Dear Lena Dunham


Photo: XPX/Star Max/Getty Images

Dear Lena Dunham,

I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised at all. It’s almost laughable to think people still wholeheartedly support and like this woman when she is the reigning queen of white feminism. She’s played a pivotal role in the popularization and general acceptance of the idea that white feminist women can never be in the wrong. Regardless how problematic or how obviously they’re in the wrong. Her latest attempt at failing the same women she’s sworn herself to protect is just another in a list of complete and utter feminist failures that she can now put on her award shelf. Failures that she consciously backs up and finds excuses to justify her beliefs.

Photo: Popsugar

Look at this way, how could a woman who’s spent a large part of her career saying she’s an ally and a defender of abused women, so easily discredit the claims of a woman who’s accused a man of rape. Is there now some special Lena Dunham pass on sexual assault? Does criminal activity not apply to Lena and her friends? Apparently not. Lena has barricaded herself so comfortably behind the shield of white feminism that her fans, as well as, Lena herself is convinced that the things she and her friends do are beyond the realm of the law. And as a branch of her own belief that she is free from guilt, those who follow her career as fans have been conditioned to believe that she is free from guilt as well.

If we look back at her earlier controversy, where she admittedly confesses to “exploring her sister’s genitals, bribing her sister with candy in exchange for kisses, and masturbating whilst lying next to her younger sister when she was a child.” Fortunately for Lena, many of her peers, fans, and even child psychologists come to her side claiming what she did was not sexual abuse. When clearly, any moral person can understand that the constant exploration of a family member’s genitals as well as masturbating beside a child that has no idea what she’s witnessing and bribing her with candy for kisses is blatant sexual abuse. However, Lena’s shield of feminism allows her to describe her abuse as mere childhood sexual exploration. And the worst part is she’s excused and celebrated by those around her. Celebrated for being outspoken on taboo issues while being a direct contributor to those taboo subjects. To see this woman deny gain praise for acting out of line with her sister and now to blatantly come to the rescue of her friend after he’d been accused of raping a woman is vile. You simply cannot support a woman who thinks that just because she’s known someone for years doesn’t mean they’re incapable of carrying out a sexual assault. Or does it simply come down to the fact that having rape allegations made against one of her own simply doesn’t fit her progressive brand, and this is her way of nipping a problem in the bud? In the end, rape is rape. And if you chose to dismiss the allegations made against your buddies and continue to excuse and deny your own. Then you are the problem in today’s society. And that’s just the tea sis.

Drawing the Line: A Review of Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’Or Winner, The Square

Ruben Östlund’s The Square, winner of this year’s Palme D’Or, satirizes the world of modern art and its empty commitment to progressive social ideals. It is a series of comical, often surreal, sketches, with all narrative threads leading back to Christian (Claes Bang), the handsome curator of Stockholm’s X-Royal museum of contemporary art.

At the start of the film, Christian is pickpocketed in the centre of a public square. Together with a co-worker, he tracks his stolen phone online. Genesis by Justice blares in the background as he drives his Tesla to the apartment block where the phone is located and, in this moment, enmity is born under the guise of right. Once Christian reaches the apartment, he slips accusatory messages into each unit’s mail slot in hopes of reaching the criminal.

Just as all of this strange personal business is going on, Christian acquires an artwork for the museum called “The Square”.  It is a small space cordoned off by four light-up lines with a plaque that reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations.” In an interview, Östlund compares “The Square” to the crosswalk; it is a “humanistic traffic sign,” meant to remind people of their role as fellow human beings. Passionate about the piece, Christian argues for the strength in its brute simplicity. But once ‘The Square’ is introduced, its meaning hangs heavy over Christian; it clings to the character as a leech, slowly deprecating his moral pretensions until they are laid bare.

