not an ounce of digital technology,” he said. This included using only the lighting that was available.

The exhibit starts with several videos that show the two friends practicing katas. They stand straight, eyes closed, appearing to work through a mental preparation before performing the movements. They proceed to discuss them and consult their kata workbook.

Kingsley captures authentic, even sacred, moments with the use of natural lighting. Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

The photographs show St-Pierre and Guindon dressed in black-belted white karate suits in a dusty gym with mouldy damaged walls, floor tiles that belong in history and low-tech fitness equipment. The images Kingsley has captured emanate a feeling that the space had been transformed into a “dojo,” a sacred space where martial arts are practiced.

The first of the 17 photographs is of a punching bag held together with masking tape juxtaposed with a crucifix nailed to the wall. This clearly establishes a sacred tone to the whole event and suggests a link between location and the tenets of the sport. The remaining photographs show the master and student either in action as they work through the katas or in repose. The last, entitled “Fleurdelisé,” is of a tattoo on the back of St-Pierre’s shin that playfully puts a Quebec stamp on the exhibit.

The images are appealing and command both attention and interest because they look real, not staged. Kingsley’s use of natural lighting and his focus on the décor and furnishings of the room create a calm, peaceful aura. His choices of captions that have sacred connotations reinforce the overarching theme of personal, physical and spiritual development.
The George & Guy exhibit runs until Dec. 18 at the Phi Centre, 407 St. Pierre St. in Old Montreal. Entrance is free.


Stories of the Northwest Territories

Akpik Theatre presents Tumit, a northern Indigenous play performed in English and French

Tumit, a northern Indigenous play that combines memory, poetry and traditional storytelling as a means of dealing with the curve balls life can throw your way, opened on Friday. This is the first northern play that was inspired, written, translated and performed by Indigenous women to be presented in Montreal in both English and French.

Reneltta Arluk both wrote Tumit and stars as Sarah in the English role. Photo by JProcktor Photography & Chris Randle Photography.

“Tumit,” the Inuktitut word for tracks, is used as a powerful metaphor in this one-woman play to signal both the geographical location of the action as well as the path Sarah, the main character, takes as she struggles with life. She is a woman in her thirties living in the Northwest Territories who discovers she is pregnant after having kicked her husband out. She is broke and has to move out of the apartment. While packing for the move she reflects on the different cycles of her life and gains a serenity that fortifies her determination to confront the challenges she faces.

Tumit was written by Reneltta Arluk, who lives in the Northwest Territories. She said that the inspiration came “from the gut”—a need to tell northern Indigenous stories to a wide audience. “We are a small population on a large land mass, and I think our stories should be shared with each other, with other people … Our young people’s voices are important,” said Arluk. She added that although the story could belong to any woman anywhere, it is the manner in which Sarah deals with the situation that makes it a unique northern story. For Arluk, Tumit “offers an opportunity for communities to come together … it’s a way to show and share.”

Jessica Abdullah considers directing this play as a social experiment, in that the actors used the same script in two languages. She added that while the performances are distinctly different, the actors came up with similar elements for their character development without her guidance, which she attributes to a successful French translation. “It was crazy at times, to be going from one [language] to the next, but fascinating,” said Abdullah. She mused that the play evokes a motif of perfection, but Sarah’s tracks show that accepting life as it unravels, “warts and all,” makes us stronger.

Arluk assumes the role of Sarah in English, while Emilie Monnet, a French-speaking Montrealer and Indigenous woman, plays this character in French.

Although the action takes place in the apartment, an interesting mix of recorded sounds and music track Sarah’s life. A soft, haunting music filled with bird song recalls her childhood when she accompanied her grandparents as they followed the tracks of rabbits out on the ice. Pieces of popular music situate her as a young adult and the Indigenous voices heard throughout the play stamp its location.

After Friday’s performance in English, Arluk shared her culture by offering a tasting of bannock—an Indigenous flat bread—that was served with stew.

Tumit is produced by Akpik Theatre, which develops and produces northern Indigenous stories. Performances continue until Nov. 21 at Mainline Theatre, 3998 St. Laurent Blvd. Student tickets are $20 and can be purchased at

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