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News from the Great White North

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(Updared 9:32 pm, September 9, 2006)

This post is for anyone who is tired of hearing about The Path to 9/11, The Senate Intelligience Committee report that concludes Bush lied and other U.S. political news.

How about some refreshing commentary about some cool and bracing Canadian news?

Vatican Scold Sticks his Nose Where It Don’t Belong
The CBC reports that Pope Bennedict is upset with Canada for allowing gay marriage (also known to some as equal marriage) and abortion. He says the policies “resulted from Catholic politicians ignoring the values of their religion”.

Or maybe they were doing what they thought was best for all Canadians. Canada does not have the constitutional separation of church and state that the U.S. does. In fact,as an example, Catholic and other confessional schools are publicly funded insome provinces. But religion and electoral politics are kept very far from each other by public sentiment. It is bad form to ask about a candidate’s religion there. Here, candidates have to wear their religion (figuratively) on their chests.

Sadly, the Catholic Church in Canada has recently started to interfere coercively in public affairs. Catholic Members of Parliament have been denied communion because of their votes in the House of Commons.

Hey, Popy! Render unto Caesar, eh?

Yukon Premier Acts Like a Real Dick – Nixon That Is
Canada has three territories, governments that aren’t quite provinces. Just east of Alaska is the Yukon Territory, right where Jack London left it. The Yukon Premier, Dennis Fentie, has called an election for October 10.

At the dissolution of the legislature, three parties held seats there: the governing Yukon Party (the local branch of the right wing Conservatives) the oficial opposition centrist Liberals and the centre left New Democrats (NDP). Two seats were held by independents.

Yukon districts range in size from around 150 voters to close to a thousand. Candidates have a chance during a campaign to talk to every voter over and over and over. I know. I have been a campaign manager in Yukon elections. It is so very different from American elections because there is no tv advertising, and no polling because a large chunk of the electorate have neither phones nor internet access.

Elections are like family feuds, because everybody knows everybody, even though everybody is really spread out geographically.

But get this; the NDP Leader is under treatment for leukemia. No breaks for sickies, I guess.

Many people speculated that Fentie would not call the election until NDP Leader Todd Hardy had completed treatment for his recent diagnosis of leukemia. But the premier was unapologetic.

“There’s absolutely no guarantees that if we waited until Nov. 4, Mr. Hardy would be able to conduct a campaign,” Fentie told a news conference after his speech.

Harsh, dude. Very harsh.

Toronto Film Festival Excitment Reaches Fever Pitch
The Toronto Film Festival
opened on September 7. Highlights include:

  • Bill Clinton will get a 60th birthday party with entertainment by Billy Crystal and Tim McGraw.
  • The Dixie Chicks, are expected in town soon to help launch the documentary devoted to them called Shut Up and Sing.
  • Michael Moore will speak as part of the festival. And will be sneak-peeking parts of his newest doc, Sicko — a reported takedown of the U.S. health care system.
  • A new movie called Bobby about Robert F. Kennedy is being marketed as a look back to a more innocent, long-lost, and notably liberal era.

Hey! These are all Americans. Oh well, Sarah Polley has her first directorial effort on display, a film called Away From Her. Break a leg, Sarah.

OK, That’s enough Canadiana for now.

Written by slothropia

September 8th, 2006 at 11:14 pm

Mike Scares the Crap Out of Big Pharma et al

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My close personal friend Buzzflash alerted me to a story in Advertising Age about the upcoming Mike Moore muckraker Sicko. Apparently, the pharmaceuticals and HMOs are stating to squirm and soil their undies in anticipation of the next Mike attack.

“A review of America’s health-care system should be balanced, thoughtful and well-researched to pin down what works and what needs to be improved,” said Ken Johnson, senior VP for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “You won’t get that from Michael Moore.”

Added a spokesman for one of the top 10 pharma companies: “We expect it will be one-sided and biased, just like his other documentaries.”

Poor dears. They may just have to put more ads on tv (and pass the cost along to you, the patient/consumer).I have long been convinced that the most important domestic issue facing the U.S. is health care, especially access to health care.

