Wednesday 30 April 2014

METAL MACHINE MUSIC ON LITHIUM: Greg Klymkiw's Full Report on the Jim Jarmusch Opera TESLA IN NEW YORK

Here's an excerpt from my Full Report in "Electric Sheep Magazine" on the World Premiere of the Jim Jarmusch and Phil Kline work-in-progress, the opera entitled TESLA IN NEW YORK:

‘Music,’ says Jarmusch after the performance, ‘is the most beautiful form of artistic expression and I sincerely believe film is the most closely related artistic form to music. It’s why I make movies, but it’s also why I feel the need to make opera.’

To say that music is often the driving force behind Jarmusch’s cinematic visuals, if not their very heart and soul, might well be an understatement. Can anyone imagine Eszter Balint in Stranger Than Paradise dragging her luggage through the monochrome warzone of New York without Screamin’ Jay Hawkins intoning his crazed seductive yelps of ‘I Put A Spell on You’, or for that matter as the film’s Greek Chorus of ennui and passion?

‘Music’, Jarmusch elaborates, ‘is my guide into the greater world through the medium of film. There were many places I’d never visited and wanted to get to know because of the music that came from them. The music of New Orleans and Memphis, for example, are what led me to eventually make films like Down by Law and Mystery Train. As for Tesla in New York, I know New York intimately, but I’m hoping the opera will allow me, through fact, fancy and imagination, to get to know Tesla’s New York.’

Music and made-in-Winnipeg-cinema have always nestled cosily under the fluffy blankets of glorious warmth and forgetfulness. To wit: earlier in the evening, while grabbing a smoke outside the Centennial Concert Hall in the -40 climes, I spied Guy Maddin, surely one of cinema’s great working film artists. He was scuttling maniacally up the granite front steps, strewn with sand to prevent icy tumbles, hurtling himself into the balmy ticket vestibule. I sucked back the remainder of my bâton de cancer filled ever so generously with tax-free all-Natural Native Tobacco I secured earlier that day on a nearby reservation populated by my entrepreneurial Aboriginal Brothers. I then made my way to greet the esteemed Mr Maddin who was waiting patiently in line at the ‘Will Call’ wicket...

You can read the full article in my column: "Colonial Report on Cinema from the Dominion of Canada" at ELECTRIC SHEEP MAGAZINE (UK) - a deviant view of cinema. Click on the handy link HERE.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

SURVIVAL LESSONS: THE GREG KLYMKIW STORY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - It's CANADA FILM DAY and what better way to celebrate than with a limited time FREE FREE FREE screening of Ryan McKenna's documentary about ME and the early days of Winnipeg Film with the likes of Guy Maddin, John Paizs, George Toles and sooooooooo many more. Read my review about the movie about ME and then try and tell me it's not worth seeing. The best part is that until May 3, 2013 the screening is FREE FREE FREE on Vimeo.

GUY MADDIN on his Longtime Producer GREG KLYMKIW:
"As roommates, occasional nude sightings are inevitable.
One day I spied Greggy sleeping naked, his posterior facing me.
He looked like one of those cute clubbed baby seals."
Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story (2013) ****
Dir. Ryan McKenna
Starring: Greg Klymkiw, Guy Maddin, George Toles, Bruce Duggan, Tracy Traeger, Dave Barber, Matthew Rankin, Patrick Lowe

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's a grey day in Toronto. What other days can there be in the capitol of Canadian pole-up-the-ass presbyterianism? The camera focuses in tight on the scowling face of a moustachioed, chain-smoking misanthrope in a dog park. Someone off-camera interrupts his interview to compliment him on his off-camera dog. "Yeah," he mutters under his breath. "Really nice dog I have here. Come a little closer and she'll take your fuckin' stupid hand off."

This is Greg Klymkiw - film producer, writer and long-time senior creative consultant at Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre - and he's the subject of Ryan McKenna's one-hour documentary about the early days of Winnipeg's prairie post-modernist new wave of indigenous, independent cinema. Blending interviews with the man himself, friends, colleagues and a generous supply of film clips and archival footage, McKenna presents a funny, unbridled portrait of the curmudgeonly film obsessed pioneer of indie production in the middle of nowhere - Winnipeg.

The movie follows Klymkiw's life as a North End lad who alternated between programming rep cinemas, buying films for small town movie theatres, writing uncompromising (and according to screenwriter George Toles, "incendiary") film reviews, conceiving, producing and starring in the perverse community cable cult hit "Survival", producing all the great early films of Guy Maddin and John Paizs and last, but not least, creating an entire mythology around the films being made in Winnipeg as the Director of Distribution and Marketing for the Winnipeg Film Group wherein he masterminded a marketing campaign to bring the films of Winnipeg to the entire world.

Okay, I'm sure you've gathered I'm reviewing a movie that's about, uh, me. It's a strange thing to do, but I have to admit that even though it is about me, I can genuinely attest to its quality, entertainment value and the filmmaking prowess of the talented young director Ryan McKenna who insanely decided I was worthy of my own documentary portrait.

When I first saw the finished product, to say I was delighted and flattered is an understatement. However, I needed to know myself, if the movie was really any good. So, I girded my loins and applied every single element of critical analysis that I'd volley mercilessly upon the shitloads of films I had to mentor at the Canadian Film Centre over thirteen years. The results of this stripping-away of my biases were, I'm happy to report, successful enough to be able to proclaim that, yes indeed, it's a fucking terrific little movie - especially for anyone interested in making independent, indigenous films in the middle of the second armpit of Canada (the first smelly, hairy armpit being Regina).

The real proof in the pudding for me was watching the film with a few audiences. Good deal here. Big laughs were had by all, pretty much from beginning to end.

