Monday, June 5, 2023

IncluCity fest returns to Toronto, bigger than ever

 by Allan Tong

The ICFF is back, or shall I say the Lavazza IncluCity Festival, organized by the ICFF? Once Toronto's Italian film fest, IncluCity has rebranded in recent years into a multicultural (and multi-disciplinarian) visual arts festival. The core remains Italian films, but IncluCity has expanded its tent to include even Jewish and Chinese cinema, not to mention painting, opera, fashion and this year horror films. All in all, IncluCity will screen more than 50 feature films drawn from 26 countries.

From June 27 to July 22, the center of IncluCity will be the Distillery District with screenings taking place in oversize, plush seats beneath the stars (rain or shine) on this historic district's cobblestone avenue. It is, without a doubt, the most gorgeous setting to watch a film. 

There's a lot to unpack with IncluCity 2023, and here are the highlights:

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Artist Project returns to Toronto

Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures
Story & photos by Allan Tong
The Artist Project returned to Toronto's CNE Grounds at the Better Living Centre after a long pandemic hiatus. The show, which runs through Sunday, April 16, is a buffet of visual arts mostly paintings, but this year adding a welcome twist of mixed media and even a fashion show. Thursday saw the traditional opening night party, complete with food and drinks for sale. The party is always fun, allowing visitors to wander the hundreds of art booths with a wine or beer in hand, but there was less of both in previous years (though normal in this post-Covid world given the labour shortage.) Still, the addition of mixed media was a smart addition that I hope continues in future editions. Some art that caught our eye:
Ryan Bock's Ode To Duchamp
 Shawn Alex Thompson
Gina D'Aloisio's Deep Breaths
Phil Carriere
Options were mostly mediocre junk food, but there was a decent booth offering salads and charcuterie hidden in a corner, unfortunately, that impressed a local chef.
Kelly McCray's Tower of Banned Books
Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures
Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures

Friday, January 20, 2023

IDS returns to Toronto with a bash

Christina Sideris

Toronto's Interior Design Show returns to January's cultural calendars after a hiatus (for obvious reasons) and following last year's IDS taking place in April right after lockdown. It felt great for IDS to be back, launching last night with their traditional opening party and running through Sunday, January 22 in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's south building. Yesterday, saw the start of trade days full of speakers waxing about all things beautiful yet functional in the home. Though home sales are slumping, Canadians will continue to renovate their houses, condos and apartments, so the industry outlook is positive for 2023.

Thursday's opening soiree saw some booth, such as Miele's, pouring wine and champagne to invite visitors to inspect kitchen spaces, living rooms sets and luxury showers. There were at least three food stations scattered throughout the hockey-arena-sized space. The most popular offered vegetarian Chinese noodles (it's the Year of the Rabbit on Sunday), though another supplied just chips. There was more food in previous years, some noted, though the crowds of the chicly dressed and fashionably groomed adored the atmosphere, particularly around the Caesarstone stage where a DJ spun beats.

Trade Days continue today (Friday) at 4:30 pm with a keynote at the Caesarstone stage about designing the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, featuring Jordan Bennett, Shirley Blumberg of KPMB, Omar Gandhi of Omar Gandhi Architect in a conversation moderated by Elizabeth Pagliacolo of AZURE Magazine.

Saturday from 11:00 am to noon sees Mexican designer Fernando Laposse focus on global warming and the loss of biodiversity. He will explain how to use materials like corn leaves and loofah to build more sustainable spaces. Other panels took place throughoput the weekend, including speakers Kelly Reynolds and Chad Falkenberg from Falken Reynolds of Vancouver), Daej Hamilton of Toronto's Daej Designs, Toronto) and Treana Peake Founder of OBAKKI who will also speak about sustainability.

Tickets are available from $19-25 here. A reminder that IDS takes place in the *south* building of MTCC.




Guild Design Gallery


Puppy Stools (yes, dogs) by Hojeong Ji


Seedlip: not everything poured last night was alcohol

Welcome back!


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

film review: Harvest Time



Directed by Bernard Shakey

ChinoKino score: B (for Neil Young fans: A)

Review by Allan Tong

When Neil Young released the album Harvest in early 1972, he became as big as Taylor Swift or Drake today.  He was already in the biggest band at that time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and already recording solo, but Harvest catapulted him to superstardom. That's ironic, since Neil Young fans regard Harvest as a good, but flawed work. However, Harvest includes Heart of Gold, which shot to number one and made the album that year's biggest seller. This new documentary takes audiences behind the scenes to show Young recording Harvest, whether inside his northern California barn (you read that right), in a studio with his famous ex-bandmates, and with the London Symphony Orchestra (you also read that right).

