Sunday, November 9, 2008


I spent some time in Toronto back in June and was surprised by how often I ran into commonly held misconceptions about life on Canada's Left Coast.

My personal favourite? “Folks in BC are just so kind, gentle and pretty laid back, certainly more so than in Toronto.” This opinion was generally held by people who've never travelled to BC, but told me they considered me lucky to live in Canada's most socialist and Utopian province. I initially tried to offer a bit of honest information, but then gave up, choosing instead to let a few Ontarians believe there really is a place in Canada where one can spend more time hiking, harvesting magic mushrooms and hugging trees than working.

The reality is that Vancouver is a busy city with complex social problems, including a booming illegal drug trade and gang violence. In February (08), Statistics Canada released a study showing that Metro Vancouver has the nation’s highest gun-related crime rate, out-pacing even Greater Toronto.

Some of those hard facts are explored in the outstanding documentary Warrior Boyz, which screens here today in Vancouver, as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. It'll also air on TV this season on Canwest Global.
I highly recommend tuning in when it airs; it's an exceptional film, smart and relevant, and not just to Vancouver.

Stories about gangs and guns have dominated B.C. headlines for decades. Even the venerable American newspaper The Washington Post published an article headlined “Vancouver Struggles With Gang Violence.”

In spite of all the ink that’s been spilled, there’s little understanding about why so much blood has been spilled. More than 100 young men, many from the South Asian/Indo-Canadian community in Metro Vancouver, have been murdered in gang warfare in just over a decade.

"I thought this film had to be made, so why not by me?” Vancouver filmmaker Baljit Sangra told me last spring, when the film was about to debut at the DOXA Film Festival.

Sangra, born and raised in Vancouver, brings a level of understanding to the film that would be impossible for a filmmaker from outside the community. “It’s something that everybody talks about. There’d be social debates in households, like ‘Why do you think this is going on?’ And everyone would have their own answers.”

So Sangra set out, with the NFB’s support, to explore “why” so many lives have been lost. Warrior Boyz is a fascinating, rare chance to see the issues through the eyes of Indo-Canadians.

Her approach is hands on. Sangra tracks the lives of two high school boys, Tanvir, a 15-year-old 10th grader, and Vicky, 18 and in 12th grade, even taking cameras into their Surrey, B.C., school. She followed them for over a year, discovering that there are many young men like them, facing incredible pressures that put them at risk for gang involvement.

Sangra frames the younger boys’ experiences against those of Jagdeep Singh Mangat, a social activist and law student who once belonged to a gang. Mangat’s recollections offer a cautionary road map for his two young counterparts.

Mangat is a riveting presence on screen, sharing his experiences with raw, blunt honesty. “I just wanted to get out,” he says. “I’ve already been hacked open with a machete. I’ve got bullet wounds in my body and I knew that there was a contract out on my head. I was gonna be dead.”

Sangra’s approach, juxtaposing the high schoolers with Mangat, is smart. Many sociologists have observed that kids who are bullied and are prone to fighting display the same traits as kids considered at risk for gang involvement. There are many similarities between Tanvir, Vicky and Jagdeep, regardless of their disparate ages.

Each talks about suffering feelings of low self esteem, a desire to be accepted and respected, and frustration with racial prejudice. The two eldest, Vicky and Jagdeep, both mention that their desire to make life changes came from regrets about the pain they caused their families, especially their mothers.

“You get lost in all that fighting it goes from fists, to knives, to guns,” say Vicky, who switched schools to leave a troubled history behind him.

The film is remarkable for many reasons, but especially for the courage displayed by the filmmaker’s three subjects. The honesty and bravery shown by all three young men is extraordinary.

“I started out as almost every gang-involved person does, as a wannabe,” Mangat says in the film. “I thought these guys (gangsters) are awesome, they’ve got power. Nobody screws with them. And that was pretty appealing to a kid who had issues with self-esteem, until I got involved with a gang. Suddenly, it was like, I belong. That’s a very powerful emotion.”

Though Sangra treads lightly and without blame, it’s clear that the politics of race and culture need to be analysed as contributing to the issue. All the interviewees talk about feeling excluded and about “brown pride.”