Östlund’s art world in is dominated by ego, wealth, and the claim to be cutting edge. ‘The Square’ captures something of its hollow charm. Four lines delineate a space of social obligation but its emptiness stands in stark contrast to Stockholm’s sidewalks, filled with the homeless and the hungry. The art world is vacant; it aims at nothing; its obligation is solely to itself. In the other exhibit, piles of gravel sit before a sign that reads: “YOU HAVE NOTHING”. It seems as though the art world takes pleasure in being reminded of its impotency, and humble servility to its own nothingness. When a janitor accidentally sweeps up some of the artist’s gravel, we recognize the absurdity of it all.

Still, Christian is not a bad guy, although his intentions are steeped in ego and ignorance. Östlund doesn’t condemn the artistic enterprise altogether, but aims to illustrate just how complicated intentions and artistic expressions can be in a world where we do not all share equal rights and obligations. He brings a series of moral questions to the fore. What is one’s role as an actor? Who is one responsible to?

He forays with confidence into these age-old queries, but his answers seem to change based on the time and place of their asking. In one scene, a man with Turrets yells obscenities at an artist being interviewed at the gallery. Speakers and audience members strain to remain tolerant; this is, after all, a “neurological disorder” and certainly this man deserves respect. But on the street, this same demographic feels no need to go out of their way to accommodate those less fortunate. Each day on his way to work Christian ignores the woman that stands in a public square, asking over and over again: “Do you want to save a human life?”

Östlund also examines the way power can alter feelings of obligation. Christian is a dominant figure. He sleeps around without much concern for his bed partners and acts unselfconsciously, assuming that others respect his every decision. But power is not a static force. It shifts between individuals. When Christian condescends to buy a sandwich for a homeless woman, he assumes the role of a kind, socially conscious citizen. But when the woman responds with a demand, she will have a chicken ciabatta, no onions, the balance of power shifts. Christian is taken aback by her assertive attitude. Is she not embarrassed? Grateful? Christian quickly attempts to restore his position of power by refusing to grant her request for no onions. The comedy of the scene almost camouflages its thematic significance, the way these two figures negotiate power and how that negotiation determines their lines of commitment.

Östlund concocts a variety of scenarios to test his characters, to reveal their obligations and the factors that pollute them. The Square is lengthy, the sort of film one thinks is about to end at least four times. Eventually it does, but it offers no real conclusion, no closure. Still, one cannot accuse Östlund of despair.

“The Square” looms heavy but not only to illuminate Christian’s moral weakness. Östlund takes the Levinasian view of social obligation. His characters understand that they enter the world always already responsible to those around them, and they search for meaning in that responsibility and the impossibility of escaping it. They realize that there is no autonomy, no pure, unsullied interiority, when they live, breath, and perform before the eyes of the Other. “The Square” dares to meet that gaze; it dares to think it possible.

Albums that shaped who we are

I’m not sure to what extent something can ‘shape’ a person, but, sometimes, the similarities or affinities between a person and a thing — music, in this case — he/she likes are uncanny. Who knows what came first. But there’s no doubt that we think and speak of certain albums and songs as though in veneration — as though they came down from heaven or shot up from the earth in the shape of a kindly pair of hands and went to work on our clay bodies. Whether that’s true or not, some albums mean something more. Here are the albums that mean a lot to the Novella team.

Hoon Ji, Managing Editor

Wu-Tan Clan — Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) 

The Wu Saga continues this year. When it all started in ’93, I was only 1. When I first heard “Bring da Ruckus“, it was as though I was entering a familiar yet exciting environment. One, I would soon find out, that’s home to Black Star, Mobb Deep, Heltah Skeltah, Nas, MF Doom, and more; one that would later be home to Kendrick Lamar, Wiki, ProEra, the Flatbush Zombies, etc. To say that “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” enriched my life is an egregious understatement on par with saying hip hop is just a genre. So, let me say, TICAL, Suuuuu, Shaolin, and all that.

Bob Dylan — Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” has to be one of the best songs ever written about a breakup and general human weakness. It’s bitter in the most pleasurably nostalgic sense. I think of Dylan’s lyrics when I think about Dylan’s music: “Every one of them words rang true/ and glowed like burning coal.” He’s always somewhere else and it’s fun chasing his voice around, trying to figure it all out. “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was my first Dylan album.

