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‘Better than TIFF – York U screens Return of the Far Fur Country Friday 14th 7 pm

The last time I attended TIFF was in 1983 because a friend of mine had helped a friend of his out by appearing as an extra in a movie! It was not a particularly memorable film.

TOMORROW'S (FRIDAY) EVENT WILL BE BETTER THAN THAT AND BETTER THAN SCRAMBLING FOR TIFF TICKETS - come to Nat Taylor Cinema (Ross North 126) tomorrow night, for an event organized by Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, and supported by IRIS, to see Return of the Far Fur Country, featuring rare archival footage shot in Inuit and First Nations communities in 1920, by cinematographers from the Hudson's Bay Company, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the venerable company (founded in 1670). As the arctic melts, these records and stories constitute the legacy of what was once there and what will, in all likelihood be much reduced or radically altered.

Whether or not you are a fan of the current incarnation of HBC, which was bought in 2008 by a USA-based company - the parent of Lord and Taylor, every Canadian should be aware of the hugely important role that the Hudson's Bay Company played in the history of Canada. Peter C. Newman's 1985 book, the Company of Adventurers, is a fascinating read. It was followed by two other books and a PBS tv series, Empire of the Bay.

Personally, I have been very impressed with how an American company has marketed and merchandized the iconic Hudson's Bay logo and products such as the classic Hudson Bay pure wool blanket. My sister is an archaeologist, and a couple of years ago, we gave her a small version of the blanket and the accompanying book about its history as a gift. She loved it.

Dawn Bazely

Photo from the HBC archive, of a 1920 cinematographer


“Why Woody?” – for an honorary degree

A very nice reporter from the Toronto Star asked me this question on the phone yesterday, as I was standing in a field in Milton, Ontario, next to 16-Milgiant 2e Creek. I was collecting seeds from Giant Hogweed, an invasive and somewhat toxic plant (see right).

Tomorrow, York University will confer an honorary degree on Woody Harrelson. Back in January, when I wrote my nomination letter, I had no idea that the announcement of this would coincide with the recent release of a popular commercial movie, starring him! I also had no idea as to how receptive the university committee responsible for Honorary Degrees would be to our nomination! After all, universities are very conservative institutions, as I found out from the raised eyebrows, back in the mid 1990s, when I had the temerity to suggest to some colleagues that we ought to consider nominating Oprah Winfrey for an honorary degree. At the time, she was dictating what America and my local Mum's Book Club was reading, through her book selections.

There have been a lot opinions offered about York conferring this degree on Woody Harrelson, in response to the CBC story. In the wake of my interview with the Star reporter, I think there's a few things worth mentioning from my answer to her question "Why Woody?"

1. The whole idea can be traced back to 2006 and the conversation that IRIS started about making York's course kits carbon neutral. Along the way, not only did we discover a huge interest amongst our students in the issue of climate change, but we also learned a lot about how unsustainable the publishing and printing industry is, in terms of how it produces books:  inks, paper, and the energy footprint of shipping books; akin to shipping bricks, a friend in publishing has told me.

2. Then, in August 2008, I was invited by the committee organizing our Fall Green Week, to suggest environmental and sustainability-related documentaries for screening. Since I am always forcing my family to watch educational docs, I had lots of ideas, as did others, and we had a lively discussion. I thought that An Inconvenient Truth was too ubiquitous to have much appeal at the time, and that Who Killed the Electric Car, was just a wee bit too boring. But Go Further was different from anything that I had ever seen, and might just be the ticket for an undergraduate audience. It was not at all preachy and took a very different approach to engaging youth than  found in the standard lecture.

3. When we screened the film, through a colleague at York, who turned out to have a brother in publishing, we also learned about the companion book to the documentary, which is incredibly sustainably produced. From him, we learned that the appearance of these kinds of books tends to have limited appeal to the purchasing public. This is why the books in stores don't tend to look like the Go Further book: they don't really sell that well. In other words - environmentally friendly, unshiny, dull-looking books don't cut it on the shelf - YET.

So there you have it, the boring story of why I got involved in this nomination. We did a bunch of research into and learning about a couple of key items of academic life - documentaries and books and learned about Woody Harrelson, too. And, as a good academic should be, I was also rather skeptical about the nomination venture. As I  wrote in my  letter:

"Mr. Harrelson has turned out to be an embodiment of our new York slogan and our old motto, that the way must be tried. Who would have thought that the goofy bartender from “Cheers” would turn out to be such an important environmental leader and activist?"

If universities are to be leaders, then we must be receptive to different modes of teaching and learning, and be prepared to recognize and honor them.

Dawn Bazely

HOME – we only have one planet

As illustrated (I hope) by IRIS blogs, You Tube CAN be educational (although I am prepared to bet quite a lot that most people aren't being much educated while logged on to on the site). 

I recently learned from You Tube, that a there is new doc out from photographer extraordinaire, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, called HOME. You can watch HOME on You Tube for a few more days. If you don't know about his book, the Earth from Above, please, do check it out - it's amazing.

Dawn R. Bazely

Pangea Day and Our Networked Society

Pangea DayOn May 10, the first ever Pangea Day is being organized in communities around the world to screen films made by ordinary people for ordinary people. The event aims to build compassion and tolerance by bridging once formidable human borders through the power of visual media.

There is no doubt that the campaign includes some slick and affective outreach, perhaps a given since talented filmmakers, big thinkers, and even movie stars are at the helm of this ambitious project (Jehane Noujaim, director of the critically acclaimed documentary Control Room donated her TED prize money to this event). The use and deployment of new media is also impressive, as seen in their geo-assisted "meet-up" strategy of both decentralizing and propagating the event to hosted house parties.

Moreover, with the ubiquity and relative affordability of sophisticated electronic devices and internet access in all corners of the globe, this project has a real potential to leapfrog technological limitations that have diminished the effectiveness of such UN/MTV-type campaigns in the past. Here's one of their slick ads:

However, the potential downsides of these technologies, which Pangea Day indirectly promotes as democratization tools, should also be considered. In addition to the mountains of toxic waste produced by the high turnover of consumer electronics (check in with the Basel Action Network), the new networked society that Pangea Day celebrates may have dangerous unintended consequences. The possible rise of an "attention deficit disorder"-like approach to issues that sees a rush of enormous immediate interest but an evaporation of long-term commitment has been raised by some, although also disputed by others. The same is true of the notion of balkanization of the internet community, where group polarization tends to occur in highly politicized and rambunctious web forums and blogs (this would entirely upend the Pangea Day concept). Whether this has an impact on day-to-day behaviour or whether this only further reflects the democratizing potential of the web, has yet to be studied.

Regardless, the fact that Pangea Day sparks these thoughts is a step forward. And hopefully we'll be seeing some challenging works that break new ground rather than rehashing a very hokey and very cloying "We are the World/Live Aid" style event.