September 17th, 2011
Just blew in from TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, to help host the annual provincial cocktail party. Lucky to have arrived ahead of the impending hurricane but sad the party had to end. It was fabulous, as always, with almost all the great Newfoundlanders living on the mainland and many who were there just for the festival in attendance. The party also included dozens who simply love Newfoundland from afar, who either summer here or love the music and the people and all the usual reasons why literally hundreds flock to the Toronto scene.
Our office of alumni affairs wisely plugged into the party, keen to shake hands with Toronto-based graduates of MUN who miss the home country and like to hang around with Newfoundlanders for a few hours. It’s always good public relations, and who knows what connections might be forged over a chilled glass of vodka (lots of ice, a slice of lime)? The bar was littered—in a good way—with MUN View books and brochures promoting our programs and our successes. It’s a curiously efficient way of merging the world of film and its attendant glamour with the world of academe and its relatively unglamourous attributes. Never have so few academics mingled with so many cool artists. Could this happen anywhere else in Canada? Maybe Quebec, but, otherwise, I don’t think so. It’s about coming from a strong sense of place, and appreciating how art can be so well informed by such an affinity with the culture and geography of somewhere special. It’s about the life of the mind.
What I really love about the blessedly non partisan party is that everyone becomes a Newfoundlander (and Labradorian) for a few hours, including the Nova Scotians who generally look down upon Newfoundland–hierarchies of social behavior being what they are. There was Kim Stockwood in that corner, Tom Harrington on the patio, and Stephen Brunt, Tina Srebotnjak, Richard Gwyn, and a long list of other name-droppingly worthy participants in the great conversation of Newfoundland life. It’s a conversation about oil and gas, about art and weather, fish and politics, people and Canada. It’s also a buzz about the latest astonishingly good short film by Newfoundlander (and fortuitously named) Christian Sparkes, whose A River in the Woods played this week at TIFF. The image above is directly from the film, a gorgeously lush fable of sorts, a story about children who adopt a monster. This is the dark stuff from which fairy tales really do come—primal and hypnotic. Who knows why such talent flourishes here, but it has something to do with that strong sense of place, for sure.
I write this as Hurricane Maria threatens to swamp the province and blow us all up to Oz, a far cry from the relentless torpor of downtown Toronto. Life on the edge has its challenges. But it’s living with Maria and her great family of unpredictable weather patterns that probably makes A River in the Woods possible. Nature is wild and punishing here, but interpreted through art and coaxed by a fertile imagination she makes it quite gloriously onto a giant screen at TIFF. With everyone else, I drank to that.