Fans will feast on Harvest Time. Much of this footage has never been seen, and it is gold, capturing Young in unguarded moments of creating his music. Special scenes involve Young with CSN harmonizing on Alabama. It's early 1971 and the on-again, off-again band are in good spirits, not bickering which would later plague them. Neil gently coaches his bandmates at a piano to go over a particular phrase. As they perform the song Words, surprisingly it's Graham Nash who coaxes the singers. Isolated on the soundtrack, their voices soar.


It's jarring, but thrilling to see Young record live with the LSO. Fans have long detested how the orchestra smothers this plaintive ballad, A Man Needs A Maid, but it is fascinating to watch Young struggle to get the entire orchestra to make their cue. They keep coming in a half-step too soon, he complains to arranger Jack Nietzsche during a break before Young sings a beautiful verse of the title song, Harvest. It's also cool to watch Young hop into a portable recording studio (belonging to the Rolling Stones) housed inside an unmarked truck parked outside to listen to a playback.

Another key moment finds Young playing Journey Through The Past alone at a piano. It's shocking to cut from the orchestral session to this solitary, but melancholic moment, but effective. This is one of Young's finest performances anywhere on film.

The handheld, grainy work lends the movie a homemade, voyeuristic feel, while the audio is crystal clear and rich. For instance, when the band launches into the protest rocker, Alabama, to kick off the film I jumped in my seat. There are only brief interviews of Young, along with producer Elliot Mazer and a few others. Really, Harvest Time is a fly-on-the-wall document, directed by Young. What's sorely missing is footage of him recording Heart of Gold with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on harmony. Also missing is the heart of gold herself, Young's partner at the time, actress Carrie Snodgrass. Snodgrass inspired several songs on the album, but appears in one only shot of the film without speaking.

Casual fans of Neil Young will enjoy Harvest Time, though may bristle at seeing one too many aimless jams recorded in Young's barn and with the film's lack of structure. Rather, it's a chronicle of the making of the most important album in Neil Young's career. Sit back and play loud.

Harvest Time opens in cinemas in select cities, dates and times, beginning December 1. Check your local listings or here for schedules and tickets.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

film review: Darryl Jones: In The Blood



Directed by Eric Hamburg

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Superman is boring. Superman can soar, twist steel, beat any bad guy into a pulp and save entire planets. Aside from kryptonite, nothing can weaken Superman, certainly not destroy him. He is perfect.

That's how I felt about Darryl Jones after watching the first half of this new documentary profiling the bass player for the Miles Davis, Sting and the Rolling Stones. Don't get me wrong: Mr. Jones is one of the greatest musicians to have ever picked up a bass. Chosen by taskmaster Miles Davis alone catapults him into the top echelon of bassists on any planet. This guy can play.


However, this documentary does a shaky job in telling us who he is. For starters, the film opens on the Rolling Stones heaping praise on Jones for being (what else?) a great player as well as a cool guy, a nice guy and a prolific reader. But does anyone name a book? Nope. This sort of facile, fawning interviewing starts In The Blood poorly. Further, you're left wondering if the film is about the Stones (disclosure: I love the band) or Darryl Jones.

Eventually, the film lets Jones tell his story, starting with growing up on Chicago's South Side in the times of the 1960s race riots, of developing a race consciousness, of joining the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, of falling in love with performing. When he was a boy, Jones felt the love of an appreciative audience and wanted only that for the rest of his life. His parents supported his passion. His parents loved music and taught him a few instruments. Meanwhile, one played jazz constantly, another adored soul and local radio played everything from James Brown to the Beatles. Quite an education.

This part of the film is good. It's meaty and revealing. However, the style of filmmaking is rudimentary and unimaginative. It's 90% talking heads, with interviews taking place in random parts of (what I presume) Jones' house. There's no attempt at lighting or clearing distracting kitchen appliances or furniture out of the background. The footage looks like something shot on someone's phone. Further, there's no use of establishing footage, like a wide shot of Chicago to tell the viewer where they are, or flourishes like seeing Jones' fingers pluck his bass strings. Shots are static. The camera hardly moves. At best, an interview cuts to stock footage of a still photograph or concert for a few seconds. Jones' recollections aren't told through animation, a common--but effective--tool for documentarians and which would have elevated this film.

Oddly enough, there's no background music playing underneath the interviews. Instead, we hear local traffic roll by. Distracting. Cold. That's strange for a film about a musician.

