Nikki DuBose on Modeling, Mental Health, and Politics

Nikki DuBose is a former model turned author who is nothing short of a superhero. Nikki released her memoir Washed Away: From Darkness to Light in September of 2016 in which she reveals her journey to self-care. As an advocate for mental health, Nikki is a Celebrity Ambassador for The Shaw Mind Foundation, and has worked with assembly members such as Marc Levine on addressing the need for updated workplace protections within the modeling industry.

We had the opportunity to speak with Nikki about some of the work she has been doing, her journey to get there, and what is next to come.

Photos by Russ Elloway

Kimberley: What led you to write a tell-all account about your life and your experiences?

Nikki DuBose: When I started recovering in 2012, one of the main things to help me recover was realizing that I needed to stop isolating, so I started getting involved with The National Eating Disorder Association and I found a lot of camaraderie in that. I realized from that and through my writing that there are a lot of people who have more issues… and beyond the eating disorder, there’re a lot of layers in that. So that just led to many other things, especially with the writing and connecting. I just realized that writing a book would help me to connect with people. There’s really no shame in speaking about mental health issues, although we think that there is shame because we don’t talk about it so much. Even though, through the power of social media, there are a lot of videos, and articles — in the real world, when you go out and you’re in your own head, you feel ashamed. Or when you’re at work you feel ashamed to talk about it.

The book and the writing were some things that helped me and gave me confidence because as a person in my natural state, I have depression, I have really low self-esteem… so it really helped me and helped me to help other people. It was a big stepping stone and I try to encourage people, even if they think they’re not good at writing, to try. It’s a creative outlet. Some people like to paint, or some people like to draw, so I think it’s a good way to get your story out there because we all have a story. Every single one of us has a story.

K: In your book, you discuss journaling as a therapeutic way for you to get your thoughts out. Has writing helped you all your life or did you stumble onto it later?

N: I was more artistically inclined. As far as writing goes, [I wrote] ever since I was little. I remember in third grade I wrote a short story and I was really into that. My mom is also artistically inclined so I think it kind of ran on her side of the family. I always liked it, but I do know that my mental health issues kind of hindered me pursuing it. What I mean by that is, I was more inclined to draw or write in my room behind closed doors because it was a way for me to express the pain I felt, than because I was more shy, or because I was being abused. I would go in my room and do that rather than participate in a writing class in school or something.

In my junior/senior year in high school, I did finally participate. I was a senior editor for this newspaper. I would gain some confidence and I would try, but then I would drop out of high school. It was a real struggle for me, however, writing was always one of the things that I eventually leaned back on and it gave me confidence. That was true in high school and that was true in college. Finally, I was sure I was recovering, because eventually something that I started to do helped me to remember all the memories I had repressed. I just started to let all those memories out, so I guess writing has always been that tool that I can rely on to help me. I’m a strong advocate for writing, or painting, or any type of art therapy.

K: You often speak of your experience in the modeling industry and how it can be a tough space for young girls, especially if they’re starting out on their own. What led you into the modeling industry at such a young age? How did it shape your self-perception?

N: That’s a very good question because people need to hear that over and over again because I still find that it’s just a small percentage of people who are telling the truth, versus people who are wanting to get into that business. It is a multi-billion or almost trillion dollar business. I pushed myself into that business because I had really low self-esteem and I like to link trauma in childhood to why people can be attracted to that business. You don’t have to look very far to see how many celebrities or stars come from broken homes who want to become famous. That was definitely true for me.

I didn’t feel like anyone special. My mother had severe mental health issues: bipolar, dissociative identity. I had child sexual abuse, physical abuse, all this stuff going on, and I felt like, in my mind, that it was something that naturally clicked in my head. I didn’t analyze it. I felt like, if I can be recognized, if I can be in a magazine, then life will be OK. That was my natural thought process. I entered a local, very well-known modelling school and was bullied and fat shamed. I was already dealing with an eating disorder for a while by that time, and BDD, which made it worse, so I left that school.