The most important thing to note, though, is that Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story is playing within the context of a film festival co-presented by SPUR, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival and the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque as part of the ongoing series entitled "Forgotten Winnipeg". The film fits the thematic elements of this event like a glove. We're essentially dealing with a biographical portrait that wallows in the mythology of a guy (me) who loves mythology so much that he spends most of his professional life as someone who creates mythologies of all kinds and is finally a proponent of the famous credo John Ford proclaimed loudly and clearly at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the truth becomes legend, what do you ultimately print. The legend or the truth?

The legend, of course.

You never let the truth get in the way of telling a good story. McKenna expertly plays with this throughout and as such, creates a pretty indelible portrait of friendship, mutual love for cinema, the absurd and finally, the realties of actually making and marketing movies that nobody cares about - until, of course, someone creates an atmosphere of "must-see" that lays down a fluffy, inviting blanket for all to dive into with relish and anticipation.

So, if you're in the mood to celebrate Canada Film Day, you could do a lot worse than seeing this FREE.

"Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story" is FREE for a limited time until May 3, 2014 over at Vimeo in celebration of Canada Film Day. The free streaming link is HERE

A great selection of early Guy Maddin, many of which that I produced and were written by George Toles, can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon:

BLANK CITY and other works from the Winnipeg Film Group, SPUR and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival's "Forgotten Winnipeg" Series in January can be accessed here:

Monday 28 April 2014

UKRAINE AND WOMEN at HOT DOCS 2014 - Part One and Two Bundled Together Just For You. Reviews of Two Film Corner Hot Docs 2014 MUST-SEE Movies - By Greg Klymkiw of the two best films about Ukraine at #HotDocs14: LOVE ME and UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL - PLUS below, find two special surprise bonus pieces. One is FOR UKRAINIANS (and non-Ukrainians) visiting Toronto for the HOT DOCS film festival who want to experience Ukraine in Canada and another piece (mostly) FOR UKRAINIANS ONLY.


Beyond the myriad of films focusing upon Ukraine that are screening in the Toronto Hot Docs 2014 International Festival of Documentary Cinema, the past few years have yielded a ludicrous number of pictures training their lens upon the beleaguered nation. For all intents and purposes, Ukraine has always remained a colonized entity, even in its years of "freedom" since the fall of communism. With the recent and miraculous revolution in Kyiv's Maidan and the subsequent assault upon Ukraine's borders by Russia, the country's most powerful enemy (and frankly, the greatest threat to all of Eastern Europe), one can only imagine the floodgates opening full throttle on Ukraine-centred docs. My hope, however, is that two of the very best films to focus on Ukraine, Love Me, by Jonathon Narducci and Ukraine is Not a Brothel, by Kitty Green, stay first and foremost ahead of what is, and will be, an over-crowded pack.

Love Me (2014) ****
Dir. Jonathon Narducci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The world of mail-order brides is the focus of Jonathon Narducci's thorough and affecting film. Using the online dating service "A Foreign Affair" as the door into this world, Love Me focuses upon five men (3 schlubs, 2 not-so-much) who dump thousands upon thousands of dollars on the company's services. From membership fees to per-transaction fees for the online aspect of the service to the actual whirlwind guided tours to Ukraine, Narducci expertly wends his way through a massive amount of material and subjects, but does so with impeccable skill and movie-making savvy.

The company is run by a real-life married couple (the fella's American, the lady's his Russian "mail-order" bride) and it surely looks like a license to print money with all the come-hither ads of scrumptious young Ukrainian ladies beckoning Western fellas to marry them. And in case anyone has any doubt prior to gazing at the swimsuit photos of these Babunya-to-be, let's never forget the Beatles' immortal lines from the song "Back in the U.S.S.R." which clearly declares:

"Those Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind…"

Well, in the case of a few of the Ukrainian gals the movie focuses upon, they literally leave the West behind since a great many of these braided-ladies adorned in veenoks-masquerading-as-devil-horns are clearly looking for Western men to come over, dump wads of dough on them, then dump the guys when things get way too serious. Yes, it's a scam, but given the poverty in Ukraine as well as the country's backwards patriarchy, I couldn't actually blame these ladies as they scored scads of greenbacks from mostly middle-aged, paunchy Mama's Boys from North America.

One of the men is from Australia and the manner in which he gets taken for a ride is so ludicrous (on his part) that it's almost laughable. Not that Narducci is ever unfairly slanting his POV to engender feelings of mockery and/or derision at these men (and the old Aussie in particular). His camera rolls from a perfectly positioned fencepost and captures the obvious that seems beyond the purview of the fellas.

The woman who takes the Oz-dweller for a ride is, in every shot, so clearly bored, contemptuous, disgusted and borderline hateful towards him, you keep saying to yourself, "Uh, mate, are you really that blind?" When she has to hug or kiss him, she's in total recoil-mode. In a horrific sequence where they actually get married, her utterance of the matrimonial vows might as well be, "Well, let's toss another kubassa on the barbie." However, when our mate from Down Under eventually reveals, long after the wedding and not hearing from her for months after she stays in Ukraine, that he's a trifle concerned that the marriage has never been consummated, I can't say I felt at all sorry for him. Then again, I've seen first-hand the horrific conditions many Ukrainian women live in over there, the exploitation and lack of regard for them as human, so perhaps I'm a tad biased when well-to-do old men from the Western World get soaked. My only response was, "Well, let's chalk up another win for Ukrainian women."