Images of Mangat, talking about having bottles tossed at him as a small child along with racial slurs like, “Hindu go home,” are cause for every Canadian with conscience to search his or her soul.

He’s a haunting, and perhaps haunted, character. He’s smart, articulate, and has a ridiculously warm smile and terribly sad eyes. He looks backs at his experience and suggests there will be no end of warrior boyz, like (he used to be), Tanvir and Vicky, unless the social roots of the problem are understood.

Too many politicians suggest, he says, “That there’s something inherently wrong with the South Asian community itself. And that somehow the answers to what’s going on with South Asian young men in the last 10 years, are to be found completely, totally and exclusively within the South Asian community,” says Mangat.

“You have to put this into context. It’s a convergence of all sorts of factors, like the larger political economy and social change. How is this failure of the family? Why isn’t this seen as a failure of society?”

You can find more info about the film at

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Remember the days when Canadian networks ordered a full season of a series before a single frame was shot? Those days are long gone, as we’ve seen this week, with both major private broadcasters, CTV and Canwest Global, announcing either their respective slates of drama pilots or series orders based on already-filmed pilots.

Here’s a look at the projects that have been ordered. Yes, they are all unique but most have something very important in common. Take a guess what that might be...

Canwest Global announced plans for the following pilots:
1) Shattered, a one-hour drama to be directed by Bobby Roth for Force Four Films/Blueprint, with the inimitable Callum Keith Rennie (Californication, Memento) starring as a former cop with multiple-personality disorder. It will be filmed in Vancouver.

2) Clean, will be directed by David Wellington and will star Ben Bass as an addiction counsellor. Tom McCamus and Sonja Bennett will co-star.

3) Lawyers, Guns & Money, will be directed by Ken Girotti (Mayerthorpe, Rescue Me) and has an A-list cast, including Luke Kirby (Slings and Arrows) and Emmy-winner Clark Johnson (The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street). It’s now in production in Hamilton.

4) A project called Lost Girl will directed by John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps), though no cast has yet been announced.

CTV announced the following: Plans to partner with the U.S.-based Fox TV Studios and Vancouver's Omni Film on the new series 1) Defying Gravity.

American actor Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers, Sex in the City) has signed on to play the lead in the drama that will explore the experiences of eight astronauts from five countries....sounds like a very international project.

Defying Gravity's creative team will be led by James Parriott (Grey's Anatomy) and Michael Edelstein (Desperate Housewives), both accomplished veterans of the LA scene. Omni`s Brian Hamilton and Michael Chechik will also share executive produce credits, and fellow Vancouver veteran Ron French (Battlestar Galactica) will produce.

CTV also announced this week that it has ordered 11 one-hour episodes of the series 2) The Bridge, based on, according to a CTV media release, 'the insights of veteran insiders and outspoken former Toronto police union head Craig Bromell.'

The series is produced by Barna-Alper Productions and Bromell's own 990 Multi Media Entertainment. EP Laszlo Barna, who shared producing duties on the acclaimed Da Vinci`s Inquest, teams up gain with writer Alan Di Fiore (Da Vinci's, The Life) to bring the production to TV.
Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica) stars as union head Frank Leo, supported by actors Paul Popowich, Inga Cadranel and Frank Cassini.

Are you seeing a trend yet?
Total Series Announced: Six
Series with Top-Billed Male Stars: Six
Series with Top-Billed Female Stars: Zero
Series with Identified Male Directors: Four
Series with Identified Female Directors: Zero
Series with Identified Male Creative/Production Leaders: Five (Lost Girl is unclear)
Series with Identified Female Creative/Production Leaders: Zero

Much attention is paid to the fact that most Canadian programming and development decisions are made by female development executives, like Susanne Boyce (CTV), Christine Shipton (Canwest Global) and Kirstine Layfield (CBC). Though CBC didn't announce this week, it will debut two series in January, both with female leads.

