Day 4: All Day CanCon

27 Apr

Day 4 of Hot Docs was my first volunteer shift inside an actual venue. I was volunteering at one of my favourite theatres, the Isabel Bader theatre at Victoria College. That morning, Danny was screening – a doc about Danny Williams, the former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, directed by Justin Simms and William D. MacGillivray. I had been hearing through the volunteer grapevine that it was packed when it screened the night before as part of Scotiabank’s Big Ideas, so I psyched myself up for long lines and antsy audience members.

Of course, because it was screening at 10:30 in the morning, this was a pretty different crowd. It mostly consisted of seniors (who can get in for free before 5 pm) who were happy to shuffle on in and enjoy a morning doc. As an usher, I got to watch almost the whole thing, which I wasn’t expecting to, so here I’ll write an unexpected…


I really enjoyed Danny. The filmmakers did a great job of not only telling the story of Danny’s career and accomplishments, but also the history of Newfoundland and Labrador – a history that I know an embarrassingly small amount of, considering I lived a hop, skip and a jump away for almost all of university. Danny himself is a great character – though he is not a large man, his presence is larger-than-life and a joy to watch on screen. This is a doc that transcends political boundaries. Danny is a Conservative, but he sure as hell isn’t a Harper Conservative, and that comes across very clearly in his narrative. Political leanings aside, I can really respect the way that he stood up for and championed his province. I haven’t researched enough about him and his policies to form an actual informed opinion, but this doc serves as a wonderful tribute to him.

I also got to talk to people that came to participate in the DocX Virtual Reality Showcase. Following the rule that I must run into someone I haven’t seen in a while at every volunteer shift, the person running the Showcase was a friend from King’s! It was fun to watch people twirling in their chairs as they immersed themselves in the docs, little pod people with their Samsung goggles and massive headphones. I have yet to try this myself, but I will report back when I do!

After my volunteer shift, I headed over to Hart House to wait in the rush line for the 3:30 screening of Being Canadian, directed by Robert Cohen. I got there at around 2:15 and I was already nineteenth in line. This doc has been getting tons of press and sounded like it would be hilarious – a Canadian television writer who’s been living in LA for the entirety of his career drives across Canada, discovering the landscape and interviewing Canadian personalities to answer the question: what does it mean to be Canadian?

After a long and anxiety-ridden wait – will I get in? Have they started screening it yet? Why does this woman keep counting us? – I did manage to get a rush ticket and sat down just as the doc was starting. I experienced my first technical difficulty as the film kept cutting out at George Stromboulopoulos talking about Canadians being murderers (or something like that). Technological glitches aside, I now give you another


First and foremost – this doc is not worth the hype. And it is definitely not worth standing in line for an hour and a half when you’re hungry, tired and overheating. The beginning seemed promising – Cohen starts off in the Maritimes, which he’s never been to before, and I did get a genuine sense of wonder and excitement at seeing this part of Canada. What was especially exciting for me was being able to recognize the places he was going to – Queensland Beach, Peggy’s Cove, the Halifax Citadel – and even more exciting when I recognized people I knew working at the Citadel!

However, as the story progressed, it seemed increasingly contrived and disjointed. He also seemed to lose interest as a narrator, which I found to be an odd device. There was a lot that disappointed me about this doc. First, there was a great opportunity here to really pay attention to the landscape. When I think about what is so great about Canada, the landscape is the first thing that comes to mind – we live in a vast, beautiful and resource rich country that has some of the most incredible scenery. Canadian cities are not so special – while some have interesting historical significance, they pale in comparison to the nature that surrounds them an hour out. Most of the driving footage consisted of Robert Cohen’s side profile as he gabbed on about his queries and concerns. My second big disappointment is that he mostly talked to people in the context of becoming successful in America and then reflecting on how their Canadian-ness sets them apart from their American peers. This could have been a great opportunity to find Canadian people working and becoming successful in the arts in Canada as well – but clearly, that opportunity was wasted. While the interviews offered a few laugh-out-loud moments, the doc as a whole was just kind of “eh” and, while not offensive, it was definitely forgettable. I don’t feel sorry for the hundred or so people in line behind me – while they wasted forty minutes or so standing in line, they saved themselves the next two hours and $17 to see something that was not worth it.