I do, however, place a bit too much emphasis on the scam-aspect of the mail-order business, though, because Narducci also features a couple of prominent examples where the service provided by "A Foreign Affair" actually works. Chemistry and luck play a humungous part in the process and this, frankly, is how it works out in real life anyway. Using "A Foreign Affair", however, can speed up the luck and chemistry thing by presenting an atmosphere for romance to blossom. One couple seem genuinely suited to each other and though there might be a bit more "convenience" going on for both parties than deep love, there's certainly compatibility taking front seat and for now, in terms of what we experience within the context of the film, the new hubby and wife look like they're going to be happy - at least for awhile.

The highlight of the film, though, is a genuine Prince Charming and Cinderella romance which is so tender, so sweet, so moving, that it feels like it has Hollywood chick-flick written all over it. The gent is handsome, well-to-do, good-humoured and intelligent. The lady is his female counterpart in all these things. One sequence has her visiting the Lavra (a kind of Orthodox Vatican in Kyiv) to offer blessings and prayers of thanks to God when it is clear she's on her way to a new life in American with a man she really loves. It's so damn moving, I know at least one Ukrainian film critic from Canada who squirted geysers of tears.

I suspect there might be a few others who will also shed a few pickle-barrels full of tears and they don't necessarily have to be Ukrainian, nor film critics.




are you a moron?
this is not a Uke word

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2014) ****
Dir. Kitty Green Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preamble 1 - The Bug
So there we were in "the Old Country". Upon entering a nondescript government office building in Kyiv, my wife and I both required immediate use of the, uh, facilities. I spotted the Men's washroom at once, its door adorned with the telltale Cyrillic letter pronounced "Ch" for "Choloveek" (Man), but I couldn't see where the women's washroom was. I asked Sasha, our fixer-translator-driver (don't go to Ukraine without one) the whereabouts of the ladies' "convenience". He pointed down the hallway. "When you get to end, turn right," he said in slightly broken English, then laughed and added, "Look for bug." I guffawed heartily in response. It's a good, old fashioned joke amongst Ukrainian men. The Cyrillic letter emblazoned upon the doors of female water closets represents the Ukrainian word "zheenka". Pronounced "zh", the word's first letter, printed or hand-written, does indeed look like a bug. Most tellingly, the word "zheenka" not only means "woman", but is in fact the word used for "wife". They are, essentially, one and the same. If you're married or otherwise significantly-othered, your wife is your woman. Yes, in a virulently patriarchal society and culture, women in Ukraine, at least in abbreviation, are little more than bugs - to be squashed, of course, as Sasha's "look for bug" joke suggested. "This is my woman," you would say whilst introducing someone to your wife if, in fact, you bothered to introduce your "bug" at all.

Preamble 2 - Sexual Slavery
Ukraine's sex industry since the collapse of Communism was huge. Brothels and strip clubs filled (and continue to fill) every city. All of it is run by gangsters (or, if you will, most government officials). The sex slavery business, as first identified in Victor Malarek's seminal book "The Natashas" was, during most of the 90s and early 2000s, especially prevalent in snatching its victims from Ukraine. Poverty runs rampant and women are often looked upon as property. During those dark days, we personally observed the especially horrific sex slave underground running out of the nation's orphanages where pimps and their vans, the windows painted black in the rear holding areas, would wait daily for the latest teenage girls being officially released into a world of poverty. As they'd stagger, stunned and terrified, into a brave new world, the pimps would herd them into the vans and off they'd go - sold into sex slavery the world over.

Preamble 3 - Femen
This, then, is the world that inspired "Femen", one of the most influential performance art and activist movements in the world. "Femen" gained fame and notoriety for their protests in public places. This clutch of gorgeous, young Ukrainian women, a la Russia's "Pussy Riot", but somehow far bolder and decidedly feminist in their approach, would show up in places often tied to Ukraine's patriarchy (the bell tower at Kyiv's Orthodox Vatican-styled ancient city, The Lavra, for instance) and tear their clothes off and nakedly, brazenly, bare their breasts in the name of Ukrainian womanhood to declare, first and foremost, that Ukraine is NOT a brothel.

The Film - Kitty Green's brave, inspiring and ultimately shocking film Ukraine is Not a Brothel feels, for its first half, like a fun and freewheeling look at these cool, young Ukrainian women with a profoundly pro-female-empowerment message. Opening with the ballistic missile fire of Boney M's "(Rah, Rah) Rasputin" and the aforementioned breast-baring protest shenanigans, Green's got us hooked (line and sinker) into the rhyme, reason and rhythm of this delectable bevy of "Ukraine Girls (to borrow from the Beatles) who leave the West behind." For much of its running time, the picture's as fun, fresh and provocative as one would expect - nay, demand, of any movie entitled Ukraine is Not a Brothel.

This is a beautifully shot and finely observed film that takes us behind the scenes as the women prepare for their protests, then follows them to a variety of said protests, covers the savage responses of both the public and authorities and is finally, chockfull of insightful interviews dolloped throughout, zeroing in on these clearly very intelligent and vibrant young women.

The politics and feminism are freewheeling and fun, but as the movie progresses, danger does lurk behind every corner. Protest patriarchy in a patriarchal (and frankly corrupt, if not downright criminal) society, trouble is sure to follow, especially as demonstrated upon discovering the horrific tale of Femen's protest field trip to Belarus where the ladies are stripped naked and shoved into a forest on the border of Ukraine - forced at gunpoint to march their way back to their homeland.

Where the film begins to shock - yes, at least for me - is with the introduction of a genuinely malevolent force behind the Femen movement. There are hints throughout, to be sure, but we tend to file them under, "Yeah, let's ignore this and have fun with the lassies instead." Once the noxious influence is revealed in its full and grotesquely foul form, we begin to realize that something is a tad rotten in the state of the birthplace of Kyivan-Rus. What's revealed to us (as it was, ultimately to Green as she was making the film), seems diabolically nefarious. The activities of Femen become infused with the sort of foul patriarchal manipulations that began to remind me of the horrendous discoveries I was making in Ukraine during my own sojourns. What's revealed as the motivating force behind the feminist performance artists feels like the very thing designed to keep women in their place in Ukraine.

