Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 2

So happy that I could take in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival last weekend – ten minutes from where I live.  What a treat.    I saw six movies in 36 hours.  My butt is sore and my eyes are burning but it was an interesting weekend.  Something good about every one of them.


How to sum this one up?  A crazy road trip with a 15 year old dope smoking teenage girl who is going blind and her card-shark gambling father from Winnipeg to  Churchill, Manitoba  with a stop in Flin Flon as they try to escape a couple of goons that the dad owes $100,000 and make a trek to see the Northern Lights.  When I write this down it sounds pretty weird but it works, thanks to great screenwriting and acting by  the two main characters as played by Josh Chernick and a very talented young Joey King.  It sounds like this film will be in theatres soon and although there is nothing earth shattering  about it,  it is a good Canadian story that will not disappoint. I talked to someone else after the movie who said “It all felt natural.”  Eh?

Closet Monster

I didn’t know much about this film when I decided to catch it on Sunday morning. It fit my schedule. It went right over my head that it might be about that “closet”.  And really it wasn’t just that.  I also am reluctant to call it a “coming of age” film as that just seems so trite.  The film took us into the world of a young man struggling with separated parents, education choices,  sexual discover,  adolescent friendships and homophobia without making any one of those the only challenge.   I must admit that there were a couple of scenes where the acting, editing and escalating throbbing music put my pulse up and almost made me feel frantic.  I have never been so driven by the sound in a movie before.

Like the others, it is a Canadian made movie with Canadian talent. It was shot almost entirely in Newfoundland (without any Newfie accents).  Lots of closet analogies and symbolism on many fronts.  Great natural acting, direction and a credible screenplay. It won the best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF in 2015.  The kid in the movie, when asked “Do you feel anything?” honestly replies “I don’t know”.  This kind of sums up the chore of maturing when  you are 18.  Maybe that job never ends.


Films I think you should definitely try to catch are Closet Monster, Into the Forest and Borealis.  Now where to catch them is the problem. They are not Hollywood blockbusters and I wonder where they will turn up.  It is really too bad that the movie house market is so dominated by the big name, big budget films.  Look for these Canadian-made gems and support them.



Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 1

For the past few years I have treated myself to a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), soaking up movies, lining up with other movie fans and getting the occasional glimpse of Hollywood celebrity.

I have volunteered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival for a couple of years but never set the weekend aside to enjoy it fully. This year, I have done that, buying a VIP pass that lets me in to any or all of the movies and events.

In the next two blog articles, I will give you a brief rundown of the movies I have seen.

Guantanamo’s Child

This is a thought-provoking documentary based on the Omar Kadr case – a young Canadian man whose family moved to Afghanistan when he was a boy.  He was accused of terrorism and killing an American soldier and after being wounded severely in the firefight when he threw the fatal grenade, he was taken prisoner and subsequently spent 13 years in detention, first in Bagram, Afghanistan  and later in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.  Eventually, with the persistence of an Edmonton lawyer who argued on his behalf, he was transferred into custody in Canada and later released on bail.

The movie revolves around Kadr’s telling of his story (in a remarkably calm and articulate way) and interviews with others that were somehow involved with him over his incarceration time.  It explores the horrible treatment that he and other Guantanamo prisoners have received, ostensibly at the hands of a “civilized” nation like the U.S.A., the complicit cooperation of Canadian officials, the guilt and trauma suffered by one of the American interrogation officers who, after reflecting on the trauma inflicted on Kadr as a kid has become demoralized and suffering from PTSD based on the actions he committed in the name of war.  It is interesting to see how Kadr seems to have overcome to some extent this past, or at least found a way of putting it in a place that allows him to move on, arguably with the help of many hours of psychotherapy and how this US solder is suffering much more intently from his actions and, one wonders, with what kind of support.  Both men were caught up in war and acted at the time in a way that was expected of them and perhaps natural in terms of self defence or knee-jerk response to their situations.  Kadr, a kid at the time, is incarcerated as a dangerous terrorist.  The solder was just doing his job. Who will suffer longer?


This is a western so full of clichés and so predictable in it’s dialogue and plot line that it is almost laughable.  But that is also its appeal.  It is the traditional spaghetti western, gunslingers, bad grammar, an evil land baron threatening the town, a thwarted love story, revenge, street shootout, bullets breaking bottles in the saloon and men shot off the roof and crashing through the balcony to the street below. I have seen almost the same thing acted out in ten minutes by stunt men at Universal Studios in Florida.

But this one has both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in it, along with Demi Moore and Brian Cox.  It was shot in Alberta, just outside Calgary at a town set up specifically as a movie location – CL Western Town. (you can read about this filming location here)  The movie is about to be released in Canada and apparently is doing very well on the pay-per-view circuit and will be on the Canadian iTunes store next week.

LIt was fun to have one of the producers, who went to Lasalle High School in Kingston many years ago, and a couple of the Canadian actors, including bad guy Aaron Poole, at a question and answer period after the movie.  Poole was booed as he was introduced – a response to his hard-hearted character in the movie. He loved it.