Cannonball Adderley — Somethin’ Else

My first jazz album was Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”. I liked the idea of listening to it more than the actual listening. But it led me to Cannonball Adderley, his glorious belly, and his alto saxophone. “Somethin’ Else” and its rendering of jazz classics like “Autumn Leaves” and “Dancing in the Dark” kept me listening, and led me back to “Kind of Blue”, and basically all of the giants — Miles, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, and more.

Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief

Prince — 1999

It’s no secret that I am huge Prince fan. When I first saw the video for the title track of Prince’s 1999 album, I was left in a daze. I became an instant fan and played this album alongside Prince’s earlier work over and over. I remember the song came on at a New Year’s Eve party in 1999, and in the midst of all the talk about the Y2K, this song was proof that Prince was truly ahead of his time.

Fishbone — Truth and Soul

If you have never been to a Fishbone concert, you have no idea what you are missing. When I heard their cover version if Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Freddie’s Dead’, I was hooked. Fishbone’s mix of ska, punk, rock, reggae, and soul became the soundtrack of of my youth. Till this day they remain my and my brother’s favourite band, so much so that, growing up, we use to dress like lead singer Angelo Moore. Wearing vintage suits, suspenders, and converse sneakers did bring about strange looks thrown our way but we didn’t care. Fishbone Is Red Hot!

Janet Jackson — Velvet Rope

When my mom passed away due to cancer, Janet Jackson’s ‘Velvet Rope‘ got me through a very traumatic time. The album’s hidden track ‘Special’ was on repeat. The album was the result of Janet’s bout with depression and emotional breakdown, so I guess that’s why I could totally relate at the time.

Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor

The Smashing Pumpkins — Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Very rarely does an album capture the Sturm und Drang of your teenage years while simultaneously stabbing one dead in the chest with the reality that your twenties aren’t going to be any better. Mellon Collie paints the perfect picture of the transition from teenager to young adult and the sheer emotional fury that comes with it. Whether its the sparkling highs of songs like Tonight, Tonight and Beautiful or the relentless brutality of X.Y.U and Tales of a Scorched Earth, Mellon Collie captures what it’s like to wake up happy one day and fall asleep miserable the next, or how it feels to fall in love one evening and wake up wanting to tear your heart right out. Apart from the album being a completely relatable emotional rollercoaster, it also solidifies its position as one of the last great contemporary rock albums from the ’90s by giving us some of the greatest songwriting. How else would we have been able to stomach lyrics like “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage,” “And into the eyes of a jackal I say KABOOM,” “Love is suicide,” “Crucify the insincere tonight” and much more?

Lana Del Rey — Born To Die: The Paradise Edition

The original Born To Die opened my eyes to the world Lana Del Rey created for herself. Her soft and sombre voice barely managing to escape her lips, like a poet writing verse after verse with no intention of ever releasing their work to the public. Del Rey sways and swings through the moments in her life that made her the woman she is today. Which entranced me and pulled me in from the moment the album started playing. However, when she released her second musical effort, the EP/Album duo The Paradise Edition, I felt something I hadn’t felt with an album in a very long time. Now many singers manage to release beautiful songs about love, life, and coming to an understanding that no matter how hard you try, you are a product of the things life has put you through. But Lana sings with a dread and despair masked with optimism and hope that you have no choice but to aimlessly drift between the soft velvety rose gardens she’s planted in front of the pearly gates, smoking a cigarette while you wait to see if heaven’s gonna let you in or if you’ll burn for your sins. This idea can be felt throughout Born To Die, with its playful melancholy, but it isn’t until you pop BTD out and put Paradise in that you realize that the soft playfulness Del Rey expressed in BTD was just a taste of the dark reality that lies within her. As soon as Paradise begins to play, you’re met with songs like ‘Ride’, ‘Bel Air’, ‘American’, and ‘Cola’, that describe the beauty and horror the world offers you. Underage addiction, male validation, and the journey to find oneself can all be found nestled within the songs of The Paradise Edition, making it one of my all-time favourite and defining albums to date.