Once we come face to face with a Rasputin-like evil (no more "rah, rah"), Ukraine is Not a Brothel becomes sickeningly creepy. This, of course, is what makes for great drama and great cinema - when the bed of roses is growing from within a fetid fertilizer of rank manipulation.

In spite of this surprising element, director Green, girds all her resolve and plunges forward, taking her exploration of these women well beyond the unexpected creep factor. Finally, she sticks to the women with a loyalty that can ONLY come from building enough trust in her subjects that she can begin to ask EXTREMELY tough questions.

The answers the Femen ladies provide are full of self reflection, self analysis and the sort of intelligence we first fell for - in spite of what we discover about them a little past the halfway point. If anything, the film is almost perfectly structured to mirror the actual events that transpired in chronological order. The film transforms, quite miraculously and once we become aware of it. we're cascaded along with the kind of magic that's not only unique to the form of documentary, but organically inherent in cinema at its most profound levels. Green's film is, finally, as much an exploration for us, as it is for its filmmaker and most profoundly, for the brilliant young women of Femen.

Ukraine is currently on the precipice of disaster or glory. If Green's film proves anything (and believe me, it proves a whole LOT), it especially suggests that Ukraine's future MUST include both women and youth. The old shackles of patriarchy need to be shaken free and if anything, it's women who might well be the force necessary to maintain Ukraine's freedom in the face of the greatest threat to the nation's sovereignty.

Shevchenko's Kateryna
No beguiling Mona Lisa smile
One of the most profound artistic symbols of Ukraine is the astonishing work by the legendary visual artist and great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. "Kateryna" is probably the closest Ukrainian equivalent to the mysterious "Mona Lisa" in terms of its artistry, cultural significance to Ukraine and overall impact in terms of capturing a sense of Ukrainian womanhood. There is, however, no beguiling "Mona Lisa" smile, but a sense of almost complacent sorrow in the subject's face. She is front and centre, barefoot upon the rich earth of Ukraine and bookended by two masculine entities - a dashing soldier riding off to war and the stay-at-home lout, smoking, drinking and ogling her lazily in repose. Painted in 1842, this is the image that has endured - perhaps more significantly than any other work of Ukrainian visual art, save perhaps for the quiet impressionism of Olexandr Murashko and his notable 1911 "Annunciation" portrait which presents a young woman cast as the angel Gabriel, telling yet another about the birth of Christ.

In both these seminal works, Ukrainian women are either flanked by patriarchs, or indeed, represent patriarchal elements of Christianity. In contrast to this, the performance art as activism of Femen might well be the future of art and its place as a weapon, the final blow, if you will, against Ukraine's patriarchal dominance that keeps, not only its women at bay, but by extension, its youth, its very future.

Murashko's Annunciation, Shevechenko's Kateryna
Patriarchy all consuming: Imbuing the spirit,
surrounding the body of Ukrainian womanhood

In this sense, both the film and subjects of Ukraine is Not a Brothel, via the commitment and artistry of the movie's director, indeed seeks, I think, to prove that Ukraine is not ONLY not a brothel, but a country as a state of being rooted in its real power. Ukraine, personified as matriarchal, rather than patriarchal, is possibly the key to its future survival. As such, the country must not be bought and sold, but will need, in order to stave off the horse trading at every level, the kind of commitment and political will to change all that might only come via very concerted efforts to reflect upon what the goals must be and how to achieve them beyond all shackles, beyond all influence, save for that which comes from within.



These are a few Ukrainian points of interest in Toronto. Alas, most of them are located on the west end of Toronto and are best accessed by car. If you are a filmmaker or other guest of the festival, insist that HOT DOCS let a bunch of you pile into official Hot Docs vehicles (and in Ukrainian tradition, with jars of open liquor - for you, not the drivers) and take you all over the city for these delectables. I also recommend you buy an extra suitcase to pack it with a care package of Ukrainian Food to take back with you to wherever you're coming from (unless you're coming from Ukraine). Here then are a few joints worth considering:

1. Fresh and Tasty
99 Advance Rd, Toronto, ON M8Z 2S6
(416) 234-8063

This joint is owned by relatively recent Uke immigrants from Western Ukraine. They love it when you speak Uke to them. If you don't speak Uke, they DO speak English. They have the most amazing delectables at their meat counter. Your best bets are:

Ternopilska Kubassa: Cherry smoked, garlic overload, only the finest and freshest meat, innards and fat of pig.

Bukovynska Kubassa: Tangy, garlic-infused kubassa,

Kishka: This is the non-Jewish Uke kishka. Nobody in Toronto makes it as well. It's ALMOST as good as my Babunia's. Crushed garlic, mashed buckwheat and, of course, only the finest and freshest Blood of Pig.

Real Ukrainian Halvah in plastic containers on top of meat counter made from sunflower and honey.

The best fucking sweet cheese crepes known to man.

Real Ukrainian potato pancakes (in the Jewish parlance, latkes)

2. Future Bakery (NOT the ho-hum joint near the Bloor Cinema, though it'll do in a pinch), but rather the main store at:

106 North Queen, Etobicoke, ON M8Z 2E2
(416) 231-1491

Fucking unbelievable selection of Uke breads and baked goods,
small or humungous tubs of real Uke Sour Cream,
homemade borscht in jars

3. Starsky - 2040 Dundas Street East (just east of HWY 427

Okay, they're Polish, but we won't hold this against them.
This is a humungous big box supermarket with every conceivable
Eastern European food product known to man - Polish, Uke, Russian

4. Astra Deli - 238 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6S 3B4
(416) 763-1093, near Runnymede Station

Smaller version of stuff available at the above, but it's specialty is
HOT FOODS for takeout.