The Messenger

This is documentary focusing on the decline in songbird populations around the world.  It seemed a bit disjointed to me, many short vignettes from around the world showing the various conditions that are interfering with songbird survival – climate change, domestic cats,  noise and light pollution, insecticides.  But how to solve this?  Eradicate cats that kill 1.4 billion songbirds every year and were described as an invasive species introduced by man and equivalent to Zebra Mussels? Or maybe it would be. better to wipe out mankind since it is us who is disrupting the balances of nature.  Given time we may do that ourselves.If you are interested in this topic the movie also has a good website with lots of resources associated with this film at


Into the Forest

This was an engaging and at times disturbing movie about two young women facing an apocalypic scenario somewhere on the west coast of North America in the near future.  It reminded me of other survival films like Gravity or The Martian or even Night of the Living Dead but for me it was much more effective and realistic and because of that i could relate to the challenges and was never quite sure how it was going to turn out.  Also great to see the two protagonists being resourceful yet vulnerable young women – played admirably by Ellen Page and  Evan Rachel Wood.  I was not quite on the edge of my seat but found myself totally immersed in this struggle and definitely leaning forward on my chair. I would much prefer this movie to some of the big blockbusters with CGI and a more fantastical basis.  This one was believable.

I can’t seem to find a trailer for this movie.  This is pretty cool. No warning about what is in the film.  So no spoilers from me either.  Here is a still of the two main characters. Sisters caught in an apocalypse.


Stay tuned for Part 2.



Promoting energy efficient cooking in Kenya

I write this at a research station in Mbita, Kenya, a town on the shore of Lake Victoria. It is Sunday morning. There is a rhythmical, repetitive, almost mesmerizing sound of people singing in an evangelical church across the fence. Two eagles that live in the area are calling to each other and periodically gliding along the shoreline looking for fish. It is sunny and warm.

 img_9438For the past week, I have been travelling with a group of 20 friends of the CanAssist African Relief Trust, visiting schools and communities that have benefited from the infrastructure support we have provided to allow them to live more comfortably — latrines, water tanks, classrooms. We have already visited several rural schools. We have taken them textbooks and teachers manuals, each school having advised us of their requirements and preferences. CanAssist received money from the Limestone chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and members of South Gate Church in Hamilton to accomplish this. By the time our expedition is done, we will have distributed more than $4,000 worth of books to schools. We also have taken sports uniforms sent by Kingston United, the Kingston Clippers and Kingston Impact and have purchased two soccer balls for each school. The students and teachers have been most appreciative of these gifts. Books are at a premium and beyond the reach of many. Balls used to play soccer are often made of plastic bags tied tightly into a ball.

Last week we visited Kamin Oningo, a fishing community across the bay, where we have recently funded construction of toilets, a bathing facility and hand washing area where previously there was none.

  School officials in the community have been reporting to us that they were having difficulty covering the cost of firewood required to heat the weekly lunch provided at the school that has been generously funded by Kingstonian Gabriella Zamojski and her family for the past year. The school has been using an open fire to cook rice and beans for 150 students as part of the weekly lunch. Initially, community members were bringing in firewood but, in the region, wood is becoming scarce. This meant that the school had to spend about 500 shillings ($7 Cdn) for fuel for each lunch, a significant cost that reduced the amount of money available to buy food.

Gabriella and her daughter, Marcia O’Brien, decided to look into fuel-efficient stoves, and after doing some research they found an institutional wood-burning cookstove with a closed burning chamber to control loss of heat that will quickly cook up beans, rice and vegetables. She encouraged her friends to support the purchase of one of these stoves through CanAssist, and the school installed it two weeks ago. Our travel group joined the students at the school for their lunch last week, having the same beans and rice that the kids eat. The beans were so good we were asking for the recipe. With this new stove, the food cooks much quicker and uses about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the amount of wood to make the lunch as compared to the open fire.

  But Gabriella didn’t stop there. Realizing that the scarcity of firewood also affected households in the community, she explored solar units that would require no fuel at all, other than the energy from the equatorial sunshine. She brought four instructors from a nearby city, and for two days they showed the community how each solar unit could cook food for up to eight to 15 people in about two to four hours without other fuel. Men and women turned out in droves to see this process. They witnessed the preparation of raw fish and vegetables and even a cake cooked in the sun, and 150 people were served with meals completely prepared with the solar cookers. At the end of the demonstration time, 21 families were given solar ovens, fuel-efficient cookers and water pasteurization units for their homes. The hope is that this group can instruct others in the area how to use the equipment and that many will want to adopt this way of cooking for at least some of their needs. Eventually, a community microfinance program will be set up to help families purchase the units.

In addition to cooking for their own families, homemakers could bake bread, cakes and meals in their solar cookers that could be sold and serve as a source of income. We wonder, as well, if the smaller, simple solar cooker units could be made locally and sold.

Our expedition continues for another week. Every day we have satisfying, engaging interactions with different communities and schools as we wind our way through Kenya and Uganda. Each visit has a different focus, but the great joy we have in meeting our associates is something that pervades our safari.