So, it’s worth looking looking at whether or not their gender in any way influences creative selection. Of course, each of those execs answers to a senior executive, and at every network that exec happens to be male.
Can any conclusions be drawn from what’s been ordered so far this season? That's for you to decide, but it's worth keeping the above in mind.
My take is that we have ahead of us a season that can best described as PILOTS WITH BALLS!! (see photo, Look No Hands!!) Manly men doing manly things!! And in some cases those central characters are supported by female characters/antagonists described in media releases as feisty tomboys.

Sigh, how is that a grown-up female character, a cop no less, is described in a news releases as a tomboy? If we can put Ron Livingston on the moon, or at least have him play an astronaut on the way to it, can't we offer female figures a little more dignity than that?
Cops, union bosses, thugs, lawyers. Thank God for the space cowboys. Lots of women in aviation, so there's hope for realism there, at least with casting.

A female TV development exec (who is not one of the women mentioned above) once told me that male writers and producers were more effective at pitching/selling their ideas and projects, and were therefore more likely to get funding to get them off the ground.

Maybe. But what producer, especially a novice, wouldn't be nervous pitching while knowing that, statistically, if she's a woman, she's less likely to be successful than a male colleague? Makes me wonder what successful women like Christina Jennings (Shaftesbury) & Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lundman (Back Alley) have overcome, especially early in their careers.

All-in-all, I'm kinda glad I'm not an actor or director in this country. Seeing as how I can't grow a beard, odds are I'd be an actor-director-waitress.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Below is an excerpt from President Elect
Barack Obama’s acceptance speech made in Chicago, just after midnight, or 9 pm (PST).

As expected, he was eloquent and reached out to Republicans, in effort to close a gap that has divided American society into “blue” and “red” states. Very memorable. (America's New First Family.)

""A new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear the world down, we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security, we support you.

And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright tonight, we’ve proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms, or the scale of our wealth but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That’s the true genius of America. That America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we’ve already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for many generations, but one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voices heard in this election, except for one thing. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery. A time when there were no cars on the road and no planes in the sky. When someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons: because she’s a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight I think of all that she has seen...the heartaches and the hope, the struggle and the progress. The times we were told that we can’t and the people that pressed on with that American creed, yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to seem them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dustbowl, depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our Harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, the bridge in Selma and a preacher from Atlanta who told the people that, ‘We shall overcome.’ Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon. A wall came down in Berlin. A world was connected by science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how American can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much but there’s so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves, if our children should live to see the next century, if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call.

This is our moment. This is our put our people back to work, and open doors of opportunities for our kids, to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth: that out of many we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can. Thank you. God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.”"

8:30 pm

CBS is projecting Dem. Sen. Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.

They called it just after polls closed on the West Coast at 8 PM (PST) or 11 PM (EST). As they called it Obama had 283 Electoral College votes. 270 votes were needed to win the Presidency.

And at 8:18 McCain conceded, and was incredibly gracious in defeat. Sen. McCain gave his best and most eloquent speech as he called on his Republican supporters to extended themselves and their support to President-elect Obama.

"A little while ago I had the honour of calling Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next President of the country we both love," said McCain. "I commend him. This is a historic election...

"This is an historic election and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight. I've always believe that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize them. Senator Obama believes that too.

"But we both recognize that though we've come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and tonight for some Americans, with the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still have the power to wound.

"A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel, prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the Presidency of the United States..."

"This campaign was and will remain the greatest honour of my life. I wish Godspeed to the man who was my opponent and is now my President."

A night to remember.


Evening is approaching on the West Coast, and the polls are now closing. Presumably, within 24 hours America will know whether or not its new president will be Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama.

Many others have analyzed media coverage over the course of this marathon campaign, so we won’t do that here. But it occurred to me today as I listened to Dr. Avis Jones-Deweever, of the Information Center for African American Women, that no matter what the outcome of this election, its importance will be studied for generations.

“This is certainly something that I never thought that I would see in my lifetime. And now that it’s here, I’m certainly happy that I’m here to see it,” said Dr. Jones-Deweever.

“This is a nation that still is in very much a state of paralysis when it comes to talking openly and honestly about the challenges that we still face with regard to race in American. So he, (Obama) was very wise to not emphasize the issue, frankly.”