5. KOOTA OOMA - 42 The Queensway Toronto, Ontario Canada M8Z 1N7
Great Ukrainian Kids Bookstore which also has pysanky supplies
to make your very own Uke Easter Eggs.

6. Ukrainian National Federation = 145 Evans Ave #210, Toronto, ON M8Z 5X8
The insane organization my family were founding members of. Hard to say if the Toronto version is worth visiting these days. If there are events scheduled, this could be fun. They have a bar inside and you can juice it up with Ukrainians. They have Ukrainian Saturday School and Ukrainian Dancing, but I suspect these will be of absolutely no use to you.

7. There are a shitload of Uke churches in the west end, but I can't imagine they'll be of interest, though the cathedral on Queen West and Bellwoods is kinda nice. Also, every one of these churches sells freshly prepared varenyky (perogies/pyrohy) prepared by old Uke ladies. Alas, they only sell them on Wednesdays, so you are possibly S.O.L. on this one.

8. St. Vladimir Institute -
620 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5S
(416) 923-3318

Kind of a smaller version of the Ukrainian National Federation, but mostly a residence for Ukrainian U of T students. Still, they sometimes have events, a great Uke library and if head honcho Lida is around, she heads up a lot of the cultural stuff there, so she might be worth meeting. I shot Zabava there, a vile short drama I wrote and directed (with GOVERNMENT MONEY from the Ontario Media Development Corporation) about young Ukrainian men being fucking pigs. I'm not sure I've ever been forgiven for this.

9. Baby Point Catering and Hall
343 Jane St, north of the Jane Street TTC station. (416) 767- 2623

Have a humungous Ukrainian meal catered for you and your Hot Docs pals. If Hot Docs is too cheap to send someone to pick up the food and bring it to your hotel, send a cab driver down there.

Just give them a call and ask for Ivanka or Petro or send an e-mail to

Your best bets are the Pyrohy (get with potato and kapusta), Cabbage rolls, Knyshi, Patychky, Nalesnyky, Lots of Kapusta, Buckets of Mushroom Gravy and the Beef Roll-ups with pickle and bacon.

Here's the Baby Point Menu:

Well, even if you don't make it out to any of these, save this guide for your next trip to Hot Docs or TIFF.

And now, a little something for my UKRAINIAN brothers and sisters:

Taras Bulba (1962) *****
dir. J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

“Do not put your faith in a Pole.
Put your faith in your sword and your sword in the Pole!”

Thus spake Taras Bulba – Cossack Chief!
(As played in 1962 by Yul Brynner, ‘natch!)

These days, there are so few truly momentous events for lovers of fine cinema and, frankly, even fewer such momentous events for those of the Ukrainian persuasion. However, film lovers and Ukrainians both have something to celebrate. Especially Ukrainians.

The recent events in Ukraine involving the revolution against Russia are indicative of the events celebrated in the Fox/MGM DVD release of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba is (and will be), without question, as momentous an occasion in the lives of Ukrainians the world over as the execution of Saddam Hussein must have been to the entire Bush family of Texas.

As a pig-fat-eating Cossack-lover, I recall my own virgin helping (at the ripe age of four) of Taras Bulba with my family at the late lamented North Main Drive-Inn Theatre in the sleepy winter city of Winnipeg. Being situated in the ‘Peg’s North End (on the decidedly wrong side of the tracks), everyone of the Ukrainian persuasion was crammed into this drive-inn theatre when Taras Bulba unspooled there for the first time.

A veritable zabava-like atmosphere overtook this huge lot of gravel and speaker posts. (A zabava is a party where Ukrainians place a passionate emphasis on drinking, dining and dancing until they all puke.) Men wore their scalp locks proudly whilst women paraded their braided-hair saucily. Children brandished their plastic sabers pretending to butcher marauding Russians, Turks, Mongols and, of course, as per Gogol's great book, Poles.

Those adults of the superior sex wore baggy pants (held up proudly by the brightly coloured pois) and red boots whilst the weaker sex sported ornately patterned dresses and multi-coloured ribbons in their braided hair.

All were smartly adorned in embroidered white shirts.

Enormous chubs of kovbassa and kishka (all prepared with the finest fat, innards and blood of swine) along with Viking-hefty jugs of home-brew were passed around with wild abandon. Hunchbacked old Babas boiled cabbage-filled varenyky (perogies) over open fires and slopped them straight from the vats of scalding hot water into the slavering mouths of those who required a bit of roughage to go with their swine and rotgut. I fondly recall one of my aunties doling out huge loaves of dark rye bread with vats of salo (salted pig-fat and garlic) and studynets (jellied boiled head of pig with garlic) and pickled eggs for those who had already dined at home and required a mere appetizer.

One might say, it was a carnival-like atmosphere, or, if you will, a true Cossack-style chow-down and juice-up.

However, when the lights above the huge silver screen dimmed, the venerable North Main Drive-Inn Theatre transformed reverently into something resembling the hallowed Saint Vladimir and Olga Cathedral during a Stations of the Cross procession or a panachyda (deferential song/dirge/prayers for the dead) at Korban's Funeral Chapel.

Everyone sat quietly in their cars and glued their Ukrainian eyeballs to the screen as Franz Waxman’s exquisitely romantic and alternately boisterous musical score (rooted firmly in the tradition of Ukrainian folk music) thundered over the opening credits which were emblazoned upon a variety of Technicolor tapestries depicting stars Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis in the garb of Ukraine’s mighty warriors of the steppes.