The thing is that, because I was so used to being abused, and living in that type of environment, I still kept going back to wanting to be famous or wanting to be in that type of environment. A few years later I got back into modelling again in California, and started working in television and then eventually signed a big contract in Miami with one of the biggest agencies in the world. I got into more problems because I hadn’t dealt with my mental health issues, and by that time I was becoming very successful at modelling. I wasn’t one of those stories that you hear where like, I was in the mall with my mom and a scout found me. It wasn’t like that; it was the opposite.


K: There was a passage in your book that stuck out to me. It reads, “Who am I? I’m certainly not special, but a joke, a close hanger for everyone to admire and forget.” What did you mean by this passage?

N: I mean, it’s exactly like that, because that’s what I felt like. That was from when I did a big fashion show and at that time, I was dealing with psychosis and all these things, and mental health… and mine was so messed up, I really felt like I’d worked so hard but it didn’t matter because nobody cared. So, here I was working for people, but nobody gives a shit about me. So, what was all this for? Why was I trying to attain this lifestyle, this status, when in the end I felt like they were laughing at me. I felt like they didn’t care about me. It was like a reflection of my childhood to me, because I was still dealing with that trauma but I didn’t really realize it. I felt like I was dealing with something that was really burdening to my soul.

It was really hard for me mentally, and I felt really alone. I think I dealt with these jobs much harder than other people, because I had these mental health issues but I internalized things deeply. I could feel the superficiality of the business. I could really digest that. I could sense it. I could see it, and I just felt like I wanted to get out of there. At the same time, I couldn’t because I was attracted to that.

K: What advice would you give to girls who aspire to enter the industry?

N: I think there a few different things. I worked on a legislation last year, and we’re actually doing a campaign right now: it’s hashtag “DearNYFW.” We are doing it with the National Eating Disorder Association and the Model Alliance and we signed an open letter —thirty-five models calling for more health and diversity. Last year, I worked on a bill trying to regulate the fashion business. Any young person has to understand, and especially their parents have to understand, that the industry isn’t regulated. When you are trying to work as a worker in a business that’s not regulated, as an independent contractor, it’s really dangerous because you don’t have protection. You can go in there and they can tell you to lose weight, like every single day, and that’s alright, because you’re not protected. Someone can abuse you psychologically and sexually. You get raped — it happened to me, it happens to a lot of girls, and guess what? It doesn’t really make a difference because there are a thousand girls going in there and it happens to a percentage of them. There’s no worker protection, and this has been a business that has been operating like that since the very beginning and we publicized that it has been operating like that. We took it to the senate, the assembly, and we got turned down.

On the other end, the more commercial aspect, what I like to tell young people is that, beauty isn’t bad. It’s not bad to want to model, I don’t put down the industry, because fashion is amazing. I’m a woman, I love fashion, but it’s not everything. It’s just one component of life. I’m all for humanitarian causes. I think it’s more important to look inside yourself and to see what your passions in life are, how you can contribute to the world, how you can help other people. Try not to get sucked up into a multi-billion dollar business that is just there to make money, and not really there to care for you. It’s not bad, but it’s not everything — try to not make it your whole life because you’re so much bigger than that as a person. You’re so much more important than that as a person, you have so much more to offer this world than just the way you look or how much you weigh. It’s not all there is to life.

K: You worked alongside Assembly member Marc Levine on the California Assembly Bill 2539, which addresses workplace protections and health standards in the modeling industry. Can you tell us a little about the bill, your contribution, and the next steps going forward?

N: I worked on that because I’ve had a great partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association for several years now. I’ve done a lot of different things with them at a national and local level, so we partnered up. We all worked together to try to get this bill passed. It was turned down in the appropriations committee, where they decide how much a bill is going to cost. This year, we have another chance with the bill so we are determining now how we are going to move forward with that.

In 2015, I started working on a mental health education program for models and agents because when I was working in the modelling industry I noticed that there was absolutely zero mental health education and resources to support the models. It’s twofold: agencies need to be educated, they need to understand what eating disorders are, and models need support. When they are independent contractors, they usually can’t afford health insurance. They need free support, so that’s what I’m working on.

K: As a Celebrity Ambassador for The Shaw Mind foundation, (a global charity passionate about tackling the stigma that can accompany mental health issues) you have been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network on the TD Jakes Show. What have you taken away from this experience?