  • 45 or 47 million people (the number seems to vary from report to report) are without health insurance here.
  • People without health insurance are often treated in hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive way to deliver treatment.
  • A serious health problem can drive a family into bankruptcy.
  • Employers are at a competitive disadvantage relative to their overseas competitors because of the high and rising cost of health insurance.
  • New drugs are priced far beyond the costs of development and production.
  • The medical industries are growing richer as wealth is transferred to them from the poor and middle class.

All of these points are as true today as they were ten years ago, and there seems to be no political effort aimed at resolving any of them.

I remember when Farenheit 911 came out and there was a lot of buzz about how this one movie would ensure the defeat of W in his reelection bid. Didn’t happen. But watch that movie now. How much of it that seemed controversial two years ago is conventional wisdom today?  Maybe that change in public attitudes about Bush and Iraq will result in a power shift in November. Maybe not. But there seems to be a growing debate about things that the Republicans would rather not talk about. Here’s hoping there are at least some Democrats who do.

I have not seen Sicko and so am in no position to analyze it (which wouldn’t stop me if I were Sean, Rush or Billo).  But I am looking forward to seeing it and if I were a drug company or a health insurer, I would be mainlining antacids and changing my underwear hourly.

Written by slothropia

August 23rd, 2006 at 3:14 pm

Movie Review: Viva Zapatero

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This is a friend I made at the Traverse City Film Festival:

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His name is Doug Cameron and being a dual U.S./Canadain citizen I had to ask him about his t-shirt when I saw it. Above the Canadian Flag maple leaf is the word Canada and below it says “Looks Better Every Day”. I kinda figured this guy weren’t no fan of George W and I was right. A retired UAW member, Doug must be a brilliant man, because he and I agreed on all the big political issues of the day.

Somehow we ended up sitting next to each other at the screening last Wednesday night of Viva Zapatero, the brilliant documentary by Italian film maker Sabrina Guzzanti.

Moore and Sabrina both had fun with the obvious comparison that is made of the two of them. She was honored and he was very apologetic that someone who looks like this:


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was compared to someone who looks like this:

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Then the lights went down and the movie ran. Afterward, the two came back for a very generous Q and A.

Viva Zapatero is a documentary with a definite point of view. It makes no attempt to hide the film makers opinions, which is the real ppoint of cpmparison between Guzzanti and Moore. The title is an obvious reference to Viva Zapata, a movie Marlon Brando made about the Mexican revolutionary, but it also evokes the name of the current Spanish Prime Minister, who has tried to remove political manipulation from public broadcasting in that country.

Sabrina had a satirical show, RAIot, on Italy’s public television network RAI. Apparently, RAIot was similar in spirit to The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes (for you Canadians out there), Spitting Image and Les Guignols de l’ínfo.

After one show, RAIot is canceled. Actually, the network had canceled it before the first show aired but felt enough heat to allow one showing.

Viva Zapatero is about Sabrina’s attempt to corner the politicians and bureaucrats with power over public broadcasting in Italy and find out from them why she had been canceled. It sounds and feels like Roger and Me, except that Italians speak much more reapidly than Americans do.

In the film, Sabrina also looks at the role and importance of satire in today’s Western democracies. She also explores why politicians, both left and right, are so hostile to and fearful of satire (this is just as true in the United States as it is in Italy apparently).

Finally, Sabrina uses the film to document her like efforts to circumvent the system that would silence and marginalize her art and thought and to raise in the public mind questions about free speech and open discussion of social and political issues.

The movie is very effctive, in turns funny, infuriating and inspiring. I admit I am more a fan than a critic when it comes to this kind of agitprop.

The crowd in the State Theatre was also very supportive and gave the film a standing O during the end credits. Most stayed for the Q and A, at which Moore repeated the questions from the audience, a big help to Guzzanti. Her English is very good but it is very clearly not her first language.