This screening and the overwhelming feelings infused in those who were there could only be described as an epiphany. Like me (and ultimately, my kind), I can only assume there wasn’t a single Ukrainian alive who didn’t then seek each and every opportunity after their respective virgin screenings to partake – again and again and yet again – in the staggering and overwhelming cinematic splendour that is – and can only be – Taras Bulba.

All this having been said, barbaric garlic-sausage-eating Ukrainian heathen are not the only people who can enjoy this movie. Anyone – and I mean ANYONE – who loves a rousing, astoundingly entertaining, old-fashioned and action-packed costume epic will positively delight in this work of magnificence.

The source material for this terrific picture is the short novel Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol, a young Ukrainian writer of Cossack stock who is often considered the father of Russian fiction. He was a contemporary of Pushkin and the two of them were both friends and leaders of the Russian literary scene in St. Petersburg over 150 years ago. Prior to writing Taras Bulba, Gogol (this is the popular Russified version of his name which, in the original Ukrainian would actually be Hohol) dabbled in narrative poetry, held some teaching positions and worked in the Russian bureaucracy.

Gogol’s early fictional works were short satirical stories steeped in the rural roots of his Ukrainian Cossack background. Evenings On A Farm Near The Village of Dykanka (Vechera Na Khutore Blyz Dykanky) was full of magic and folklore in the rustic, yet somewhat mystical world of simple peasants and Cossacks. The material is, even today, refreshing – sardonically funny, yet oddly sentimental. It even made for an excellent cinematic adaptation in Alexander Rou’s early 60s feature made at the famed Gorky Studios and a recent Ukrainian television remake starring the gorgeous pop idol Ani Lorak. Gogol’s vivid characters, sense of humour and attention to realistic detail all added up to supreme suitability for the big screen.

Taras Bulba is no different. The material is made for motion pictures. Alas, several unsatisfying versions pre-dated this 1962 rendering. Luckily, this version is the one that counts thanks to the team of legendary producer Harold Hecht (Marty, The Crimson Pirate and Sweet Smell of Success in addition to being Burt Lancaster’s producing partner), stalwart crime and action director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone) and screenwriters Waldo Salt (who would go on to write Midnight Cowboy, Serpico and Coming Home) and the veteran Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur, Down Argentine Way, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and fifty or so other scripts).

This, then, was the dream team who were finally able to put Gogol’s Taras Bulba on the silver screen where it ultimately belongs.

For Gogol, Taras Bulba (in spite of the aforementioned literary qualities attributable to his rural stories) took a decidedly different turn than anything that preceded it or followed it in his career as a writer. Bulba sprang, not only from Gogol’s Cossack roots and familiarity with the dumy (songs and ballads of the Cossacks), but interestingly enough, he was greatly inspired by the great Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, of whom he was a big fan.

This, of course, makes perfect sense since Scott’s swashbuckling adventures often dealt with Scottish pride and history at odds with the ruling powers of England. And so too with Taras Bulba.

The film (while deviating slightly from the book) maintains much of the structure, characters and spirit of Gogol’s work. It tells the story of Cossack chieftain Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) and his desire to make Ukraine free from the oppression of the ruling nation of Poland. Though the Poles subjugate Ukraine, the Cossacks are willing (for a price and booty) to fight alongside the Poles against Turkish invaders. In addition to the pecuniary rewards, the Cossacks also get to use the Poles to help fight one of their enemies. When it comes to paying allegiance to the Poles, Taras steadfastly refuses to do this and, after committing a violent act against one of the Polish generals, the Cossacks all scatter into the hills to regroup and prepare for a time when they can go to war again – but this time, against the Poles.

Secured in their respective mountain hideaways, the Cossacks bide their time. Taras raises two fine and strapping young sons, Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez). He sends his boys to Kyiv (the Russified spelling is “Kiev”) to study at the Polish Academy. The Poles wish to tame the Ukrainians, so they offer to educate them. Taras, on the other hand, orders his sons that they must study in order to learn everything they can about the Poles so that someday they can join him in battle against the Poles. At the Polish Academy, the young men learn that Poles are vicious racists who despise Ukrainians and on numerous occasions, both of them are whipped and beaten mercilessly – especially Andrei (because the Dean of the Academy believes Andrei has the greatest possibility of turning Polish and shedding his “barbaric” Ukrainian ways). A hint of Andrei’s turncoat-potential comes when he falls madly in love with Natalia (Christine Kaufmann) a Polish Nobleman’s daughter. When the Poles find out that Andrei has deflowered Natalia, they attempt to castrate him. Luckily, Andrei and Ostap hightail it back to the mountains in time to avoid this unfortunate extrication.

Even more miraculously, the Cossacks have been asked by the Poles to join them in a Holy War against the infidel in the Middle East. Taras has other plans. He joins all the Cossacks together and they march against the Poles rather than with them. The battle comes to a head when the Cossacks have surrounded the Poles in the walled city of Dubno. Taras gets the evil idea to simply let the Poles starve to death rather than charge the city. Soon, Dubno is wracked with starvation, cannibalism and the plague. Andrei, fearing for his Polish lover Natalia secretly enters the city and is soon faced with a very tragic decision – join the Poles against the Cossacks or go back to his father and let Natalia die.

Thanks to a great script and superb direction, this movie really barrels along head first. The battle sequences are stunningly directed and it’s truly amazing to see fully costumed armies comprised of hundreds and even thousands of extras (rather than today’s CGI armies). The romance is suitably syrupy – accompanied by Vaseline smeared iris shots and the humour as robust and full-bodied as one would expect from a movie about Cossacks. Franz Waxman’s score is absolutely out of this world, especially the “Ride to Dubno” (AKA “Ride of the Cossacks”) theme. The music carries the movie with incredible force and power – so much so that even cinema composing God Bernard Herrmann jealously proclaimed it as “the score of a lifetime”.