Placebo — A Place For Us To Dream

The complete and utter chaos you feel growing up as a kid who sees themselves as “different” is an experience unique in and of itself. While some kids go through their “phases,” others are forced to go through a barrage of so much more. Mental illness, abuse, drugs, love, mixed emotions, unspoken words, missed chances, broken hearts, smiles, and confusion are all human experiences that many misunderstood or forgotten kids go through on a daily basis. Luckily, Placebo came along and gave a voice to the kids who had no idea where to even start. In their latest endeavor, which places the beauty of a handful of their newest songs within the borders of their greatest hits and singles, is a compilation album of the greatest songs they’ve made since their debut record. And each song strikes a chord in the exact same way it did when I first heard it. Another reason why this album remains a staple within my favourites isn’t just for its razor-sharp taste of reality, but for the underlying queerness that stains many of the songs. Singles like ‘Taste in Men’ and ‘Nancy Boy’ reassure boys who feel that there isn’t anyone in the world who will ever understand the way you feel, that there is someone who knows what you’re going through, and there is a way to come up to the surface when you feel as if you can’t stay afloat. God bless you, Brian Molko.

Aurore, Fashion Editor

Mariah Carey — Daydream

Whatever people say about Mariah Carey, she is (was) one of the best singers of all time! Her album ‘Daydream‘ definitely shaped who I am. When it came out in 1995, I was 8 years old but already knew that we had something in common… we were both Divas. And the good aspect of having Mariah as a source of  inspiration is, no matter how annoying I get, I would always be less insufferable than her.

Jack Johnson — In between Dreams

The first song of the album I heard was Good People… It sounded like a vacation song… I remember going on websites to search the lyrics. I didn’t speak English at all at the time so I also had to look for the translation, but I still fell in love with the album aaaaaand the singer of course! It was my thing at the time to fall in love with celebrities with a “boy next door” look. This tall and strong Australian guy wearing flip flops at his concert had everything I was looking for.

M.I.A — Kala

I don’t know much about Indian culture, but M.I.A’s Kala was the first place I heard such a different sound. This album is the perfect blend of tribal African and original Indian sounds, and it makes you feel like you are in the jungle. After having experienced that, I couldn’t deny the fact that being mixed and having different cultures make you stronger if you embrace it like M.I.A does!

Rachel, Content Intern

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — Time Out

The Brubeck Quartet was my gateway into the world of jazz music. Before Brubeck, jazz was just a broad category; there was big band and bebop but it all melded together. Then I heard Take Five. It sounded totally original to me. After Brubeck I was turned on to all sorts of artists: John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Django Reindhart, Charles Mingus, and the list goes on.

David Bowie — Hunky Dory

Bowie has been with me since I first took an interest in music and I still play and replay many of his songs. In university I took a cultural criticism class on Bowie, which expanded my views on what music could be and do as an art form. Bowie was a postmodern prince, a man of many disguises — Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Alladin Sane. On ‘Hunky Dory’ alone he mimics Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and the Velvet Underground. Through the performance of these personas Bowie defies the notion of the ‘authentic’ self and calls for a lighter kind of being.

Jessica Pratt — Jessica Pratt

This was one of those albums that played over and over again one summer and now it just sounds like sun-drenched streetcars and evenings on my tiny balcony. Maybe it set the tone. Either way, if you like folk, this is a great album.

Adina Heisler, Contributor

Belle and Sebastian — Push Barman to Open Old Wounds

When I was either thirteen or fourteen, my sister gave me her copy of Belle and Sebastian’s two-disc album of EPs and singles, and from there I began to fall in love. I’ve been completely obsessed with Belle and Sebastian since, and I love everything about their music. I love the indie flavor, I love that they can mix up their musical styles, and I like the unique stories they tell.