Stuff I Learned From the Q and A:

  • The film has been a smash hit in Italy. It cost 100k to produce.
  • To get a distributor, Guzzanti tried to take the film to the Venice festival, but it was not accepted. The Italian Directors Association agreed to show it but was not allowed to publicize it. Guzzanti and friends used something called the internet to spread the word about the Venice showing and managed to fill the theatre where it took place. Viva Zapatero receive a 15 minute standing ovation at its first showing and so got a little publicity. Eventually it became the highest grossing Italian made documentary in Italy ever, and the second highest all time in Italy (right behind Fahrenheit 911 of course).
  • The Italian public is polarized over Guzzanti (another point of comparison with you know who) but has so far received no death threats (knock on wood).
  • Q. why is there no effective opposition in Italy (as in the U.S.)?
    Guzzanti: Democracy is not developing any longer. Corruption is part of the problem. Satire becomes even more important under such conditions.
    Moore: Ridiculing liberal/left/progressive parties may help them become more effective (editor’s note: Has Jon Stewart strengthened the Dems by making fun of them?)
  • The Italian public knew about Berlusconi’s corruption and exploitation of his media monopoly before Viva Zapatero but the film crystallized it and allowed people to focus on it.
  • Michael Moore asked a question that got a big laugh: You defeated Berlusconi. What did I do wrong?
  • After everybody had a good laugh, Guzzanti pointed out that the recent Italian election was very close, which allowed Berlusconi to retain substantial power. More importantly, Guzzanti noted that movies (like hers and Moore’s) aren’t meant to influence the outcome of elections. Movies aren’t propaganda. Rather, movies can make complex points, and are intended to make people think about issues and make up their own minds.
  • Guzzanti said her next subject is how Italy gave power to its current rulers and the role of religion in Italian politics and society.
  • Satire undermines fear. It is easier to not be afraid of the Bushes and Berlusconies of the world when you are laughing at them.

Then it was time to go to the Open Space for a 10 pm showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Before I close, thanks skippy (scroll down to see this blog actually mentioned).

Written by slothropia

August 7th, 2006 at 10:10 am

My Two Days at the Traverse City Film Festival

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I had a great time in the Northern Michigan metropolis of Traverse City last week attending the Traverse City Film Festival. I wish I could have spent the week there seeing as many films as my bleary eyes and weary brain could accommodate. But circumstances and a tight budget dictated that I only had two days to capture as much as I could.

Traverse City is a nice little beach town, obviously dependent on both summer tourism and winter skiing for its very evident prosperity. It is also the Cherry capitol of the world and brags shamelessly about its world famous Cherry Festival.

Traverse City is in an exquisite location. I approached it via a state highway first through mixed forest and then sandy hills with farms scattered. The town itself has a cozy and intimate feel as you dive through it. It feels like somebody’s hometown.

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Eventually I reached downtown and a magnificent view of Grand Traverse Bay itself. Right in downtown Traverse City are beautiful sandy beaches and a view of the bay and hilly shoreline that surrounds it.

In the biz district of Traverse City, it is impossible to swing a cat without hitting some kind of bar, restaurant or other food selling place. Before attending my first movie I wanted to get a feel for the place and what impact the Film Festival as having on it. There are no taxis whose drivers I could get fresh scuttlebutt from, so I hit the bars where I learned a bunch of stuff. One is that the greatest NA beer ever is Labatt Nordic. Another is that the film festival (brainchild of Michael Moore of course) is having a very positive effect on the economy of the town. Someone told me that 75,000 film festival attendees would be in Traverse City during and around the first week of August. All these people would need to eat, drink and sleep.

I asked the woman behind the bar at Club 310 (one of the festival’s official ‘hot spots’) if the festival meant more business for her establishment.

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“It’s busier this week than during the Cherry Festival.” I was told.

So there ya go. Notorious communist Michael Moore has done much more for the economy of this sleepy little tourist trap than any conservative Republican I can think of.

On my day one, I saw one film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, (to be reviewed in a near future post) and would have seen Jurassic Park at the Open Space venue on the lakeshore, but that showing was canceled because of vicious thunderstorms. More about the Open Space showings in an upcoming post.

But next, Movie Review: Viva Zapatero.

Written by slothropia

August 7th, 2006 at 12:30 am

Posted in Michael Moore

Back in the Saddle Again

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The blog saddle that is.

Last night I got home from an exhilirating two days at the Traverse City Film Festival and a job interview near Toledo (Ohio, not Spain). I will be blogging about the film fest and about beautiful Northern Michigan over the next few days, so be sure to come early and get a good seat.

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View of a Canal in Downtown Traverse City

Meanwhile, check out Scott Calonico. In Traverse City I saw a short of his called Full Metal Slacks. Maybe they’ll show it on the Cartoon Network someday.

Written by slothropia

August 5th, 2006 at 3:05 am

Posted in Michael Moore,Movies