The movie’s two central performances are outstanding. Though Jack Palance (an actual Ukrainian from Cossack stock) turned the role down, he was replaced with Yul Brynner who, with his Siberian looks and Slavic-Asian countenance seems now to be the only actor who could have played Taras Bulba. Tony Curtis also makes for a fine figure of a Cossack. This strapping leading man of Hungarian-Jewish stock attacks the role with the kind of boyish vigour that one also cannot imagine anyone else playing Andrei (though at one point, Burt Lancaster had considered taking the role for himself since it was his company through Hecht that developed the property). The supporting roles are played by stalwart character actors like Sam Wanamaker as the one Cossack who gives Bulba some grief about fighting the Poles and George MacCready as the evil Polish rival of the Cossacks. Perry Lopez as Ostap is so obviously Latin that he seems a bit uncomfortable in the role of Ostap and Christine Kaufmann as Natalia is not much of an actress, but she’s so stunningly gorgeous that one can see why Curtis cheated on Janet Leigh and had a torrid open affair with Kaufmann during the shoot.

Taras Bulba is one stirring epic adventure picture. And yes, one wishes it took the darker paths that the original book ventured down, but it still manages to have a dollop of tragedy wending its way through this tale of warring fathers and their disobedient sons. And yes, as a Ukrainian, I do wish all the great Cossack songs had NOT been translated into English – especially since Yul Brynner would have been more than up to singing them in the original language. But these are minor quibbles. It’s a first rate, old-fashioned studio epic – big, sprawling, brawling and beautiful.

It’s definitely the cinematic equivalent of one fine coil of garlic sausage. So rip off a chub or two and slurp back the glory of Ukraine.


Here's the astounding "Ride to Dubno" sequence from TARAS BULBA with Franz Waxman's stunning score:

And strictly for listening pleasure, here's Franz Waxman's great "Ride to Dubno" theme from TARAS BULBA:

Sunday 27 April 2014

PINE RIDGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - The Hearts and Minds that soar above Wounded Knee - Blend of Direct Cinema with poetic dollops of Cinéma vérité, explores daily life of the Oglala Lakota Nation.

Ceremonial Dance in Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge (2013) *****
Dir. Anna Eborn

Review By Greg Klymkiw

South Dakota Dreaming
In 1992 I found myself travelling through South Dakota during the opening weekend of Michael Apted's Thunderheart, a fictional rendering of Incident at Oglala, his feature documentary released the same year. I saw the former title in Rapid City, South Dakota which is not far from the incidents depicted in both of the Apted pictures. My wife and I were in a packed movie theatre and it seemed like we were the only non-Native-Americans present. Starring Val Kilmer and Graham Greene, it reduced the horrific events on the Oglala Reservation to little more than a glorified feature length procedural, though as such, I recall it being reasonably well made and genuinely stirring. The reaction of the audience was far more interesting.

In fact, the buzz in the auditorium was palpable and though my response to the film in retrospect is tepid at best, I do recall my visceral feelings at that specific time and place as being highly influenced by an audience reacting on very emotional levels to fictionalized events that occurred in the very backyards of those in attendance. In particular, these were the sort of events seldom tackled by Hollywood in its 100+ years of the art form's history. Native Americans suffered the stereotypes of endless westerns which painted them as bloodthirsty "savages" who impeded the goals of "civilized" Americans and on the few occasions, "positive" portraits were attempted, they were oft-infused with the stereotype of the "noble savage" and/or focused upon the "negative" aspects of contemporary North American Native life. Movies are made by what's called a dream factory and, in fact, might well be the greatest gift to artistic expression.

As Chariots of Fire, The Mission, The Killing Fields and Local Hero producer David Puttnam says in his great book "Movies and Money":

" . . . from its earliest beginnings, [film's] real magic has been its ability to conjure up and sustain the dreams of ordinary men and women . . . the human race needs those dreams now, as much as at any time in its history."
The dreams Hollywood offered the Native Peoples of North America and others who have suffered the indignities of racism, ethnocentrism and exploitation have mostly been skewed as nightmares and certainly fly in the face of Puttnam's own output as a visionary producer whose work has focused respectively (in the aforementioned titles) upon issues as diverse as anti-semitism, colonization, genocide and the corporate rape of indigenous small communities. Puttnam adds that filmmakers are charged with creating work that must live beyond the ephemeral needs of industry and contribute, in no small measure to how we all can peer into a celluloid mirror and indeed reap the benefits of artistic expression and its relationship to our own lives. The line between that which helps and that which hinders is, however, thin indeed. To quote Puttnam:

"Stories and images are among the principal means by which human society has always transmitted its values and beliefs, from generation to generation and community to community. Movies, along with all the other activities driven by stories and the images and characters that flow from them, are now at the very heart of the way we run our economies and live our lives. If we fail to use them responsibly and creatively, if we treat them simply as so many consumer industries rather than as complex cultural phenomena, then we are likely to damage irreversibly the health and vitality of our own society."
Though Puttnam acknowledges he's "not naive enough to pretend that on its own cinema can capture the very soul of significant social and cultural problems," I certainly would like to believe it can come damn close.

Pine Ridge - The Film
Watching Anna Eborn's fine documentary Pine Ridge, I'm reminded of cinema's power to capture the dreams, lives and landscape by which humanity can have a conduit into their own existence. She expertly blends two profound elements of the documentary genre and in so doing, creates both a stirring narrative and cinematic poetry of the highest order. Mostly utilizing the tenets of the Direct Cinema movement (essentially invented and developed during the "Quiet Revolution" by Quebecois filmmakers working out of the Montreal studio of Canada's National Film Board [NFB] during the 50s and 60s), Eborn's kino-eye focuses upon the lives of youthful Native Americans of the Oglala Lakota Nation living on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota.

