Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Defending Jacob and The Strangler

Defending Jacob was my first William Landay book, but not the last.

A teenage boy has been murdered in a quiet comfortable Massachusetts town outside Boston.  The stabbing sets the town on edge.  Andy Barber, the town's assistant district attorney is thrust into the investigation, but Barber himself is soon under a cloud of suspicion when his son Jacob is arrested for the murder.  Did Barber misdirect the investigation to protect his son?  Barber fervently pursues clues to exonerate his innocent son, but the outlook is very bleak.

The unfolding of the case is intermingled with courtroom events.  Throughout runs the intimate detail of the Barber family in crisis and the shifting relationships as information unfolds about both father and son.

Reading this book is like looking in a fun house mirror.  Images shift and fade, and good and evil morph into each other.  A thoroughly engrossing read.

Reading Defending Jacob whetted my appetite for another Landay book, and I chose an earlier book, The Strangler.

This is another book where evil and good shift back and forth.  At the centre of this are three totally disparate characters, the Daley brothers:  Joe the cop, Ricky the thief and Michael the lawyer.  Once again, Landay's characterization is deft and incisive; as events unfold more is revealed about these three characters.

With these strong characters in the foreground, the background is richly filled in by the mother Margaret Daley, the looming presence of Joe Senior, a policeman recently killed on the job, and family friend and Daley Senior's former partner Brendan Connor.  Which of these people are good and which are evil?  Is the answer as obvious as it looks at first?  The mystery of the Boston strangler is just the backdrop to the unfolding of character.

In a way, another character in the book is the city of Boston itself.  And it's an evil city for sure, filled with violent ambitious criminals and complicit conniving public officials.

This is another great read, and I am a confirmed William Landay fan.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Spoiler

It's not exactly the clash of two civilizations, but it is the clash of two views on journalism.  A vapid young reporter Tamara Sim is sent to interview Honor Tait, a legend of British journalism.

Tait was a pioneering war reporter who covered the big stories of the 20th century.  Franco just before he took power.  On the beach at  Normandy.  Korea.  She's seen it all, including accompanying the first troops to enter the concentration camps in Europe, an experience still haunts her.

Tait's book, a collection of some of her great stories, is about to be released, a collection of some of her best reportage.  And her publishers have overcome her desire for privacy and agreed to an interview with the Monitor newspaper.

Tamara Sim can't believe she's been selected for this interview.  And frankly neither can we.   Her speciality for the tabloids are Top Ten lists, such as Top Ten Celebrity Bad Hair Days.  Tamara has a part-time job but is always scrabbling to find freelance opportunities to make ends meet, so she sees this assignment as her big chance to move upmarket - and upstairs).

Tamara is determined to do well.  Well, not determined enough to read the provided background material, or Tait's book, which she considers a boring recital of events she knows nothing about.  (Her acquaintance with T. S. Eliot is based solely on the musical Cats, and she rather thinks the Cultural Revolution was part of the Viet Nam war).  But she is determined to discover the important stuff about Tait, namely what Hollywood celebrity she slept with.  Someone the public (and Tamara) would care about more than a boring, brittle, old woman.

The pleasure of this book rests less on a plausible plot than on biting satire about how journalism has been watered down in recent years.  Beset by economic travails brought on the Internet, papers broaden their appeal to scramble for every possible reader.  As I was reading this book, The Globe and Mail, arguably the thinking (wo)man's newspaper in Canada, had a piece on the 7 Worst Moms in TV History.  Sigh.  Maybe Tamara Sim wrote that one.  (Although she would undoubtedly have spelled it Mum rather than the American-style Mom!)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Zeikow's comments on his first MOOC

Many people to whom I've bubbled (or babbled as the case may be) about Coursera have been a bit skeptical about how seriously students would follow a course they never bothered to pay for and for which they will not get a formal credit.  Frankly, so was I.

Professor Zelikov, who taught The Modern World: Global History Since 1760, provided some information in his farewell message now that the course is over.

  • 47,000 enrolled
  • 26,000 sampled at least some part of the class.  Since there's no money exchanging hands here, it's pretty easy to enrol on a whim and then not bother to participate.
  • 13-15,000 really 'gave it a go' in Zelikov's words
    • 5,000 earned Statements of Accomplishments
    • 5,000 audited the course seriously but did not get a Statement of Accomplishment.  This group would include me.  I followed all the lectures, took some notes, took all the quizzes and got almost everything right.  But I started the course late and never caught up, so I guess my quizzes didn't count, as I didn't get a Statement of Accomplishment.
It looks as if about a third of the people who enrolled actually took the course seriously.  For a course where a student had no 'skin in the game' in terms of a registration fee, this seems like an high rate of participation.  And it suggests they were all interested in pure learning, since even a Statement of Accomplishment probably doesn't buy you anything.  Yet.  Maybe sometime soon Coursera credentials will be worth something more than self-satisfaction.