Again, don't get me wrong. Jones is a great bassist. I wanted to see this film for this reason and because I know nothing about the guy. In The Blood demystifies the man and paints a portrait, but this doc is ultimately too long and unsatisfying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

film review: REVIVAL69: The Concert That Rocked the World



Directed by Ron Chapman

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

"It was the end of the Beatles."

Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker describes the climax of the set performed by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band on September 13, 1969 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium. Lennon had ordered his bandmates, including Eric Clapton, to lean their guitars on their amps which sparked feedback that howled alongside Ono's avant-garde vocals. "It was such a fantastic ending," said the legendary Pennebaker who filmed the concert, because it knew it would be historic. After the Toronto show, Lennon would return to London and indeed break up the Beatles. A remarkable new documentary tells the chaotic, hilarious and pivotal story behind this one-day rock fest that nearly collapsed several times.

Pennebaker eventually released a film about the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival, a fly-on-the-wall doc made in the same vein as his innovative films, Don't Look Back, about Bob Dylan's 1965 U.K. tour, and the revolutionary Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. However, director Ron Chapman has used Pennebaker's footage as the core of an entirely new film. Chapman has new footage, including intimate super-8 film, many insightful interviews, rare stills and smart animation to tell a thrilling story.

The tale began with two young concert promoters who organized a one-day festival to honour the pioneers of rock 'n' roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. But tickets didn't sell. Co-promoter John Brower, only 22 at the time, hired two notable L.A. DJ's to emcee the show, but that did nothing. Next, he booked the Doors (for $200,000 in today's money) by borrowing cash from a biker gang. But the Doors didn't move the needle either. With just days to go amid threats of the bikers collecting on their loan, one of the DJ's, Kim Fowley, urged the promoters to call John Lennon out of the blue and ask him to host.

After all, Lennon became a Beatle because of Berry et al. By chance, a Toronto rock journalist who was working for the Beatles, the renown Ritchie Yorke, vouched for Brower, so Lennon said yes. Miraculously, this exchange was captured on audiotape. However, nobody in Toronto believed Brower. Unbelievably, CHUM Radio kicked the promoters out of the station and even circulated rumours that Lennon would not show. (Shame on you, CHUM.) It took a Detroit DJ to get the word out and move tickets.

Other twists and turns abound in Revival 69, making the viewer ride a rollercoaster. The festival nearly collapsed a few times, but when it unfolded it was truly magical. Among the crowd of 20,000, Geddy Lee was a suburban longhair tripping on acid at the fest. Singer Claudia Barry was there to check out the black musicians. Both were blown away. Barry left knowing what she would do the rest of her life.

Chapman has done his homework. He interviewed Klaus Voorman and Alan White whom Lennon summoned to grab their bass and drums and meet him at the London airport. They convey the chaos, thrills and anxiety of rehearsing on the plane and racing to Varsity Stadium. Several other musicians on the bill recall that gig, namely Alice Cooper. His band were nobodies at the time, but they left Toronto as legends (Google "Alice Cooper chicken Toronto"). "We were an affront to everybody. We were the future."

Robbie Krieger of the Doors recalls headlining the festival, but remembers Jim Morrison being in awe of the the 1950s legends on stage, including Chuck Berry. Sadly, Mr. Mojo Rising balked at appearing on camera, so there is no footage of the Doors. Elsewhere, camerawoman Molly Davis recalls filming John and Yoko's limo as 80 bikers escorted it from the Toronto airport to Varsity Stadium (the head biker had a crush on her). Then there's the godfather of American rock criticism, Robert Christgau, who largely narrates the film by offering historic context and first-hand observations that are right on the money. Interviews by Lennon assistants, local musicians and other crew members contribute to a parade of colourful anecdotes.

The icing on the cake is animation by Mathew den Boer. It vividly presents the John and Yoko story which perfectly matches the crystal-clear audio recordings of their actual call with Brower. That audio is a highlight of the film.

REVIVAL69 wisely does not to focus too much on Lennon. Instead, it strikes a fine balance in telling the stories of all the musicians and characters behind the scenes. The film is a fine addition to the canon of rock docs, because it cements the significance of the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival as a pivotal chapter of rock history. It marked the end of The Beatles and the 1960s and heralded the 1970s. REVIVAL69 should be held in the same regard as Woodstock and Gimme Shelter.

REVIVAL69 is currently playing film festivals. The next screening is in Oshawa at the Durham Region International Film Festival on Saturday, October 1.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

film review: Eternal Spring


Directed by Jason Loftus

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

You've seen or heard of the Falun Gong, those folks who stand still on street corners with their hands raised and eyes closed as they meditate. This stunning animated doc explains who they are and why they are cruelly persecuted by China's government.