As a journalist who has spent much time in Los Angeles, California, I can honestly I have never felt as Canadian or foreign as I do when I’ve been in the United States and seen the inherent conflict which characterizes that country’s racial politics. I’m not so naive as think racism doesn’t exist in Canada, of course it does. But there is a particular history in that country that has shaped America's socio-economic and popular culture.

Having seen that reality up close and personal, it’s hard not to think that America is now a step closer to becoming the nation that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned when he so famously said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Regardless of the election outcome, America and its people have been changed. The word hope has become part of its discourse and a great man’s dream is but a breath away from becoming reality. It does indeed seem that both men are being judged for the content of their characters.

Against that backdrop, I asked a few of my American friends to share their thoughts and responses to the following question: "What does this election mean to you as an American?"

Here’s what some said:

“Regardless of the result, this is an election which has reflected the highest hopes and worst prejudices of the American spirit. Whether you are sensitive to race issues, gender stereotypes, ageism stuff, class issues, there's been enough to inspire and disappoint in equal measure as Barack Obama and John McCain have sought to make history in their own ways.

"There is little doubt we're at an important crossroads, and my hope is that the election result is decisive enough that we can feel that Americans have made some basic decisions of how to meet a challenging future.

"As an African American, it is heartening to see a black man get this far in a presidential election, but I fear an ugly loss may degrade the country's already precarious racial dynamics. Perhaps as important as the question of who will win, is the issue of how the loser loses. Because this campaign has been so passionate and symbolizes so much for those on both sides, any ambiguity in defeat will reverberate through the culture for years to come.”
Eric Deggans,
TV/Media Critic
St. Petersburg (FLA.) Times

“It’s exciting to know that whoever wins history will be made and a barrier that existed, either for minorities or women, will be shattered. After covering 20 years of elections in this country none has ever approached this level of popular interest or intense discourse.

"I think it portends well for the future that such a variety of people competed for such critical positions and that the battle, while unpleasant at times, ultimately will take us in a new direction at a very dangerous time. America was built on hope and tonight I feel very hopeful about what’s ahead.”
Christopher Dinan,
Senior Broadcast Producer
CBS Evening News with Katie Couric
New York, NY.

"This election has been a lot about distraction; keeping people from noticing the topics at hand. On both sides. And it's sad that this is what politics has turned in to. And John McCain, who used to be one of the few Republicans to actually take the high road in political races, decided to forego his ethics and instead took the road of "any means necessary" to win. Which has ruined his character and his campaign.

"Especially since he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, the only reason for that I can see is to steal the women's vote from Hillary Clinton supporters. So basically, this election, for me, tells me whether or not the American people can see past the bullshit and make good choices. "
J.T. Howard,
Freelance Writer
Portland, OR

"I went to the polls this morning at a local elementary school in a largely African American and Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles...

"The conversations swirling around me mentioned nothing about Obama, McCain, specific propositions on the ballot, nor political philosophies. Instead, senior citizens reminisced about the time when metal pins versus paper stickers were awarded to those who had voted. Then they shared a laugh when it was observed that even the government was feeling the economic pinch.

"Young women flipped open cell phones and called friends and relatives to report, "Yeah girl, I'm in line to vote. Where you at?" Another chastised a friend for doing his laundry instead of being in line. A woman stared into the sky and opined about the possibility of rain, then noted that she'd still be standing in line whether it rained or snowed in L.A.I felt proud.

"I felt a part of a larger thing. Something beyond my words - my voice. A thing larger than just me. Something that had moved me and these disparate people from a myriad different background to stand in line feeling as if this act, was the most important thing we could be doing. They talked about being part of history and a few of us had tears in our eyes.

"I'm not the most patriotic person, but for that 45 minutes I stood in line waiting to vote in the 2008 Presidential Elections, I felt a part of a national community. I felt more like an American than I ever have."
Everlyn A. Hunter,
Los Angeles, California

America will soon have a new president, elected after a historic campaign. May we all dare to dream that we have within us the capacity to challenge ourselves, build bridges and improve life for the sisterhood and brotherhood of human kind.