Leonard Cohen — You Want it Darker

I’ll be honest, I may be Jewish, but I’m not really spiritual at all. Practicing Judaism, for me, has always been more about a cultural and ethnic identity, and heaping piles of guilt. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel something and inexplicable when I listen to Leonard Cohen’s music, and particularly this, his final album. And especially the title song, which features Cohen backed by a choir from Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue. Who else can really examine God and spirituality so beautifully? Especially haunting is Cohen’s repeated use of the Hebrew word “Hinneni” which means, “I am here”, which is what Abraham said back to God before God asked him to kill Isaac. Even if you don’t believe in or care about the Torah, you’ve got to admit the way Cohen says “Hinneni, Hinneni/I’m ready, my lord” is captivating and intense.

Mother Mother — The Sticks

This album might as well be called, “Anxiety: The Musical!” Ok, maybe that’s a bit much, and I suppose everyone’s going to look at the album differently, but I think this album just gets at the heart of that deep dread, uncertainty, and discomfort that comes from suffering from anxiety, and does it really well. Especially lyrics in songs like “Happy” (Ask me if I’m happy/I don’t know/If it is a place we need to go) and “Dread in My Heart” (And at any second now I think it all might fall apart/‘Cause there’s a god awful shitty feeling of dread in my heart) just really get at the core of how anxiety feels.

Meg Summers, Contributor

Guns n’ Roses  Appetite for Destruction

So much of our interest in music come from our parents and what they showed us. What follows are usually friends and the radio and their influence. I don’t know how my obsession with Guns N’ Roses started but I know that it isn’t to any of their credit. To the best of my recollection, I heard ‘Mr. Brownstone’ on the radio, looked up what album it’s from, then came across the album, all around the same time that I got my driver’s license. For two years straight, I drove while listening to this album. It was my first introduction to a rock band that I liked solely because of their music and not because it had a nostalgic value for my parents.

Neil Young — Live at Massey Hall

Not a single day goes by that a song from this album doesn’t make it onto my playlist. I have grown up with songs by Neil Young and have discovered new personal meanings in his songs. This particular album is near and dear to me because it highlights his influence on Canadian music. It was recorded while he was transforming into a bigger and a better known musician outside of Canada. It’s a reminder of the importance of recognizing your roots. I would give this album and so much more works of Neil Young credit for influencing my choice to understand different perspectives and take moments to be present and aware of what is going on around me.

Rent Soundtrack

As a musical junkie, there are numerous soundtracks that I take with me on drives, walks, and get pushed into the unlucky ears of my friends and family. However, Rent is definitely more than a musical to me as it taught me about different types of people that I had no chance of coming across as a 12 year-old in a very small and cookie-cutter town. I had no friends or family who were gay and had no idea about different cultures besides my own. Listening to Rent everyday at such a young age was an absolute encouragement to educate myself on things outside of my day-to-day regularities and learn about and celebrate differences. I blame Rent for making me want to move to a different atmosphere and enjoy the diversity that a city has to offer.

Kimberley Drapack, Contributor

Frank Ocean — Blonde 

Anyone who knows me could easily have guessed that Frank Ocean would be somewhere on my list. While each album of his holds a special place in my heart, his most recent project, Blonde changed the game. I have listened to this album on loop since its 2016 release and it will forever be on my top 3 most influential albums. Frank is not from this world. Any fan of his can appreciate how amazing his music is while knowing little to nothing at all about his personal life. He lets the music speak for itself, beautifully blending soulful lyrics with heartbreaking instrumentals. If Blonde is not a favourite of yours, I challenge you to take another listen in its entirety and discover all the intricacies at play in his work.

Kanye West — Late Registration

It’s always a struggle choosing a Kanye West album that’s had the most impact on my life. It often changes, but each album has a considerable place in my heart. Late Registration is often on the lower rungs of critics and fans’ lists, but it shouldn’t be. Most will argue that My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should forever hold the top spot, but I challenge you to reconsider. Late Registration is Kanye’s sophomore album that gave him a considerable amount of debt. He put his life and soul into this album and perfected each track until the very last moment. The passion West puts into his projects is inspiring, and his passion shows to those who are paying attention.