N: The Shaw Mind Foundation is a great, and I signed on with them. They are currently petitioning to get mandatory mental health education in schools in the UK. I’d like to bring that on here, in the US, in getting mental health education.

The TD Jakes Show is amazing. I love TD Jakes. He is a Pentecostal pastor and coming from the South, it just connects with me because I feel like I can do something in church and I don’t have to sit still. I feel it in my soul. I would watch him on TV when I was in Spain. It helped me along my recovery path. I was watching him and somehow we got connected, then I went on there.

When I was doing the interview, I was thinking, “oh my god!” I felt a little bit struck. Also, because I felt like it was a very good interview. He’s a really good person, and I feel it’s really good what he’s doing with his show because, first of all: he’s a man, a person of faith, and with him introducing mental health issues on his show, it’s great. I personally feel like we need more people doing that, who are faith-filled, talking about mental health, bringing it to the forefront, not people who are from Hollywood attacking other people’s mental health issues, but are applauding them. It was a good interview and I love him, he’s a great person.

K: You are currently working on the Omnibus Child Victim’s Act which aims to extend the current statute of limitations for child sexual abuse an extra five years beyond current law. What does this bill mean to you? What are the next steps going forward?

Nikki DuBose: The revised bill would eliminate the statute of limitations because New York has the worst laws in the whole country for child sexual abuse victims. I got involved in that because it’s something that is really close to me. I currently live in California and we passed that, we don’t have any limitations. One of the things I do with the foundation is I sometimes get involved with legislative issues, and when I heard about this issue in New York, I said, “why has this been turned down?” It’s going on 11 years now. My friends who are working on this, through the “Stop Abuse Campaign,” contacted me and said I would like to get involved because I think it’s ridiculous that this is going on 11 years. The Catholic church paid two million dollars to lobbyists in the past ten years to block this. This is all public information. When the bill was first introduced, the assembly woman who was working on it tried to making it a catholic church bill, but I said that child sexual abuse is not just in the catholic church, it affects everyone. I was sexually abused by my mother, and a male figure, and it correlates into mental health issues and it relates to eating disorders.

This year, for the first time ever, we got the Governor of New York’s support. Which is a big deal when the governor puts his stamp on an issue or bill, then it really shows the legislature that he is serious about getting the bill passed. It makes me sick because statistically from the CDC, and the state of New York, there are 43,000 children every year who are sexually abused. That’s the reported cases. With these kind of issues, they’re often underreported. I hate seeing things like this go on and nothing being done, especially when law makers are being paid to handle issues and they let things like this slide. We want to get this bill passed this year.

K: You have been very open about your personal experience with abuse and have become a mentor for young people everywhere. What advice would you give to young people to come forward if they find themselves in a similar situation?

N: It’s not easy. I don’t think there is one formula. It depends on which type of abuse. With sexual abuse, we know that statistically, it can take the victim 21 years to remember their memories. With physical abuse, I haven’t looked up statistics, but I know that with domestic violence, it can be really hard to get out of that. Everyone’s inner strength is different. I think that if I could give one piece of advice it would be to know that you are worth all the love in the world. If you can just reach out to one person and confide in them, do that, because you are worthy of love. I think it’s really difficult when you are in that situation because I’m trying to think back when I was in the midst of trauma, you can’t see anything else. To some a little bit out of that, I would say to try and confide in someone and get help. Reaching out is the most important thing that you can do. Try talking to a neutral person, and knowing that you are worthy of that care, of that love. You are worthy of getting help is the most important message.

K: You are an advocate for inner beauty and spirituality. What advice would you give someone aspiring to work on themselves with this as a focus? How has spirituality helped you?

N: When I started to work on myself I was in a really bad state. I didn’t understand anything about myself and my perception of myself was completely warped. I think it starts with a healthy dose of compassion. Understanding that you are perfect just the way you are, but you are obviously not going to feel that way.

In the morning, I started with meditating on something positive and this eventually translated onto feeling good about the way that I looked. I would meditate on something spiritual, or on little notes that I wrote to myself. Everything was on purpose. It was a conscious decision that I made. I would write things like, “I’m worthy” or “this is what I love about myself.” I was recovering from BDD and I was recovering from an eating disorder. These were critical things that I did.