 This article appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday February 17, 2016.


Safari 2016.  Part 11. Winding up.

On the last two days of our safari we visited yet another two schools in Uganda,  the Kyabazaala Elementary School near Kayunga and Hope for Youth, near Mukono.  We experienced a torrential rain at the Kyabazaala School which slightly cut short our outdoor festivities but had us huddle with a gaggle of students, teachers and parents in a classroom under the tin roof.  A memorable downpour of fellowship and much appreciated water to fill the water tanks.  At Hope for Youth, we received the usual warm welcome and lots of hugs.  What a delight to see some of the kids I have known for about 7 years.  Some of the fellows who danced for me at age 8 are now 16 and in secondary school.  We remembered each other and relished the short time we had to visit once again.  And I promised that I will return.  

We cut the ribbon on a wonderful teachers’ accommodation building which will also have a health/first aid room.  Thanks to the Green           , the Sasamat foundation and to the benefactors who attended a fundraising dinner in Nanaimo last February for making this possible.

It was fitting that the last musical entertainment we had from students (we had a lot over the two weeks) was a blessing from them to us.  We all left East Africa feeling truly blessed by the opportunity to visit that we had with ten very different associate communities and are safely home – jet-lagged, adjusting to winter temperatures but hearts warm from our safari to spend time with our global family.



Safari 2016. Part 10.  Vibrant colours at Busagazi School, Uganda

We were not deterred by bumpy roads to the Busagazi School on an island in Lake Victoria between Jinja and Kampala, Uganda.  We had to alight from the truck and walk the final kilometer or so up a dusty red road to the school site.  In the last few months we constructed two classrooms at this school where only one existed before… to serve about 600 students.  Since we came on board to help, another Croatian organization has also constructed classrooms.  We were warmly  greeted by the community even though our visit coincided with a school holiday.  An enjoyable day, all in all, drenched in colour and joyful community celebration.




We signed an MOU at the school to provide 48 desks for the new classrooms.



Safari 2016  Part 9 Mbita District

CanAssist has several projects past and present in the Mbita, Kenya and Rusinga Island area on the shores of Lake Victoria. We visited three schools there – Kanyala Little Stars,  Hope School and the Kaswanga Girls Secondary School.  At each visit we received a warm welcome, thanks for the help we have given them and the anticipation of ongoing connection.


Students at Kanyala Little Stars


Calssrooms at Kanyala Little Stars that were funded by CanAssist in 2015


CanAssist building at Hope School


student at Hope School reads frome one of the books brought bt CanAssist.


CanAssist trustees, Judith and John , relive scool days at one of the desks recently built by CanAssist for Hope School.




Nancy Grew takes in the view of Homa Bay on our hike up to Kaswanga Girls School. Nancy is blogging about our expedition at Grew’s News 3



CanAssist funded water storage twnks at Kaswanga School in 2105 and this year will work on improving sanitwtion at the school by building new latrines.

Safari 2016    Part 8. Ramula district.

Near the town of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya, CanAssist has been working to provide infrastructure improvements to two schools – St. Catherine Early Childhood Development Centre (150 students) and the Ramula Secondary School ( 100 students). We received rousing welcomes at both schools. Last year at this time the St Catherine School yard was an empty field. It has been amazing to see the growth.  For Ramula Secondary, we provided much needed water tanks that have been very much appreciated. 

St Catherine School is a 30 minute hike into the valley.



This is the “kitchen” at Ramula Secondary School where lunch is prepared for 100 students. CanAssist plans to soon upgrade this kitchen.


Safari 2016  Part 7. Kamin Oningo beach community – learning about fuel-saving cooking

CanAssist has helped this fishing beach community to improve their sanitation with construction of latrines, a bathing building and hand washing station.  In conjunction with our visit to this village, Gabriella Zamojski has arranged to distribute some solar cookers and fuel saving stoves to some of the community who turned out in droves to see how these works and get a delicious, nutritious meal totally prepared using solar heat. 


Food was prepared in the morning, set out in the solar cookers amd by 1 full meals were ready to be eaten.



In addition to the solar cooking units for the community, Gabrella also facilitated the purchase of a fuel- efficient wood burning “rocket” stove for the S.P. Geddes school though CanAssist. The school reports that food cooks more quickly and with about 10% of the fuel compared to the open fire they were using before.

 Safari 2016 in Photos. Part 6. The Stewart Geddes School

I have been excited to introduce my family to the S.P. Geddes School in Osiri Villlage, Kenya and have them meet little S.P. who was named after my late father who generously supported the school through CanAssist as it was beginning. I also was delighted to introduce the school to Dad’s great granddaughter, Maddy. Here are some photos of the visit.

On the ferry from Mbita to Lwanda Kotieno


A musical greeting as we arrive at the S.P. Geddes school



i know Dad would be delighted that my brother Bob, his wife Lynne, his granddaughter Jenn and great granddaugher , Maddy were all able to join me in a visit to the school that bears his name.



Maddy and little. S.P. enjoying lunch ag the school. Asante Hugh Langley for the photo.