For the most part, Eborn let's the words and actions of her subjects speak for themselves in a fly on the wall tradition, though she departs occasionally from the raw visual qualities of Direct Cinema by shooting the material with stunning compositions and often painting cinematic tapestries of the highest order. Using both natural and practical sources of light, reminiscent of the exquisite visuals of such contemporary masters as Austria's Ulrich Seidl, Finland's Pirjo Honkasalo and certainly that of Honkasalo's Finnish colleague Paul-Anders Simma (whose Olga is also screening at Hot Docs 2014 in Toronto), Eborn's flourishes could well be mistaken for misplaced sentimentality though I'd be amongst the first to vigorously disagree.

Some purists tend to quarrel with utilizing the full aesthetic beauty inherent in film, especially when applied to Direct Cinema when capturing some of the more harrowing aspects of the human condition, but I'd argue that the use of shaky-cam and raw lighting effects are just as much an imposition of the filmmaker upon their subjects as that which tends to do so with elegance. For me, there is considerable validity in bringing beauty of an impressionistic nature to bear upon lives led at what some might term as the outer fringes of our world.

Eborn seeks, right at the beginning of her film to knock us on our collective duffers by keeping us literally in the deep black of a rich ebony screen while we hear an unidentified male voice offer what seems like the thesis of her film, but also a stirring personal perspective from one of many of her film's subjects. These young people are, after all, the descendants of those who suffered the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre (300 Native Americans, including women and children, butchered by the U.S. Cavalry), as well as those who fought during the 1973 standoff in Pine Ridge to protest the horrendous policies of the American government and, lest we forget, the American government's reign of terror which pitted "Americanized" Sioux thugs against "traditional" Native Americans, resulting in over 50 unsolved murders during the mid-70s. For many of the descendants, life has not improved in spite of the blood of their ancestors and progenitors soaking the soil of Pine Ridge.

The words that greet us in black are as follows:
"Most people think we still live in tipis. Fuck, we have houses, man. It's just stupid, man. We have houses to live in. We have trailers. We have houses and trailers. You'd think about fuckin' ghettos in fuckin' L.A. and New York? Our whole fuckin' town is a big old fuckin' ghetto. I can bet you one hundred bucks, that everyone that lives on the reservation wants to get the fuck out of there, you know? No one wants to live there. Who would? We all try to grow up and make some money to get the fuck out of there, man. We pray for our people to get better, man. Everyday. Every fuckin' day, man, we try, man, but you know it's our land, you know. It's what the white people gave us. Gave us fuckin' shit, a shitty ass fuckin' spot to live in."
As the monologue ends, Eborn slams the title of the picture into our line of vision and delves into a series of wonderful fly on the wall moments - one involving a young man trying to sell a new tent to anyone who will listen as he approaches them in a gas/convenience store and the other featuring two young men hanging "Bill and Ted-like" at the same location, commenting wryly upon those who pull in and out under the harsh glare of outdoor lamps and fluorescent lights. She then segues, quite seamlessly, into a vaguely Cinéma vérité sequence (where "truth" is overtly manipulated) with m.o.s. shots of a young man in a diner as we hear his alternately sad and hopeful off-camera narration involving a recounting of all the siblings he's lost to imprisonment, death and just-plain moving away as well as his hope for a better life - one that he imagines could see him as an architect.

From here. Eborn treats us to a series of fascinating set-pieces involving a cast of youthful subjects involved in a variety of day-to-day activities including splashing about in a water hole, breaking horses whilst preparing for a rodeo, being Moms and in one sequence, using a variety of firearms supplied by an old cowpoke war veteran who teaches the boys how to hit targets. And though, the weight of Wounded Knee and Oglala loom largely, Eborn lets her subjects speak of this, if not in words, but by their actions. (We do, however, sojourn with Eborn to a Wounded Knee museum which seems impossible to ignore in such a portrait of life unfolding on the Pine Ridge Reservation.)

As per her overall mise-en-scène, Eborn continues to pull us from Cinema Direct territory to that of Cinéma vérité, focusing upon one young woman in a series of decidedly non-fly-on-the-wall interviews and a stirring ceremonial dance performed against the South Dakota Badlands by the same young lady adorned in traditional garb.

Life is what ultimately pulsates at the heart of this extraordinary film and though its subjects yearn for an existence beyond the reservation, Eborn's powerful evocation of the land's stunning natural beauty is mirrored in the light of her subjects' eyes. Moving on seems to be the only desire for some, while others look forward to assuming and/or resuming an itinerant exploration of the world beyond, but always acknowledging the pull of the reservation to bring them back to a home, grudgingly given to them with the spilling of blood. For others yet, they're as inextricably linked to a place that they know, love and detest with equal measure. On the surface, these all seem like aspects of life that might affect young people everywhere, but unlike the youth of the Pine Ridge Reservation, they're not the living, breathing remnants of a legacy of colonialism, genocide and a government indifferent to the benign apartheid of reservation life.

Pine Ridge is a film that conjures all the magic of cinema to give us several lives that could have been so much better lived and yet others, that seem very well lived indeed, but both exist in the shadow of shameful actions and events that continue to darken the doors of the colonizers and the colonized. We're reminded that answers have never come easily, nor, alas will they ever.

Pine Ridge is co-presented at Hot Docs 2014 in Toronto by the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. Tickets, playmates and showtimes are available at the Hot Docs website HERE.