I wrote down all the positive things that I liked about myself. I chose to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Whatever we chose to meditate on, that’s going to amplify and resonate in our mind. I would put sticky notes on my mirror, because I had such a horrible self-esteem. You’ve got to remember, when you’ve had an eating disorder for a long time, it affects you, deeply. Or even if you have depression, or low self-esteem, we all have at some level, some type of hatred towards ourselves at some point in our lives. Or maybe someone else tells us something bad about ourselves.

I think that putting the sticky notes up was a great way. Every time I passed myself in the mirror, even though I felt ridiculous doing that, it really worked. I would look at myself and say: you’re amazing, you’re special, god loves you, I’m confident, I’m one-of-a-kind, I’m going to do something great with my life today. Even if I didn’t, because I wasn’t leaving my house, because I was sick, those seeds that I planted in myself led to a start of an amazing life because I didn’t feel like I had a future, but I was planting those words in my mind and my spirit, which is the basis for everything. I think that starting with things like that can help anybody. The way that we think about ourselves, and our environment. Changing your environment starts at home, it’s the basis for everything.

I had to make a conscious decision to change my friends and the people I was hanging out with because if they weren’t a reflection of the way that I wanted to see myself or the way that I wanted to be, I had to make really important decisions. I would encourage people to think about that.

K: What’s next for you? You’ve mentioned running for office in the next few years, and with the book tour going on, you are pretty busy! What are you excited about?

N: Yeah, that’s what I’m really excited about. I didn’t expect to do that because I never really saw myself doing politics. I don’t see it as I’m a politician or anything, but it’s something that came out of my natural passion for advocacy work, my own suffering, and a desire to help people which I’ve been doing ever since I’ve been recovering. It’s a natural progression for me, being involved with people at the state-level and national-level and here in the community.

I see myself running for office in the next couple years.  I’m just getting involved with the League of Women’s Voters Los Angeles. They’re heavily involved with the election process and the local issues here in Los Angeles, and the policies. I am getting more involved in that and learning about the issues that affect our community, and our state and combining that with the advocacy work that I’ve been doing because I do care about people, I care about mental health. When I do run, my main mission is to bring mental health to the forefront because what really got me interested in politics is that, when I went to California capital in Sacramento, I helped Senator Levine with AB 2539, it was 90% men in the legislature. This issue is kind of laughed at, about worker protection and help for models. I had a conversation with a friend who is an attorney and working on this issue and she said, “you should run, there is no women working there.” I also realized that there was no women pushing forth mental health issues. There are very little women pushing forth protection of children. I feel like this really needs to be pressed and since I’ve been doing it anyway the past few years for free, I would love to go in there and keep fighting because it’s a passion of mine.

I love writing and I’m working on another book. It’s a cultural book about the Gullah culture in South Carolina, where I’m from. I love keeping things alive that people tried to kill. I want to continue doing that, some more book signings and speaking engagements. There are a lot of great things going on, but I can tell you the thing I’m most excited about is the political aspect. I want to keep it alive and show that women are in there, fighting for mental health issues. I feel that the only way we are ever going to bring mental health to the forefront, while of course there are many other issues that I care about, it’s really about if women are in there and they are the ones fighting for that because from an advocacy perspective, being in there and trying to fight with lawmakers – it’s hard. These issues often get pushed to the side.

Nikki’s book Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is available through Outskirts Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books. It can also be purchased on Kindle, Nook and iTunes.

Nikki is also a contributor within We Chose to Thrive by Becky Norwood. The book is a collaborative effort by 31 women who share their stories of overcoming abuse, while hoping to reduce the stigma that pertains to it.

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Movies for When You’re Hungry

In Netflix’s Chef’s Table, each episode takes the viewer closer to the chef and his/her food, more often than not, at a high-end restaurant and the craftsmanship, the energy, the creativity, and the minutiae of high-end dining. Though I love the show and truly appreciate the borderline fanaticism of a chef shown in beautifully rendered sequences, there’s a gaping distance between the food — and the world around it and all its social and cultural implications — shown and the food prepared, shared, and eaten in my day to day life.