Danny will be screening on Sunday, May 3 at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 1:15 pm. Tickets are still available. The DocX Virtual Reality Showcase will be at the Isabel Bader theatre until Friday, May 1, from 10 am to 7 pm. Admission is free. You can find Being Canadian online at but it will not be screening again at Hot Docs.


Day 3

26 Apr

I took a day off from Hot Docs yesterday to have one last dinner with my family before going into full festival mode. And for good reason – I spent a solid ten hours bopping around from doc to volunteer shift to doc (though I’m sure there were many people who were up and at it much earlier than I this morning and are probably still going!). Today I went to see Planetary, directed by Guy Reid, handed out screening schedules outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and stood in my first rush line for My Love, Don’t Cross That River, directed by Moyoung Jin.

Planetary, I have to confess, is the first film – doc or scripted – that I have ever gone to see in a theatre on my own. I think that, because it was a 10:30 am screening, I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been if it were an evening screening. After the Q&A, I headed over to the CSI Coffee Pub for some lunch before my volunteer shift. I had lots of fun watching the other volunteers stream in while I was “working” (I wrote three paragraphs of a short story over an hour and a half). There really is a huge range of volunteers – people from all ages, stages, abilities and skills are out in full force this week for the same reason as me – a love of documentary films.

This was my second volunteer shift handing out schedules, and, just like the first time, I ran into people I haven’t seen in months. It’s always fun – about half a block away, they see that someone is handing stuff out, then they get closer and see the green shirt, and try to avoid eye contact… then when I address them by name they breathe a sigh of relief as they realize I just want to say hello! I also ran into the director and one of the producers of Planetary, and got to chat with them for a minute about their doc.

I ran around the corner to the Scotiabank theatre to get a rush ticket for the 6:30 screening of My Love, Don’t Cross That River. Seeing Planetary alone ended up being no big deal, so I didn’t think anything of seeing this one by myself. When the volunteer running the line called out, “Anyone here a single?” I (maybe a little too loudly and enthusiastically) raised my hand and shouted, “Me! I’m single!” which meant that I got a ticket! It felt like a real victory. In my pithy review I’ll detail why I should have brought a friend to that screening (and why you should, too, if you’re going to go see it!).

And here they are… some


Planetary is visually stunning. Between the shots of earth from space, to close ups of endangered species, to aerial views of supercities, this doc really does take the audience around the globe and beyond. I was super on board with the first fifty minutes or so, which consisted of insightful interviews reflecting on the current state of the world, the people inhabiting it, and the way these states of existence intersect. It’s a doc that reminds us that our planet is alive, and that, in the western world, we are suffering from a fundamental disconnect from the world and from each other. This was something that really struck a chord with me (especially as a movie-goer sitting alone in an audience of strangers), but I felt like they spent a bit too long hitting that point. It was said beautifully the first time… and then repeated by about a dozen other Zen Buddhist Priests, Meditation Teachers and Yoga Instructors for the next half hour. It’s not like they didn’t have the right sentiment, or that they didn’t say it well (because they did) – I just don’t like being told the same thing over and over again. That being said, it was beautifully shot and, in my opinion, any film that encourages conscientiousness about the environment is a film worth watching. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can stream it on vimeo right here!