Zelikov is clearly very gratified by his own participation in the course.  He's a busy man, a dean at University of Virginia, so I'm sure this represented a huge commitment of time for him. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Secret Race

I became addicted to watching Le Tour de France many years ago, for several different reasons.

Firstly, I couldn't help being awed by the stamina, guts and athleticism of the riders.  I thought the format of the race was fascinating and demanding - the different disciplines of flat racing, sprints, time trials and stiff climbing stages means that the overall winner has to be an all-rounder, able to compete in ways that seem self-contradictory.  There's a lot of strategy involved around when to make a move, and how to conserve energy over a pounding month of competition.

And talk about guts!  These guys regularly ride with injuries.  Sometimes they seem barely able to stand off after a crash, but then off they go to catch up to the peleton, like Johnny Hoogerland last year who finished a stage after being driven into a barbed wire fence by an official car driven by a cretin.  Dripping with blood, he crossed the finish line and later required 33 stitches to repair the damage.  Perhaps the most riveting feat was Tyler Hamilton's stage win after breaking his collarbone.  Riding a bike.  Fast.  Over rough ground.  With a broken collarbone.

Secondly, I was fascinated by the team work.  The Tour looks like an individual's race, since there's only one winner, but you soon see the strategy of teams bringing their leader to the podium.  It's a great sight to see a team in a line smoothly alternating in the front position while the rest ride in their slipstream.  It's biomimicry in action: bikers as migrating geese!  It's the 'rule' that the team of the leader in the yellow jersey is responsible for leading out the peleton.  Other times, they're just resting their team leader until he can be slingshot into the lead.

But I think what most captured my heart was the sight of a leader, and indeed the whole peloton, slowing down when a contender fell or ran into a problem.  Such a tough competition, and yet there's this gentleman's agreement that you don't take advantage of a foe's misfortunes ( or even a stop for a 'besoin naturel').  In those early days, I remember the sight of Lance Armstrong waiting for Jan Ullrich, and Ullrich waiting for Armstrong.

Like many others, I saw Lance Armstrong as a hero - not just conquering Le Tour, but cancer as well.  He had the aura of a great leader with incredibly well-disciplined teams.

Then started the swirling rumours of doping, with accusations levelled at Armstrong and indeed most of the field.  At first, it seemed easy to dismiss them as applicable only to the notably 'dirty' Spanish riders.  Then, Tyler Hamilton is suspended for a couple of years, and Floyd Landis (former teammate of Lance) loses his Tour win.   As a consistent winner, Armstrong was getting tested more than any other rider - and testing clean.  So, was it just sour grapes when the French persistently pummelled him in the press for alleged doping?  I really wanted to believe he was clean.  His seven Tour wins against many others proved to have been doping made it unlikely he was clean, but then there were all those clean tests.

And then came the hero's fall.  Yes, Armstrong was doping with all the rest.  The dirty secrets of the whole cycling underworld started to unravel in public.  Tyler Hamilton's book The Secret Race tells the behind-the-scenes story of that world - the easy seduction of the racers into the drug scene, the incessant testing to stay just under the Hematocrit limit of 50 which would trigger elimination (49.5 was an ideal 'number' and coaches were constantly asking "What's your number today?"), the ease with which they evaded the testing strategies lulling them into a sense of invulnerability, and the arms race of developing new drugs and techniques as the testing agencies closed in on them.  Then there was the demonstrated futility of racing paniagua (on just bread and water - pan e agua from the Italian - without performance enhancing drugs).  And, just as Walter Isaacon's book Steve Jobs scraped the veneer off the tech idol Jobs revealing a personality more abusive than even the rumours had suggested, so this book scrapes the veneer off Armstrong's legend.  Not only did he dope, but Hamilton describes his leadership skills as founded more on fear and intimidation than on inspiration.

But Hamilton's tale also shows the incredible training - and diet - regimes these riders committed to.  I was surprised to hear that the energy output to weight ratio was such a dominant factor.  They justified to themselves that taking drugs was simply a case of levelling the playing field.  Then training and commitment were required to win.