Bill Haley & His Comets — Rock Around the Clock

This rock album from 1955 holds a very special place in my heart. Rock Around the Clock was the first album by the band to gain a spot in the Billboard charts, as well as one of the first rock albums to do so. The album was introduced to me by my grandfather when I was a young girl. We used to sit in his living room and he would teach me all about his favourite albums and how the music made him feel. This was the first album that I saw my grandparents dance to. It was the first album that I would dance around to with my sisters, spinning in circles until we were too dizzy to move. It’s pretty great, you should give it a listen if you’re feeling nostalgic for 1950s rock.

Dear… Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey dead in American Beauty | Photo Property of Jinks/Cohen Company – DreamWorks Productions

Dear Kevin Spacey,

The queer community does not claim you. We hear by spit in the face of queerness which you used as a shield to soften the blow that you are indeed a vile predator. How dare you use the act of coming out, which, for some within the community, is one of the most important and vital moments in their journey to self-acceptance. To stand before your fans, peers, and millions of victims of sexual abuse, and try to use a man’s suffering at your hands is by far one of the most ludicrous and destructive acts I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing this year. Don’t think the hammer of justice won’t fall upon your smug face because you’ve now come out as a queer man. No! I still have some trust in the judicial system and with the recent string of celebrity sexual predators being exposed for the vile human beings they truly are, I trust that you won’t be able to hide behind your queerness for long.

And while we’re on the topic of disgusting human beings, recently, Actor Corey Felman stepped forward and brought much-needed awareness to one of the most shocking (but not really that shocking cause this is Hollywood we’re talking about here) topics that are rarely ever brought up in today’s society. And that’s pedophilia. In recent interviews, Mr. Feldman claims to have been sexually violated as a teenager by actor Jon Grisom and others. His goals are to call out an extensive list of Hollywood pedos who have either approached him as a young adult or those he has knowledge of who’ve inappropriately surrounded themselves with Hollywood’s A-list teen stars of the ’80s. And God bless him for it. Just as Anthony Rapp and Harry Dreyfuss came forward to finally condemn Spacey, Hollywood’s male and female actors who suffered at the hands of A-list pedophiles should find the courage to come forward and bring out the people who have silenced them and damaged them to the light of justice they deserve.

A Conversation with Geoff Pevere on Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival

The scope of conversations on mental health and mental wellness is widening. I’m thankful for that. It’s hard to find an outlet where one can share their experiences safely and be met with understanding. A real understanding, not just an apologetic comment along the lines of ‘sorry you’re having a rough time right now. Understanding from people who have firsthand experiences to match your own.

The Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival is the first mental health film festival of its kind with the largest reach in the world. This is something Toronto can be proud of. We had the opportunity to chat with Geoff Pevere, the festival programmer, to get a glimpse of what to expect in this years line-up.

Kimberley Drapack: You are celebrating 25 years. What can we expect from this year’s festival?

Geoff Pevere: We’re sticking to the formula that has worked for us over the years which is presenting films from around the world that provide an opportunity for people to talk about their own experience or people that they know and to approach the subject of mental health, recovery and addiction from as many different angles as possible. It’s really important that the films are not just shown on their own but as an opportunity for people to discuss their own experience.

We have a number of different discussions and events taking place which hopefully will only enhance people’s appreciation of the films we’re showing.

K: Rendezvous is the first and largest mental health film festival in the world. Tell us more about that.

GP: The festival began 25 years ago and it was the iniative of Workman Arts, which is 30 years old. It was founded by two nurses two were working CAMH at the time. When they witnessed people, who had mental health issues, and when they had the opportunity to be as creative as they wanted to be and in the way they wanted to be, it was something that was meaningful and helpful to them. It helped them to express themselves. The idea came up to start the film festival and we gathered films across the world, documentaries, short film that document mental health issues. It was the first event of its kind. It is the oldest event of its kind.