Now here is why you should not do as I did and make sure you bring a friend or loved one or casual acquaintance or anyone who you are okay to cry in front of to see My Love, Don’t Cross That River. It broke box office records in South Korea, where it was filmed. It’s not hard to see why. It is an incredibly moving look at the love and companionship shared between a ninety-eight year old man and eighty-nine year old woman. I spent the first half hour or so smiling so hard I almost cried, and then the rest of the time I spent trying to stifle my sobs so as not to disturb the other doc lovers. I clearly did not prepare for this. My sleeves are covered in tears and snot. I lost so much water through my tears that I’ve had to spend the last hour rehydrating. I couldn’t read the subtitles at times because I had to keep taking off my glasses to dab at my eyes. Despite becoming a weepy snot monster, it was my favourite doc so far in the festival. As the director emphasized in the Q&A, this film resonates so deeply is because it touches at something that everyone can relate to in some way or another – that feeling of essential love and appreciation for another person. Just make sure you bring someone to hug when it’s over.

Planetary is streaming now on vimeo and will be streaming at The Kingsway on Thursday, April 30 at 6:30 pm and at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Sunday, May 3 at 1:15 pm. Both screenings have gone to rush tickets. My Love, Don’t Cross That River is screening at the Scotiabank on Monday, April 27 at 4 pm and at the Scotiabank on Sunday, May 3 at 8:45 pm. There are still advance tickets for Monday’s screening, but only rush tickets are available for Sunday.

What am I doing here/Opening Night of Hot Docs 2015

24 Apr

For those of you who read my blog many moons ago (approximately 24 if we’re keeping count), you may be wondering a) why I haven’t been blogging for the last two years and b) why I’m all of a sudden writing about a documentary film festival on a travel blog.

For starters, while I have done some traveling in the last two years (drove to LA! Spent a week in Istanbul!) I haven’t been on the same kind of extended adventure like I went on when I started the blog. Also, I have commitment issues.

As to why I’m all of a sudden writing about Hot Docs – this blog is called “Michal Unleashed!” So it’s about whatever I “unleash” myself upon. And this week, it’s Hot Docs.

For the next 10 days, I’ll be volunteering and seeing docs in just about any moment that I’m not at my internships or asleep. I’ll be posting daily updates here about life as a Hot Docs volunteer and pithy doc reviews!

But why do you bother volunteering?

Great question, nobody! For starters, I do not currently make any money because I chose to give up the *glamorous life of a Starbucks Barista making $11/hour* to get some relevant experience interning for different companies. While this has so far been exciting, fun and educational, it does truly horrifying things to my wallet. So if I want to see any docs (which I do. I want to see all of them. ALL OF THEM.), the only route I can take is to volunteer my time in exchange for ticket vouchers.

But also, volunteering is fun! Trust me, I technically do it for a not living. You make lots of friends and feel more a part of the community in whatever you’re doing. My first festival volunteer experience was last summer, when I volunteered for Sappyfest in Sackville, NB. Not only did I get to go for free (see: above), but I also met lots of other people who had similar interests to me (fun music, not paying for things) AND got to feel like the indifferent teen I never was as I sat in the corner of an Info Booth reading 100 Years of Solitude waiting for people to come talk to me.

I’ve now rambled on for much longer than I should have, so without further ado, I present you with my first

Pithy Review! 

Last night, I, along with my mother and a couple other hundred chilly doc lovers lined up all the way up Albany Avenue to see Tig, a doc by Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York about comedian Tig Notaro. The film follows Tig as she maneuvers through a particularly brutal year: she had a life-threatening illness, her mother died, she and her girlfriend broke up… and then was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Tig confronts these battles with her trademark deadpan humour, and leaves herself incredibly open for the filmmakers.

What I admired about this doc is the way that the filmmakers balanced incredibly heavy subjects – watching a woman’s life fall apart before our eyes – with laugh-out-loud moments. There were times when the audience was audibly in stitches (my right eardrum is still recovering from the forceful cackle constantly erupting from the lady sitting next to me) and then, within seconds, fell completely silent.

And isn’t that just the cadence of life? That when things go so consistently terribly you just have to laugh? Or that you can spend months kicking ass and taking names, until some invisible force pulls the rug out from under you and you’re seemingly left with nothing?

Tig is an inspiring reminder that even when things seem that they truly can’t get any worse, a) they can and b) a good attitude and a sense of openness can go a long way when it comes to affecting the outcome of a bad situation. Notaro herself is a great role model in this aspect – a sentiment that was echoed throughout the Q&A.