Acclaimed comic book artist Daxiong (Star Wars, Superman, Justice League of America) practised Falun Gong in the Chinese town of Changchun which gave birth to him and this spiritual movement numbering in the millions. In 1999, China's authoritarian government became alarmed with FG's popularity and started jailing and torturing practitioners as well as burning their books. However, Daxiong didn't flee China until something happened in March 2002.

What happened was a small band of FG practitioners climbed some telephone pulls, literally cut a live news broadcast and patched their own video. That video showed the Chinese public that Falun Gong is not evil as the state-owned news kept saying, but is healthy and harmless. Sadly, the police hunted down the rebels. Many were tortured, some recanted and others died.

Eternal Spring (English for Changchun) startles the viewer from the opening frame, portraying China c.2002 in startling immediacy through lifelike animation. The images just grab you. The film cuts back and forth between contemporary interviews on camera of Daxiong, now living in Toronto, and surviving members of the rebel group who now reside in South Korea and the New York City area. To hear them tell their stories is moving. To see them portrayed in 2002 via animation executing the hijacking is nerve-wracking. To witness their imprisonment, also animated, is harrowing. Shining through this horror are the memories, defiance and hope of Daxiong.

Eternal Spring will screen theatrically starting September 23 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Check local listings for details.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fan Expo returns to Toronto

Story and photos by Allan Tong

Life should be fun. When it isn't, we escape into better worlds, worlds where we possess strength and magic. That's why we watch movies, and that's why there's Fan Expo Canada.

 The annual celebration/convention/conference/marketplace of all things fantasy and sci-fi hit Toronto last weekend (August 25-28) as an army of kids, adults, and adults with kids jammed the entire Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Cosplay ruled as superheroes and a few villains like Boba Fett graced the MTCC aisles and spilled onto Front Street West, like a summertime Hallowe'en. Freedom returned. It was the first time in two years that Fan Expo took place without pandemic restrictions. 

All these fans gathered like to meet stars, like the cast of the hit Netflix sci-fi series, Stranger Things or Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. They also got artwork and comics signed by artists themselves, both established and new, or complete their X-Men collections if the price was right. There also t-shirts, books, posters, trading cards and dolls galore. That most popular item at Fan Expo? Funkos. Never have I seen so many of those Funko Pops. We're talking fortresses of them of any variety and price.

Underlying Fan Expo was a love for movies, in this case fantasy and sci-fi, the genres keeping Hollywood alive as it churns out the latest Star Wars movie or series. With aisles packed by noon on the first full day, enthusiasm for Star Wars and the generations of characters it has inspired in four decades shows no signs of waning. The Force is definitely with Fan Expo.

Monday, August 8, 2022

film review: Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes

Directed by Mark James

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

Peter Tosh, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Lord Creator and Bob Marley are some of the reggae greats who graced Studio 17 in downtown Kingston in the 1960s and 1970s. This fine British documentary spotlights this crucial chapter of reggae and Jamaican history. At its unlikely centre is a Chinese-Jamaican family, headed by matriarch "Miss Pat" Chin, her late husband Vincent, and his son, Clive. Vincent was nicknamed Randy which was also the name of the record store attached to the studio, just like legendary Stax Records in Memphis.

The Chins' story teems with charming anecdotes, near-fatal twists and tragedy. The Chins were one of many Chinese families who comprised the merchant class of Jamaica. The Chins started reselling ska 45s in the early 1960s, and soon expanded into recording musicians themselves. Legendary engineer Clive Thompson helped shape the clean, balanced sound of Studio 17 which attracted Jamaica's reggae artists. Business was good at Randy's and Studio 17, and their early success mirrored the optimism of newly independent Jamaica of the 1960s. Clive established a reputation as a top producer of danceable ska which morphed into harder-edged reggae to reflect the growing cynicism of Jamaicans by the late-1960s.

In Studio 17, Miss Pat and especially Clive guide the viewer through Studio 17's rise. They're augmented by reflections from reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, UB40's Ali Campbell and Dave Stewart formerly of the Eurythmics. They recall Peter Tosh as a spiritual man who smoked the sacrament of ganja everywhere, including a Pan Am flight to New York; and of Bob Marley covering the bubblegum anthem, Sugar Sugar (quite well, actually). Clive recalls narrowly missing the assassination attempt on Marley during a violent national election. That political unrest and the threat of Communism forced the Chins and other Chinese-Jamaican merchants to flee the island in 1978. Clive and Miss Pat literally left everything behind, including the library of tapes recorded at Studio 17.