So is Hamilton just trying to justify his own history of breaking the rules?  Is he trying to exact some vengeance on Armstrong for dropping Hamilton from his circle (which Hamilton attributes to Armstrong starting to feel Hamilton might be getting too good)? Is he trying to build a new livelihood after being booted from racing by writing a tell-all book?  Or is he truly showing readers both the heroic and dirty aspects of racing?  Hamilton comes across as an engaging character, and you feel there's a bit of all that in the book.  I think even those who are not fans of cycling and the Tour would find this a fascinating read.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lost interview with Steve Jobs

A friend pointed me to this wonderful interview with Steve Jobs from 1995.  It was recorded while he was at NeXT, probably one of the humbler periods in his life.  Great observations about computing, business, and life.  I particularly loved his criticism of process as killer:  doing it the way we did it before because "that's the way things are done".  He also points out that business isn't rocket science, but few people expend the energy to really think about things.  A variant on the quote that 'thinking is hard work which is why so few people engage in it', attributed to people ranging from Henry Ford to Immanuel Kant.

My start in technology was in the days of timesharing, programming in APL.  Every time I hear cloud computing discussed with such awe, I always chuckle, since it's timesharing by another name and timesharing is as old as the hill.  The interviewer even mentions that APL was his first computer language and it didn't change the way he thought.  Methinks he might not have 'got' APL if he didn't change the way he thought!

This interview is well worth a look.  It's an hour long, and the entirety was never aired.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Farewell to Hot Docs

The 20th edition of the Hot Docs Festival is over.   It was a dizzying ten days for me as I squeezed in 24 films.  Only one film was disappointing (Fatal Assistance) and I rated the rest of them highly. However, there wasn't one blow-away film for me, as in other years, just solid quality throughout.

It's a great experience to participate in Hot Docs.  You meet lovely people in line, or next to you in the theatre.  You're greeted by numerous helpful volunteers.  The audience gives rousing applause when the credits mention the 700+ volunteers - there's nothing perfunctory about the applause, it's really heartfelt.  You swell with pride for what has been achieved in Toronto when so many film makers praise the festival as the best in the world, primarily because of the engagement of the audience.  Even allowing for a certain amount of generous spirit because they're thrilled their films have been chosen, you can hear the deep respect in their voices.

Canadians have been leaders in documentary film making, possibly stemming from the National Film Board's pioneering work in documentaries and the respect for its many Oscar nominees and winners.  As one of the statements in the pre-film credits puts it:
As jazz is to America, so documentary is to Canada

In the Shadow of the Sun

Having just seen one movie about the inherited disorder thalassemia, Blood Relative, I then went to another movie about albinism.  Albinism, like thalassemia, occurs when a child inherits two recessive genes from parents which result in their body producing no melanin.

Being totally white in equatorial Africa makes you stand out, to say the least. And the equatorial sun is especially hard on people who suffer from sun sensitivity because of the lack of melanin.  Then there's the persecution they face being labelled as a curse or sign of bad luck, resulting in taunt, bullying and beating.

What could be worse for an albino than being considered a sign of bad luck?  Having Tanzanian witch doctors spread the myth that body parts of albinos in magic potions can bring good luck.  This leads to a rash of albino killings and mutilations.  Josephat Torner, a Tanzanian albino undertakes a 4 year journey through villages of Tanzania, delivering the message that albinos are humans just like everyone and that the witch doctor's claims are false.

In the Shadow of the Sun follows Josephat's journey and the efforts (ultimately successful) of another young boy desperate to find a school that will accept him.  The movie also shows clips of President Kikweke speaking out against the killings and beefing up the police response.  In fact, Josephat himself is almost abducted in the middle of the night from his hotel room, saved only by the timely arrival of the police as he's being pushed into a car.

This film is linked with Blood Relative by more than its subject of a genetic disorder.  Just as reliance on religion and praying to the goddess was delaying treatment for a thalassemia patient in Blood Relative, here too belief in religion by people uneducated in the true explanation behind albinism causes them great pain.  It's such a cliche to say it, but education is so important in moving toward a more humane and tolerant world.

Good movie.  Sad, but with shoots of optimism.

Blood Relative

Having recently written a glowing review of The Menstrual Man, here's another tale of an Indian man passionate about making a difference in his country.  Vinay Shetty, or Vinay Uncle as he's known to the children he's helped, has championed the cause of children with thalassemia for 15 years as leader of the Think Foundation.