Here are a few highlights from the Q&A:

Q: Your name is Mathilde… How did you get Tig out of this?

A: My brother couldn’t pronounce my name… and Tig came out of his stupid mouth.

Q: I am a man and I have breasts… What do you think they are telling me?

A: That’s not really a question, I think you just wanted to tell a joke in front of everyone.

Tomorrow I’m going to see Planetary and then handing out festival schedules. If I’m lucky (really really really lucky and super speedy) I’ll rush to see My Love, Don’t Cross That River. Check back then for another update!

Tig will be screening again on Sunday, May 3 at 7 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tickets are $17. For more information, go to 

On Happy Coincidences

22 Mar

Disclaimer: Today was a beautiful day in Sevilla, and so I did what all Sevillanos do on a nice day and drank wine by the river in the sun. Ergo, am writing this post while I am un poquito borracha.

Anyway, due to this fact, this is going to be a short and unedited post, so apologies for any potential embarrassing mistakes.

Today, my friend Sylvia and I enjoyed the Sevilla sun by going to get a cappuccino on a terrace near Plaza Espana in the city centre.

Eventually, our conversation turned toward strange coincidences, and we mulled over the following story, which happened to me upon my traveling to Sevilla:

As you might discern from my post, Londoners Can’t Handle their Snow, I had a bit of trouble getting from London to Sevilla. My flight from London to Madrid was delayed, and so I missed my flight from Madrid to Sevilla.

Now, you are probably reading this and thinking: yes, many airlines often seem borrachos themselves (para example: last week when my mom and I tried to board our flight to Barcelona… but that’s a story for another day), and these incidences are quite common.

But, listen closely, amigos, because this is where things get interesting.

I was supposed to fly from London to Sevilla on that Saturday, January 18, but the girl that I happened to be sitting next to on the plane, Alex, was supposed to fly to Sevilla the day before.

After an hour of waiting in Heathrow on that Saturday, we all finally boarded the airplane headed to Madrid. The plane was on the small side – two columns of three seats each. I had the window seat, and my plane partner had the aisle; no one sat in the middle. The girl turned to me.

“Are you from Canada?” She asked.

“Yeah, are you? How can you tell?” I answered.

She shrugged. “You were giving off a vibe. I’m from Oakville but live in Calgary. Where are you headed?” She continued.

“Sevilla,” I answered. “I’m studying abroad for a few months.”

“Me too!” She said. I was surprised – what were the chances that two Canadians would end up sitting next to each other on a flight out of Heathrow? “Pablo Olavide University?”

This is when things really started to feel odd. Not only were we going to the same city – that was not the final destination of that airplane – but we were going to the same school that was not even the main university in Sevilla. Universidad de Sevilla is the centrally located (and absolutely beautiful) university – it takes me about 45 minutes to get to UPO every day.

The girl’s name is Alex, and what had happened was that she and two other exchange students from Calgary had arrived in London the day before, and were supposed to fly out that day, but couldn’t because of the “snow.” She got put on my plane, a flight that I was meant to be on, but originally, she was not. We both missed the connection to Sevilla – and, lo and behold, were once again seated next to each other. Two Canadians, flying through London, en route to Sevilla.

At the time, I was too exhausted to fully appreciate the situation – after a few days of traveling I was exhausted and ready to finally get to my homestay. But today, when talking with Sylvia, her roommate, I realized how crazy the whole thing really was – and realized that I might not have met the only other seven Canadians at UPO (who are all from Calgary) if it hadn’t been for that happy accident.

So today, in addition to appreciating this week that I get off from school to celebrate Semana Santa, Holy Week, I appreciate the little happy accidents that make our life wonderful.

Así, salud, for friends, for accidents, and for an impending trip to Paris!

An Ode to Ham: Part Chew

21 Mar

Picture yourself:

On a weekend in Madrid with your


and it’s








We are hungry but do

not know where to


And there it stands

Freedom from


Pizzas, pastas, ensaladas,

An Italian oasis.