It’s something that Toronto should be way prouder of, given the fact that the mental health conversation is wider as it’s ever been, you think they would credit that we were there first. Rendezvous is a terrific festival. Unlike any of the other film festivals that take place in Toronto because it has such a tight focus and it can have such a personal impact.

K: I think often people find it difficult to speak about mental illness. But I think we’re doing a lot better now in opening up conversations so that people can share their experiences.

GP: Almost all mental health issues share a feeling on the part of the person who is experience it that they are alone. That nobody understands them and that they are isolated. The most important thing you can do to open up conversation and make people feel comfortable talking about the films and to those who are close to them.

We show terrific films, but most importantly, we give people the opportunity of taking the experience of watching the film and applying it to their own lives. We hope they leave there with a stronger sense that there are other people going through what they are around the world, everyday.

K: It brings a community aspect to it that they wouldn’t necessarily find at most places.

GP: What a lot of film festivals do is focus on the films, which is understandable, but a lot of them are very specific in terms of their audience and their outreach. For example, you have indigenous film festivals, LGBT film festivals, etc. This is one that is different because the focus is on these conversations and the films are important because they provide the opportunity. These are films that are designed to stimulate conversation, and that is what gives Rendezvous its distinction.

It’s sometimes challenging to make your presence and your identity known in a city that is crowded with events and film festivals. Getting the message out about what we’re doing and why it’s different is hard. There are people who will roll their eyes or turn away, simply because of the words, “mental health.” They think it’s going to be heavy, they think it’s going to be dark, and yes, some are, but I would argue that they all provide a compelling experience that will allow people to reflect on their own and share it with people that are there.

K: How do you stay true to the story without over-sensationalizing the plot?

GP: We try to reflect as many perspectives as possible, but if I’m looking at something which I feel is simply taking advantage of someone’s mental health, either for the occasion of comedy, or horror, and people are not being treated in a way that helps us understand them, then we are looking at an over sensationalizing of the plot.

Our films do not exploit their subjects, but are curious about their subjects and they allow their subjects to be considered as objectively as possible. We try to steer clear of the sensationalizing because as great as these movies have been about opening up our understanding of mental health issues, in many cases, what they have done is reinforce a stigma. The idea that crazy people should be locked away, and psychotic people are all serial killers – all those things are absolutely incorrect and unfortunately, they are presumptions you see still a lot in film.

K: What criteria are you looking for when choosing a film for the festival?

GP: The process begins by going to the major festivals early in the year and seeing what they’re showing. Festivals like Sundance, Berlin, and South by Southwest, is usually where we begin to look for things. We also have contacts with a lot of distributors around the world who we have worked with, and we send out notifications to them that we are looking for things.

We also have an open submission policy. In the last two years, I’d say that we’ve had 250 films that were submitted from around the world. We try to watch as many as we can, but we don’t watch everything because if it is in the category of pure sensationalism, we’re not interested, or if it’s not something that looks like it will generate a terribly interesting conversation.

I’m looking for films that, when you put them all together in the context of a single festival, provide the most opportunity to see the way the world is thinking about mental health at the moment.

You will find films in our festival from Bulgaria, England, Turkey, Iran, Australia. I’m looking for a balanced program, something that is well represented, and films that people are going to react to and want to discuss afterwards.

K: You have a really wide scope. Is there a short time period in which you need to produce your line-up?

GP: We arrive at the first draft of the line-up in late July. From April to July I am mostly just looking at images of mental health issues. I’m laughing because people always ask me, “do you worry about what the effects of might be on you?”

The fact is, it’s a good question, but I can get so excited and stimulated by something I recognize as saying something that either hasn’t been said before or is being said in an interesting way. That to me is really thrilling to see. That, contributing to my own stability, which is precarious at the best of times, but mostly, I’m looking for things that are challenging and that are exciting.

The impact on me watching these films makes me think: maybe I’m crazy, but it makes me want to see more.