There is, in our current zeitgeist’s love of food, between the many screens and real life (an apparent redundancy that increasingly seem to be a necessary modifier in day to day conversations), a reductive tendency to exclude how the majority of society experiences food. Were it not for its sheer immensity in number, the ‘good life’ on view would be, to the viewer, a harmless exercise in suspension of disbelief. But as it were, it is a constancy. A state of life somewhere else lived by someone else; we can look on it but only with some ingenuity can we reach them as stuff of life continually intervene.

I can’t help but feeling that our relationship with food is becoming less of a communal language and more of an individualized consumer one — one that portrays and claims social and cultural status, rather than a form of communication.

Of course, good food is, after all, just good food. But when we pay too much attention to the five-dollar signed kitchens with whatever stars, the hermetic chef essentially removed from society, and the lighting on the next food photo, we forget the kitchens in which and the cooks for whom food is seamlessly integral to living. And it’s too beautiful a thing to forget. After all, the food you grow up on, the kitchens you come to love and understand do not require feats of ingenuity — they require time and patience of preparation, courtesy, and appreciation and gratitude for the miracle of a dish, of eating.

These movies tell us things about food and hunger that we often forget. No star chefs, no paintings on a plate; just living and eating.

Big Night

The Italian dish, timballo, is called timpano in Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 classic Big NightIt’s a regional term for the dish, prepared, in the movie, by Primo (Tony Shalhoub), the older of two brother restauranteurs behind the new Italian place, ‘Paradise,’ on New Jersey Shore. Primo cooks classic Italian food and scoffs at what we now call American-Italian (spaghetti smothered in Jersey Italian gravy with meatballs), while Secondo (Stanley Tucci), the more practical of the two, tries to convince the other, in a thick Italian accent, to make whatever the customer wants: “make it, make the pasta, make it, make it, make the pasta.” Business, of course, is not a-booming. Then comes the big night — they have a chance to cook for Louis Prima, the Italian-American singer. And for that night, timpano is on the menu. Initially, it is not the Mona Lisa of Italian dishes. But what constitutes a timpano is so visibly hearty that it is instantly understood to be celebratory. And there’re a lot of carbs and beauty in that.

Adrift in Tokyo

What is the last thing you’d eat on your way to turn yourself in at a police station for a crime you’ve come to regret? In Satoshi Miki’s Adrift in Tokyo (Tenten,2007), Aiichiro Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura), a recently retired loan collector, makes a proposition to Fumiya Takemura (Joe Odagiri), a debilitated student in debt: take a walk with him through Tokyo for a cancelation of debt. So begins their walk through Tokyo. Aside from walking, they talk about their lives, spot lucky actors, fight an old watchmaker, and, most importantly for this article, eat. Not every food takes on meanings but the food choices Fukuhara and Fumiya make become increasingly fraught with meaning as they near the police station.

My Dinner with Andre

Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre has been loved, parodied, bashed, and talked about over and over again that it’s difficult to talk about it without feeling a bit self-conscious. But I truly enjoyed this movie for its abundance of ideas and generosity in anecdotes and conflicts, not to mention the two great actors, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, who also wrote the wonderful script. Though the dinner is a fancy restaurant that serves the likes of cailles aux raisin, galuska, terrine de poisson, and bramborova polevka, the dinner consists less of the food than it does of the two men’s conversation: the conversation is so good, so enthralling, the ideas, the conflicts so of importance that the food becomes secondary.

The Lunchbox

The lives of a lonely widower, Saajan (Irrfan Khan), with a taste for good food and a young wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) looking to jazz up her marriage through her husband’s stomach meet through a mix up in dabbawala delivery system in Ritesh Batra‘s 2013 movie The LunchboxThe movie is concerned largely with ways in which serendipitous meetings reaffirm our strange and unknowable connections to others. But it is also about a cook and a diligent and grateful eater, each sending out signals to the other, one with dishes packed in tiffin lunch boxes, and the other by sharing the food and licking the boxes clean. The notes Saajan and Ila write each other speak plainly while the food and the empty tiffin box returned to Ila at the end of the day speak with certain emotional poignancy of a secret language.