Thalassemia is an inherited genetic disease which affects the blood's ability to make haemoglobin and is usually found in the Mediterranean, West Asia and North Africa.  Without treatment, children have a low life expectancy, and even those being treated have a stunted growth, looking years younger than their real age.  Those with the disease must receive regular weekly blood transfusions, leading to an iron overload in their system, which in turn must be treated with expensive iron chelation medicine.

In Mumbai, there is no shortage of blood for those transfusions.  Shetty, who attended the film and took questions in the Q&A was asked to name the greatest accomplishment of his foundation so far, and he pointed to that availability of blood.  The next big challenge is the cost of the chelation medication, even though there is a generic version of the drug manufactured in India, and that is the focus of the foundation's fund-raising.  Nevertheless, children born with thalassemia in Mumbai have a life expectancy about 15 years longer than in the rest of India.

Shetty has been working hard to get government help, and since the completion of the movie, the Indian government did announce funding for chelation therapy for those below a certain income level.  That still leaves a band of people too poor to afford chelation but not poor enough to make the cut-off, but "it's a start" says Shetty.  It seemed to me that focussing on getting government support for genetic screening would be important; such screening is not as emotionally appealing as helping specific children with medication and is harder to get donors to step up to funding.

Shetty also works hard at education and outreach.  Tradition still reigns strongly in many Indian households, and we see one mother who believes that praying to the goddess will offer her daughter better protection than chelation therapy.  Shetty works to get her on treatment and back in school.

Thalassemia Major is caused when a child inherits the thalassemia recessive gene from each of its parents.  Shetty is also pushing for testing of siblings before marriage to see if they are carriers of the recessive gene to provide genetic counselling.

I looked up thalassemia after watching this movie.   The disease is most common in  the Mediterranean, West Asia and North Africa.  Genetic counselling, early screening and detection, and subsequent treatment mean it's not a problem in the west, but it's still a much bigger issue in less developed countries like India.  The prevalence of such a genetic disease raises the question of why natural selection has not led to its disappearance.  The reason, not mentioned in the movie, is that carrying the thalassemia recessive gene (known there as having thalassemia minor) confers a degree of protection against malaria, which means that gene is being selected for.  This is rather similar to sickle-cell anemia, which also seems to confer some resistance to malaria, and one article I read said these two diseases are related.  This was all very interesting information, but did not appear in the film.  I'm sure the film was stronger because of the resistance of the temptation to include that information, which would have been a distraction from the film's focus on Shetty's efforts.

The director of this film is award-winning Canadian filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji, niece of Vinay Shetty.  So the film really was about her 'Vinay uncle'!

Great film.

Good Ol' Freda

Freda Kelly then
As a teenager, Freda Kelly became a fervent fan of a local Liverpool band known as the Beatles.  She was convinced they'd make it big - by which she meant they might get to sing on the Empire stage in Liverpool.

When Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, asked her to be the Beatles' fan club secretary, she was in 17-year-old heaven.  Self-described as naive and immature, she had a talent for organization, a passion for answering all the mail addressed to the fan club, uncompromising loyalty to the Beatles, and a deftness in evading Epstein's periodic tantrums.  She was scrupulously honest, eschewing the signature stamp and funneling pictures to be autographed to 'the boys' in their spare moments.  She rescued hair from under the barber chair for those who wanted locks of hair.  She even sent a pillow case home for George to sleep on at the request of one avid fan.  She also believed in boundaries, and there were personal questions that would never be answered and secrets to kept.

Freda Kelly now
Good Ol' Freda follows Freda as she reminisces today about those heady times, revisiting scenes from the past, such as the balcony where the Beatles greeted their delirious Liverpudlian fans at their civic reception, and sorting through old scrapbooks.  Freda never got rich with her job, as evidenced by her modest home (somewhat to the chagrin of her daughter) but she obviously cherishes fond memories of her time.  She acknowledged having crushes on the Beatles, each of them on different days, and when probed about how close her relationship was she smiles coyly and declines to answer.

There was some great music from the era in the movie, though sadly not much Beatles music - presumably rights for Beatles music was beyond the budget of documentary filmmakers.  This was a sweet film and lots of fun to see.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fatal Assistance

I'm sure there's a fascinating (albeit discouraging) story to be told about the ineffectiveness of massive international aid in Haiti's reconstruction after the earthquake.  The film Fatal Assistance is not it.

Narrated by people addressing 'my dear friend' (were these excerpts from real letters back home or were we the audience being addressed as dear friends?), the film is somewhat incoherent, rife with redundancies and irrelevancies (why was Duvalier's return included in the film without connecting it to the main theme of the story).   That previous run-on sentence is somewhat similar to the tenor of the movie.