Though Clive later moved the tapes to his new home and record store in Queens, New York, it took a murder in the Chin family years later to convince Clive to digitize the aging reel-to-reels and release select collections to the public. Miraculously, the tapes survived. This includes an unfinished demo by Dennis Brown. A few years ago, Clive enlisted teen British singer, Hollie Stephenson, to add a new vocal which turned that demo into a sparkling duet that Dave Stewart co-produced. That is a wonderful sequence in the film. Another great story is of UB40 rescuing Lord Creator from poverty by covering his ballad, Kingston Town, in 1989.

The story of the Chins and Studio 17 is so entertaining that it compensates for the film's only flaw. Reshma B is a London journalist who interviews the subjects and sometimes pops up on camera. This is distracting and unnecessary. Making things more confusing is that someone else is narrating the film. Just who is telling this story? Luckily, the film keeps circling back to the Chins to restore its focus.

Studio 17 fills a hole in the history of reggae. It offers captivating viewing for lovers of reggae, Jamaica and cinematic storytelling.

Studio 17 will screen on August 10 in Montreal, August 14 in Ottawa and August 15 in Toronto. Check local listings for details.

Friday, July 15, 2022

art review: In The Wake of Progress

Directed and photographed by Edward Burtynsky

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

Edward Burtynsky's giant photographs of strip mines, garbage dumps and high-rise jungles warn us of environmental catastrophe. His trademark images are so large, detailed and in-your-face that the message of humanity's impact on the environment being unsustainable is unmistakable. It makes sense that many of his images shot over 40 years now make the transition to a cinematic experience, called In The Wake of Progress, presented by Toronto's Luminato Festival.

The multimedia exhibit, located by the Canadian Opera Company in downtown Toronto, and running only June 25-July 17, consists of three parts and requires roughly an hour to absorb. Nearly half of this experience starts with a slideshow of images shown on three 30-foot screens accompanied by powerful, abstract music co-produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Aerosmith), composed by Phil Strong, and performed by the Glen Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Cree-metis vocalist iskwe. Think Koyaanisqatsi bursting through a powerful sound system that leaves the floor trembling. This presentation is stunning and is the core of this exhibit.

Next, the audience views several photos in a traditional gallery setting. The images differ from the in the AV presentation but strike the same theme of environmental damage shot from places as diverse as Arizona, Turkey, Australia and Madagascar (above).

film review: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Song, A Journey


Directed by Dan Geller & Dayna Goldfine

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

There are many songs, but only a few become hits, and one or two endure as anthems. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is an unlikely anthem. This captivating new documentary charts the song's unlikely path to immortality and details its creator's lifelong conflict between sex and spirituality that birthed Hallelujah.

That birth nearly didn't happen. The 1984 album that Hallelujah appeared on, Various Positions, wasn't good enough to be sold in the United States. That was the verdict of Columbia Records' chief, Walter Yetnikoff who explained to the poet-singer: "Leonard, we know you're great, but don't know if you're any good." The album eventually surfaced on a smaller label in the U.S. and Hallelujah would find its way into Bob Dylan's set list. More importantly, John Cale, the co-founder of the legendary Velvet Underground, covered it in a plaintive, yet moving version on the 1991 tribute album, I'm Your Fan.

Cale's versions reached some important ears. Another hero of this story is Jeff Buckley who covered Hallelujah in the only album recorded in his short life. With his angelic voice and moving delivery, Buckley's version inspired countless other musicians, including U2, who popularized Hallelujah even further. Then, an unlikely appearance of Cale's cover in the hit animated film, Shrek, made Hallelujah mega. From there on, Cohen's song about tortured love illustrated with Biblical imagery appeared on countless singing TV contests, weddings and funerals.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Prism Prize returns in person

by Allan Tong

The Prism Prize for Canadian music videos returned to a live audience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox last week in downtown Toronto after two years of virtual presentations during the pandemic. Ali, performed and directed by Mustafa, took home the $20,000 grand prize after 130 jurors named it the best among a strong field of ten videos. The audience award went to Khanvict and director Anjali Nayar for Closer. A full list of winners and the videos themselves can be found here.

It's the tenth year of the Prism Prize, which recognizes the achievements of emerging music video directors and musicians. This year's nominees for top prize included The Beaches for Blow Up, Chad VanGaalen's Samurai Sword which should take a prize for the most memorable animation, and two by BABBADNOTGOOD, Love Proceeding and Timid, Intimidating for its smart jazz-rock fusion standing apart from the other nominees' hip hop and rock.