Chungking Express

People are hungry in Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong. But they are not just hungry for food but also for human connections in a mega city. A character tries out a number of canned pineapples, another a daily dose of chef’s salad in the famed director’s 1994 classic Chungking Expressstarring Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. We sometimes wish that a simple meaningful act or a sequence of events surreptitiously happened on us will help us understand our lives better. Chungking Express is is the locus of such hopes and dreams in WKW’s metropolis.

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Toronto Gets New Dance Studio

From left to right: Aaron Aquino, Aaron Libfeld and Roy Urbanozo. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Voted the best in Toronto, The Underground’s dance classes are getting a new three-storey studio with a rooftop skylight this summer.

In just about two months, the new Underground Dance Centre will take the space above Yuk Yuk’s comedy club at 224 Richmond St. West, which is only two doors down from the original. Compared to the 3,700 square feet old studio with two rooms, the new space will be around 8,500 square feet with four rooms, including a rooftop with glass windows, which all the teachers are excited about.

“This is the floor I’m going to fight for,” said hip hop teacher Aaron Aquino. “I just want a sunny roof and fresh air coming through.”

Right now, the demolitions are complete and the team is collecting quotes from different contractors and deciding on who will build the new studio, said studio manager Roy Urbanozo.

The Underground Dance Centre gets a rooftop skylight studio this summer. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

The price for a single class increases from $15 to $17 starting May 1st, according to twenty-eight-year owner Aaron Libfeld. He added that still “a competitive price” around the city comes with new values. They are doubling the number of classes from 120 to 240, adding more hours for the teachers, and hiring more dancers to teach new styles. The old studio will continue to operate and customers will be able to use their passes at both locations. 

“Everyone is excited to see the new schedule,” said Libfeld. “There’s going to be a lot more of the popular styles, such as hip hop, dancehall, heels, Beyonce… We gonna have more k-pop and disco theme.”

Libfeld grew up as a competitive dancer, who took ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, and acro at Vlad’s Dance Centre in Richmond Hill. The first thing he is looking for when hiring teachers is their personality. Even though someone is the best dancer in the world and they come with a bad attitude, they are automatically disqualified,” he said.

Excellent dance experience, understanding of the style, and ability to teach are the other requirements.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Teachers are not the only ones who create the mood in the studio. There are 20 young volunteers, who help at the front desk and receive free classes in return. Urbanozo will hire about 20 more volunteers to create positive vibes and a loving atmosphere in the new studio. 

Another innovation, prerecorded classes by choreographers from New York and L.A. is coming to the old Underground in just about a week. It’s going to be a unique experience, different from a simple online class, said Libfeld. “Even though they are [following] prerecorded videos, they are in a dance studio, in a dance environment, with other people,” he said. “Online classes are kind of the Netflix, but we wanna be like the Cineplex.”

Technology and social media have been a huge part of The Underground since it opened in 2014. Libfeld, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and used to run a technology company at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), said he applied all those skills to run his dance studio.

It’s very focused on working on the idea, getting feedback on that and continually innovating it,” he said.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Videos of every class on its Instagram, which now has almost 80,000 followers, helped the studio attract most of the clients and won the title of the best dance classes in Toronto by blogTO and Yelp within the first six months of opening. The Underground hosted the space for celebrities like Nelly Furtado, who rehearsed at the studio twice during her visit to Toronto.

“It’s exciting to know that we are providing the great content and sharing our love of dance in the world,” said Libfeld.

Both, Libfeld and Urbanozo said they are happy to expand their business, but the new studio is not the end of their vision. They will keep working on the main concept: providing their customers with the best experience. “We do our best because we want them [the customers] to come back. We want them to feel exclusive,” said Urbanozo. “There’s still a lot to learn about the industry and how to treat our customers.”

“We’ll only stop when we have to stop,” said Libfeld. “We are obsessed with the customer experience. For us it’s the worst thing if anyone walks out unhappy. So we make sure that we only hire the best teachers, keep the beautiful facility with professional cleaners every single night. That creates the whole experience which I think is different than anyone else does.”

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Your 420 Playlist

Happy 420 Novella readers! We wanted to provide you with a chill play mix for the day that went beyond the reggae and pot cliche (not that reggae isn’t fantastic). The tracklist consists of everything from pop, indie and electronic. We hope you have a lovely time listening to these tunes and lighting one –or a few– up.