William and the Windmill

My friends Sandy and Archie went to see William and the Windmill and contributed this review:

William and the Windmill was an excellent film - very inspiring and a tribute to human ingenuity.  The story is narrated by his mentor from the US who helps William and ultimately gets him from his small town in Malawi to high school and then Dartmouth College in the US after a drought in Malawi put his farming family into hunger and desperation, so they had to take their son out of school.

William, a teenager, was inspired to find a solution to the problems of his family and his village.  He went to the library to continue his learning and found a book about energy.  As a result, he builds a windmill in his small town using locally scrounged materials like his dad's bicycle generator and bottle caps.  Later, he goes back to his home town, and everyone is seeking his advice.  He initiates the building of a new public school because of his passion for education.

When we think about how so many grandiose plans fail, this reminds us how simple low cost solutions championed and executed by local can make such a difference to people's lives.

We particularly liked watching William's reaction to the modern outside world - fascinated but not intimidated.  The film ends when William begins college so his future is still to be seen.

We gave the film a 5/5.  An added bonus was that the film was at our local Fox theatre in the beach, part of Hot Docs effort to expand the footprint of the Festival to new parts of Toronto.  Our only disappointment was that the film makers didn't show up, so we missed having a Q&A.

Note from Lib:  William' story has its origins in the William's talk at TED Global in Arusha Tanzania in 2007.  Tom Reilly on the TED team was instrumental in getting William's book published and was the executive producer of the film.  Participant Films, always attendees at TED, were also involved.  Nice story of TED involvement in getting a story wide publicity. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Menstrual Man

If you want to bring sanitary pads to women in conservative, tradition-bound India  - and you're a man - you need a particular brand of vision, ingenuity, persistence, and guts.  A dash of charisma wouldn't hurt.  Muruganantham is such a man.  And The Menstrual Man is his story.

Innovators will tell you that the first ingredient of vision is asking the right questions.  Muruganantham asked two key questions.  Why don't Indian women use sanitary pads?  Cost was the answer.  And does it really matter if they use cloth instead?  Yes it does, because cloth is seldom washed and thoroughly dried in a sterile manner and is thus a conductor of many kinds of infection.  Furthermore, availability of truly sanitary pads might enable women to emerge from the isolation they now face during their menstrual periods.  Thus began his vision: provide sanitary pads for Indian women at a price they can afford.

Then came the ingenuity.  Muruganantham tried many ingenious approaches to the problem, testing with different materials before settling on using cellulose.  When he couldn't convince women to test his product, he personally wore a bladder full of pig blood to simulate having a menstrual period so he could test the pads himself.  He was able to lick the problem of manufacturing by designing a trio of devices, rather than one integrated machine as used in Western plants.

Muruganantham persisted over many years, before he found the solution to making acceptable pads at a third of the usual price, and also providing employment for the rural women running these machines.   He showed guts in persevering when he became an object of derision, and was treated like a pariah by even his wife and mother who both left him.

And then there's his charisma.  Uneducated and proud of it, Muruganantham is a compelling speaker, with a great sense of humour and a vibrant energy that leaps off the screen.  It's his unquenchable enthusiasm that makes this a great movie experience.

The War Room

This film about the War Room (so christened by Hillary) of Clinton's presidential election campaign in 1992 is considered a standard setter in political films.  It was filmed 20 years ago, so it's the same age as the Hot Docs Festival, and it was honoured with Cinema Eye's 2013 Legacy Award at the Festival.

Given little access to Clinton himself, the filmmakers focused on senior campaign strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos.  For me, Carville was clearly the dominant character in the film.  A brilliant strategist, intense partisan and fierce competitor,  Carville was responsible for the campaign's unrelenting focus on three key issues: "It's the economy, stupid", "Don't forget healthcare" and "Change vs more of the same".  He is originally introduced in the movie as the Ragin' Cajun and he certainly comes across more as a country bumpkin than a slick political operator.

Stephanopoulos, the boyish preppie with a head full of hair, was a wonderful contrast to Carville.  He was an acolyte at the altar of his heros Clinton and Carville.  His speech honouring Carville on the day before the election bespoke his incredible respect for the man.  And his boyish wonderment that Clinton actually made it and he had to start calling him Mr. President instead of Governor was totally endearing.