K: Tell us about the opening film, Mad to be Normal. Why was this given the top spot?

GP: I was curious when I saw Mad to be Normal because it is a portrait of a few years in the life of the guy who was known as the head of the “anti-psychiatry” movement in the 1960’s. His name was R.D. Lang, and was really well known. He was notorious in London for a facility he ran which was a combination of a psychiatric hospital and commune. He mostly kept patients there who were suffering from schizophrenia. He refused to medicate them and restrict what they were doing and encouraged them to practice art. As a result of this he became extremely controversial and shut out by the psychiatric community. The interesting thing is, that a lot of what R.D. Lang was trying to point out about schizophrenia, which is not a disease that is manifested the same way in any two patients, and that you simply can’t medicate people because in many cases it means that people are verging on catatonic.

R.D. Lang is played in the film by David Tennant, a Scottish actor known from Jessica Jones and Dr. Who. It’s interesting because it’s a portrait of psychiatric practice in the past that was considered radical that now looks extremely compelling and keys in with the ways people are thinking today about mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

It has some big movie stars, David Tennant and Elizabeth Moss, and for our opening night, it feels like the perfect opportunity. The film maker, Robert Mullen, who knew R.D. Lang, is going to be joining us for a conversation.

K: What is your criteria for what shows will open and close the festival? Is there a harder slot to fill?

GP: With both opening and closing night, you tend to get more people who are not normally going to the festival and seeing other films, not exclusively. These events tend to bring people out because they are opening and closing night events. We try to present films that are accessible and interesting to general audiences as possible.

The closing night film this year is a really touching personal movement by a film maker who knew a young man who committed suicide when he was in high school because he was suffering from schizophrenia. He felt alone and didn’t know what to do. Any attempts to integrate him or make him feel belonging in society we’re not something that worked for this child. The connection is with the film maker who knew him and the story will suggest to people a lot of their own personal experiences from the past.

The film, Holden On, stimulates discussion and conversation but is extremely compelling and is the kind of movie that doesn’t require a ton of preparation or experience to understand or enjoy it.

K: There is a strong presence of female filmmakers in the program. Is that important to you when you’re trying to diversify the lineup?

GP: We of course are looking for films that represent perspectives and points of view that are underrepresented. Having said that, it wasn’t a plan for the films to have as many women directors or as many women subjects as we found this particular year. It just seems to be that there is a surge in filmmaking activity made by women, dealing with mental health issues. This is really interesting and shows that the conversation is opening up. For years and years, a woman’s mental health experience was exclusively talked about largely by the psychiatric community by male doctors, and largely influenced by Sigmund Freud.

All of these things are now up for grabs and changing and it’s so exciting to see these films. I’m proud to say that it’s not something we went looking for, but there just happened to be so many that were so good.

K: What can we expect from the short films within the line-up?

GP: Either shorts will work as an introduction to features, or in some cases, you see a collection of short films all dealing with the same subject and you realize that if you put these films together, they themselves will make an interesting program.

We have a program that is called Women on the Verge, which is 5 different films about women and made by women that deal with mental health experience. There is another program called Frontiers, which are documentaries from different countries that are all exploring the idea of alternative treatments.

If the short films seem to lend themselves to a designated program, we will do so accordingly. Another thing we’re doing this year, before most of the films, is were going to be showing films made by the individuals of Workman Arts, which is an organization that consists of people with mental health experience creating art. We’re proud to show those short films throughout the festival as part of the 30th anniversary.

It’s frustrating, but it’s also a good problem to have, that the last 3 years I have been doing this, I have more films that I want to show then I have room to show. This is one of the most exciting areas of filmmaking right now.

K: Is there anything you’d like me to include that we haven’t touched on yet?

GP: I would encourage people to go to the website,, take a look at the program and please come down to 651 Dufferin and take it in. If you are curious about any of this or are looking for good films, or if you suspect there is something in the film that pertains to your own experience, or trying to understand something, by all means, come down. We probably have something for you.