Rihanna -James Joint

People Under the Stairs – Acid Raindrops

Sharon Forrester – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Erykah Badu – On & On

Wilson Tanner – Sun Room

De Facto – Cordova

OutKast – Crumblin’ Erb

Sean Nicholas Savage – Propaganda

Aquarian Foundation – Mind Miniatures

Rhoda Scott – Molybdenum

Devendra Banhart – Seahorse

Space Dimension Controller – The Love Quadrant

Devin The Dude – Doobie Ashtray

5 Must-see Movies from This Year’s Hot Docs Festival

There’s a reason we love documentaries: their beauty, power, influence and impact cannot be argued. They can cover any subject and be made by anyone, anywhere. There are no rules not really, except your movie needs to be true. Mostly true, anyway.

Documentaries can be transportive and awe-inducing, like the Planet Earth series or The Eagle Huntress. They can be unexpected and emotional like The Wolfpack. They can be terrifying, mystifying and ridiculous. They can also keep you up into the early hours of the morning, clicking next video after next video, winding up on conspiracy theory films about lizard people and the Illuminati.

I’m speaking from personal experience here.

It’s no wonder why we love watching documentaries and why events that honour them garner a fair bit of attention and excitement. I’m talking, of course, about the Canadian International Documentary Festival, which will take place at the Hot Docs theatre in Toronto from April 27th-May 7th.

This year’s festival packs a stellar line-up into its 11-day run. The documentaries being shown cover continents and topics. I can guarantee you’ll find at least one that interests you, but if you’re stuck, here’s our shortlist of some of the must-see documentaries playing during this year’s festival.

Becoming Who I Was

Via Hot Docs Box Office

Directed by Jin Jeong, Becoming Who I Was tells the story of Padma Angdu, an impoverished boy who discovers he is the reincarnation of a prominent Tibetan monk. The movie covers eight years of Padma’s life, from when he is banished from the local monastery, to his powerful bond with his godfather and journey to return to his rightful place.

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Rat Film

So, there’s a documentary about rats. Specifically, there’s a documentary about how the infestation of rats in Baltimore is a problem born from the segregation of ethnic minorities into impoverished neighbourhoods. Directed by Theo Anthony, this film uses a city’s rodent problem to demonstrate the ways a society has failed its people in the most basic ways. Rat Film is not one to be missed.

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Tiger Spirit

North Korea has become a modern boogeyman to the world, but Min Sook Lee’s 2007 documentary goes beyond the usual narrative of fear and dystopia to look at two nations struggling with closed-off borders and the after-effects of war. Lee also incorporates her own experience shooting the documentary while six months pregnant into the subject matter, asking the question of who is and isn’t allowed to report from unstable countries. In our current political climate, this documentary needs to be seen again.

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Tokyo Idols

In a society where youth and celebrity are vital, Tokyo Idols is a highly relevant look at a culture that makes an industry out of these phenomena. In Tokyo, teenage idols perform lip-synch dance shows for an audience filled with middle-aged men who drop vast amounts of cash to be able just to meet and see them. Competition between the idols is fierce and the criticism from their dedicated fan base is relentless. Kyoko Miyake’s documentary dives into this world of fantasy fulfillment through following a 19-year-old performer and her 43-year-old fan.

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Via Facebook.

In a basement in Northern Philadelphia, Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a “Ma’ Quest” create an artistic getaway for their community, allowing young people to express their feelings and frustrations through song on “Freestyle Fridays” and serving as role models to their own children and those that visit them. Director Jonathan Olshefski shot Quest over a 10-year period, following the family in their day-to-day lives. It is an honest, hope-filled look at good people living in a country that is more uneasy than ever.

Find showtimes and tickets here.



Kitchen24: A Delicious Blend of Entrepreneurial and Community Spirit

“When people talk about food, it just creates a warm feeling,” says co-owner Alexandra Pelts. “It’s community building; it’s an integral part of humanity. . .as the old saying goes, ‘to eat is human, to eat well is divine.”