As always, the Q&A was as interesting as the film.  Most of the other filmmakers carved their films down from over 200 hours of shooting.  Shot in the days of real (or maybe reel) film, Pennebaker and Hegedus only had a total of 40 hours of film, and lived in mortal fear of being ousted from the war room if they didn't behave discreetly and more or less sink into the background.  I'm really glad they brought this film back to Hot Docs for today's audience to see.  It was great.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

In God We Trust

The Hot Docs film that has stimulated the most animated question period was the film In God We Trust about Bernie Madoff.  There were still hands waving in the audience when the Q&A was over.  Certainly, the movie helped solidify a view of Madoff as the monster depicted on this magazine cover.

In God We Trust starts with a wonderful computer graphics animation of buildings in New York, ominous music, and ultimately those graphic images show the building crumbling to the ground.

The movie was filmed from the point of view of Eleanor Squillari, Madoff's secretary of 25 years, who actively helped the investigators delve into the fraud.  She alleges she never suspected anything, and that the investigators took her innocence at face value, because she did not have much money (unlike others charged in the case, who actually carried out the mechanics of the fraud on the secretive 17th floor separated from the regular trading room of the firm).  Squillari believes that Madoff's two sons, who worked in the legit trading arm of the firm were unaware of the fraud and turned in their father as soon as he confessed to them.   One son later committed suicide and one is suffering from cancer, so not a happy family.

The most interesting part of the film is that it brought to light some potential new aspects of the case.  Investors were defrauded of about $65B by his Ponzi scheme.  But more than $170B had washed through the firm.  Is 'washed' the operative word?  The film raises questions whether the firm was primarily a massive money-laundering scheme which hooked in more investors to cloak its activities.  Was Madoff's quick confession, and avoidance of trial, an attempt to cover up the deeper crimes?

Nothing has been proved in that regard, but the movie presents some pretty suspicious facts, well articulated by Canada's own Diane Francis.  The biggest winner of the Madoff Ponzi scheme was one Jeffrey Picower: not only did he not lose money but he enjoyed returns ranging from over 100% to over 900%.  He was getting back more than he put in all along.

Picower died in 2009, as the investigation started to close in on him.  His wife told the emergency dispatchers he'd been found at the bottom of his pool.  Another person in the audience asked the question that I was burning to ask - did Picower commit suicide or was he murdered?  The directors answered that people who drowned floated.  Even more suspicious, when they tried to reach the coroner who performed the autopsy on Picower in Florida, he had disappeared without a trace.

The directors have not found distribution, and encouraged the audience to rate the film highly in the voting because that would help them.  No harm in asking!!!  And they want to raise people's awareness of the impotence of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, which should have protected the duped investors. There's a law in the US that would beef up SIPC and they want Americans to support that law - and Canadians too, since our own Canadian Investor Protection Fund harmonizes its regulations with the US.

Spring and Arnaud

This delightful film introduced me to two photographic artists I didn't know: Arnaud Maggs and Spring Hurlbut.  (It's not that they're not well known; it's that I was ignorant).

Maggs is best known for his photographs arranged in grid-like patterns.  He took many photos of people in profile, and even a series of right ears, which he then arranged in a grid.  His fancy might take him down a different path, taking photos of the tags identifying French child labourers.

Meanwhile, Spring Hurlbut was also photographing whimsical collections of such things as old iron French cribs.  Her fascination with death as well as sleep is epitomized in her photographs of the swirls of particles emanating from urns.  Started as a memorial of her father, others have asked for such photographs as memorials.

Besides awakening to their fascinating art, it unveiled a happy partnership between two people deeply in love with each other as well as their art.  Twenty six years difference in age, but a total compatibility in artistic respect and companionship.  Maggs is a hugely mischievous personality, while Hurlbut is quieter and a hesitant speaker.  They were good together.  A lovely film.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More Shorts at Hot Docs

More short films:

The Impermanence of the Ordinary
Patrick Cummins has been photographing ordinary buildings in Toronto since 1968.  His 40,000 images capture the changes in buildings he's photographed multiple times over this period.  Fascinating - encourages one to seek out Cummins' photos and to look at Toronto with a more discerning eye.  Catch the film if you can.

The War at Home
Medium good film about one Canadian solder returning from Afghanistan and fighting to cope with PTSD.  It highlights the troubles in getting help and Dupree's efforts in founding Military Minds to foster PTSD awareness.

The Barrel
Medium good film about children playing in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela near the oil rigs, and preparing for a paddling race in empty gasoline containers.  Some very nice photography and the child involved has a winning smile and a great attitude toward life.  I didn't think it delivered a well articulated 'punch line'.