Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2018 – 1

One of the things I like about film festivals is that, in addition to feature films or short films, I can see documentaries that I would otherwise not have encountered and seeing them in a theatre, rather than on a small screen from the couch at home, is much more engaging.

At the first full day of the Kingston Canadian Film Festival I included two documentaries on my schedule of four films for the day.

Both of these related to events of the 1960’s and to some these may have been historical documentaries but for me and others my generation they were reminiscences of times we lived through and remember well.

Unknown-4Expo 67: Mission Impossible was a behind the scenes look at the seemingly unachievable task of putting together a World’s Fair on two yet-to-be-constructed man made islands in the St. Lawrence River in the heart of Montreal.   It was indeed an Herculean task to build this site from the ground up at an escalating cost and with the skepticism of much of Canada outside of the province of Quebec, that it could be completed on time.  Even the computer estimates suggested a probably completion date of mid 1969… two years too late.

I enjoyed being reminded about how things were in the mid 60’s and seeing the clothing, the masses of paper in the offices, the large machines for typing computer punch cards to enter data into the grand computers run with tape input,  the ubiquitous cigarettes and cigars and pipes with smoke billowing up in meetings or at public events. And, of course, I remember, along with 55,000,000 other attendees  at Expo 67 – Man and his World – gawking in awe at the 90 pavilions , the centrepiece being  the geodesic dome designed by Brockminster Fuller  that was the U.S. pavilion with that  “modernistic” monorail running right through it and a real space capsule at the top.

The film, however, was just an historical rehash, interesting to document the events leading up to Expo and a great summary with archival footage.   It could be something that makes a 2 hour CBC special on TV.

Ninth_Floor_MovieThe documentary, Ninth Floor, that I saw this morning, however, was something special.   This film told a story of the crisis at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in 1969 when students protested lack of action by the University on charges of racism.   Now, I was a university student at UWO at that time so it was people my age making a statement and demonstrating to correct a wrong that they perceived.  Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum is a great story-teller with diverse talent as evidenced by her film Meditation Park that was shown last night as the opening film of the festival.  Ninth Hour, although a documentary, was also a very adeptly-crafted story combining present day interviews with now much older protesting students who were involved in 1969 (one of whom is now a Canadian Senator), archival montages of news coverage and film shot while the crisis was unfolding, and very cleverly-integrated film shot recently that fleshes out the story and seeming timeless.  Shum was very careful not to include elements in the recent film that would date it in any way.  Some of the images are quite beautiful and even arty but every one contributes to the story.

Ninth-FloorThe elders being interviewed (all protesters during the crisis) are wise and eloquent and intelligent and have the benefit of years of living and  a unique and personal perspective on racism in Canada.  I particularly liked the one fellow commenting  with a smile, “Canadians are racist but they apologize for it.”

I watched this film with a friend who just turned 20 and it struck me that I was his age when all of this was taking place.  I wonder if Dylan will be watching a movie (or whatever medium tells stories in 2068) that will be historically documenting  how young people who are determined to fight for a cause like the students in Florida today advocating for gun-law legislation in the U. S. or the current Black Lives Matter movement, can be the pivotal influence to make political change.  I wonder what the youth of 2068 will be having to lobby for in order to get the older generation to act on some other outrage.  Or whether racism will still be an issue.   A film like this one, looking back, causes one to think about what is happening today and wonder about the future.  Does anything really change?

I also wondered if my friend Stephen Moiko, a Kenyan who did post-graduate training at McGill experienced racism in any overt or subtle ways in Montreal five years ago.  Although Stephen and I have talked for hours about many things, we have not touched on racism in Canada.  I plan to visit Stephen and his Maasai family in April and I am going to bring this up.  Get ready, Stephen.

Screenshot 2018-03-02 17.04.08Now, you may not be lucky enough to see Ninth Floor in a theater but you are able to see the film on the National Film Board web site – free and downloadable.  I recommend it highly and if you are a certain age it will give you pause to think about how things were unfolding in Canada in 1969 and how oblivious we all were to it in many ways.   Here is the link to the entire film, available free on the NFB site.



Shum’s film, Meditation Park, opened the KCFF last night and was well-received.  Shot in Vancouver, it also has a theme that explores mixed cultures and race in a Canadian neighborhood. I found it to feel a bit disjointed and contrived but the overarching story was engaging and felt very “Canadian” even though the protagonist couple were Chinese and conversed much of the time in sub-titled Cantonese.   And who doesn’t like Don McKellar who plays their neighbor?

Father’s Day 2012

It’s Father’s Day and I want my Dad to know that I am thinking about him.

I don’t know who posted this old photo to the Internet. It was taken in the summer of 1920 on the porch of a house called Marnoch where my Dad spent many happy times as a child. I came across it quite by accident a few weeks ago. It startled me to find a photograph of my grandparents taken almost 100 years ago as I Googled the family name. I wondered, as I looked at it, what the people in the picture would think about the longevity of this family gathering photo, made even more indelible in this digital age.
The man at the left is Alex Porterfield, my Dad’s uncle. My father’s middle name is Porterfield and mine is Alex. So this guy who had no children of his own lives on in spirit.

My grandfather is the thin man sitting beside Alex. His nickname was “Sliver”. He was a blacksmith in Belgrave, Ontario, a little town north of Clinton. He and my grandmother would have been about the same age as my kids are now when this picture was taken.

The man in the centre is Peter Porterfield, brother to Alex and Mary. He lived in British Columbia and seldom came to Ontario. He must have been making a summer visit.

The woman seated near the middle is Maud (Code) Porterfield. She was a favourite of my Dad’s and vice versa. I have an old clock that comes from her place. She had a wonderfully shaky voice like Katherine Hepburn and I loved visiting her house in Wingham when I was a child. Her other claim to fame is that her great niece is Alice Munro. Alice writes about her aunt in several of her stories. Aunt Maud is quite accurately and lovingly portrayed as Alice’s “Aunt Charlie” in the story “The Ticket” in her book “The View from Castle Rock”. I treated myself by rereading that story last night. Aunt Maud and Aunt Sadie appear in many other stories written by Alice Munro.

My grandmother is the woman standing on the right side. She looks stern in the photo. But I remember her as a sweet, dear little woman. The older woman seated beside my grandmother is her mother, my great grandmother, Mary Stevenson.

So where does my Dad fit in, you ask? Well look behind the man in the centre. Partially hidden, on the porch is a pram. In the pram would be my father who at that point was only a few months old. So this is the first photograph where my father appears…sort of…92 years ago. And he is still going strong in 2012.

In fact, thanks to his generous support of a community in Kenya, there is now a Stewart Geddes School in Osiri village, not far from the mainland ferry dock heading to Mbita. I am proud of Dad’s generosity toward this little school. Last year, his gift to them through CanAssist was to build latrines and fence the school yard. Just last month he donated funds to build two additional classrooms for the school. They report to me that the kids at the school are amused by having this strange “mzungu” name for their school, an honour that they offered to him in recognition of his support. And because of his help, the young children in this remote, neglected community will have a chance to start their education.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Your example of concern for the welfare of others has contributed to who I am today.