Hopefully, it is that positive drive people will feel upon the opening of Kitchen24, a new culinary space and “food incubator” currently set to open at the end of May, located in Suite 200 at 100 Marmora Street. For those unaware, such locations exist more commonly in the United States and are used to give culinary professionals the space they may not otherwise have to work on various projects for their businesses — a very realistic problem, in the increasingly expensive Toronto market. Intrigued food enthusiasts can also experiment for their own enjoyment if the close quarters of the kitchen in their cramped apartment leaves much to be desired.

A rendering of what Kitchen24 will look like, once it is unveiled to the public

There are already businesses in Toronto offering kitchen spaces for rent, but co-owners Steve Kidron and Alexandra Pelts noticed the degree to which such an idea can be ambitiously expanded. Kitchen24 will be a 28,000 square foot, commercial-grade location that is going to take into account the different cultural, spacial, and even business needs for those willing to pay the monthly price. The initial idea was born when Pelts and Kidron, business partners since 2010, began renting out their previous considerably smaller kitchen facility for a catering company. The partners of that company eventually split, but that got their internal wheels turning. Pelts wrote an ad for their space, which she placed on Kijiji. The response was positively shocking: It received over 300 inquiries from people within the food service industry, ranging from those with small businesses to others working in offices, intrigued to try out a new lucrative interest on the side. Pelts and Kidron discovered the gap in the market and, upon doing more research, they soon found that there were other companies that were advertising kitchen spaces for rent, all of which were quite similar — to a fault.

“There is definitely a need for a space like [Kitchen24] in the city of Toronto. There are a number of companies, maybe a dozen give or take, that have advertised that they have commercial kitchens for rent, but most of them I would say are renting their kitchens similarly to the way we did a few years ago. There’s not a single food incubator that caters directly to the food service industry.”

The location will be comprised of sixty cooking stations, and among them will be thirteen convection ovens, a pizza oven, two walk-in fridges — one main fridge, and a smaller fridge for kosher requirements — and a vast array of appliances. Not only is the idea exciting for businesses owners struggling with Toronto rental costs, but the drive to take into account the needs of the small business owners first — who have a dream and perhaps, just need a little help to get off the ground — is the primary factor that Kidron and Pelts both hope will result is a thriving, passionate, and fun culinary community.

Steve Kidron wears his heart on his sleeves when it comes to his desire to give passionate individuals who are eager to learn more as much of a helping hand as he can. He is an immigrant from Israel, who once owned a food truck before the stress of working around regulations proved to be too much of a hassle, as well as a previous business — Fresh for Less — that delivered meals to the needy. As Kidron notes, one of the main issues that people with a small food business struggle with is moving their venture from their apartment or basement to an area that can be certified by the Health Department. Other rental kitchens end up having long wait times and those individuals starting out have very difficult work schedules, with some working two to three jobs to make ends meet. “The economy in Ontario is becoming so expensive. Even if they have money, it can be scary to invest — it’s a risk they don’t often need.” With both his personal experience and empathy for those in the business, he aims to operate Kitchen24 with enough flexibility to cater to clients of various economic capacities.

While the need for space and flexible scheduling for clients is on the forefront of their minds, Kidron and Pelts hope that their plans for classes and mentoring programs that give a good foundational knowledge in the industry will go the extra mile.

“What we found out were there were a lot people with start-ups, with great ideas,” says Alexandra Pelts. “Either they are people who just graduated from cooking school or they have a recipe from their grandmother that they would like to develop and want to take it to another level. All the people come in with an idea and a passion to cook, but only a few have an understanding or an education in how to run the business — how to do a business plan, how to create a brand, how to market themselves, create packaging… many businesses fail because they can only bring it to a certain level and afterwards they need help in mentoring and obtaining the right contacts.”

Such an emphasis on giving the clients the know-how to spread their wings and thrive on their own is surely an exciting aspect of Kitchen24 for potential clients, but there are of course many plans that will prove to be more fun possibilities for community members as well. Hopes for future events range from cooking competitions, teaching classes on how to preserve food for the needy, and other industry pop-up events. One would also be correct in feeling that such a space would also be a perfect location for a cookbook launch party, as echoed by Ms. Pelts. There is much enthusiasm from the owners about what Kitchen24 can bring to the surrounding community, as well as the industry at-large. It would be remiss for those in-the-know throughout Toronto not to be paying attention to its development.

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