Relief from surprise


We are sharing


pizza and a


The menu reads like a poem.

“Valerio: Tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, goat cheese,, arugula, cherry tomatoes and walnuts.”

Imagine our shock when this

garden of delights arrives with

what we thought was a rogue piece of


Surprise Ham

Rogue it was not.

Too much surprise hamAnd that was the day we learned our lesson:

No matter what part of the menu it’s on,

Always ask for

“Sin Jamon.”


Lola the Unicorn

6 Mar

Lola the Unicorn

If I get homesick, it’s really just for Lola. This is Lola turned into a Unicorn. Lola is not my cat, she belongs to Zoe. I got to look after Lola for two weeks in June and it was the best birthday present ever.

Up to the Mountain

5 Mar

First off, because I stole the title of this blog post from a song, listen to it.

I find that, as a Canadian living in Spain, interacting with lots of Americans, I have a few sources of pride, even though I don’t always voice all of them*:

1) Socialized healthcare

2) Not having to pay an absurd amount for an equally excellent post secondary education

3) That time we got the gold medal in both Men’s and Women’s Hockey at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 – a cold February evening that truly warmed our hearts

4) A sense robustness in the face of harsh weather

And here, in the south of Spain, where the weather is easily comparable to, say, Florida or California (and certainly NOT Southwestern Ontario, nor  Nova Scotia), I thought I could get by with being smug about my impressive ability to face the elements without actually having to prove it to anyone. I could wax poetic about the great storm of ’98, where there was so much snow that the mayor called in the army and I spent the day tunneling through my backyard in a puffy purple snowsuit. I could reminisce about the great duvet I call a coat that I wear in Halifax to protect myself from the wind tunnels disguised as streets. But to actually endure those elements while I’m here? Forget about it, I came to enjoy the sun and skip out on this year’s bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Effective cure for SAD

Effective cure for SAD

So why would I sign up to go skiing in Sierra Nevada, in the south of Spain of all places? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m glad I did. It’s been about seven years since I last went skiing, and never have I ever gone skiing on a real mountain – until last weekend.

I grew up learning how to ski at a little club in Collingwood, Ontario, called Devil’s Glen. There I could avoid the long lines and wait times of Blue Mountain, and the hills were not overwhelming. They were manageable. Standing at the chairlift, I could see the top of the hill: the summit I must conquer and subsequently fly down. The club itself was miniscule in comparison to Sierra Nevada – while I could see practically the whole club from the rental shop at Devil’s Glen, navigating around Sierra Nevada was an adventure in itself. A gondola down to the village, a gondola up to the chairlift, and of course, a chairlift up the mountain.

And the snow – oh, the snow. Snow that put my pride of robustness in the face of harsh weather to shame. Sideways ice rain was the weather we woke up to that Saturday morning, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t thrilled to make my grand return to skiing while splitting my focus on making sure my face was still there (numbness kills!). It took only three runs on the bunny hill to convince me to say “hasta luego, montana,” for the day. I inhaled my soup to warm up. Don’t think that the day wasn’t fun, though – I was pretty sure I still knew how to ski, and the trip organizers did a great job of making up for the bad weather. They bought us a buffet dinner at a cozy hotel, then brought us to a bar that reminded me of Trapper’s (old faithful in the middle of nowhere, Ontario), if Trapper’s had a disco ball.

However, all was redeemed on Sunday – a bright, sunny day, gorgeous fresh powder, threats of avalanches…



I ventured back up the slopes, and, with great success, skied!

My one mishap…

I was skiing very quickly down a very long run, lost control and wiped out. The powder was fresh, and, well… powdery, and I fell on a weird upward slant. Once upon a time, I knew how to get up from a fall. This was a clean fall, too – legs together, didn’t hit my head (hooray!). Because I just couldn’t remember how to get up, I flopped down and took the opportunity to rest.

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Credit Jillian Tiburzi – I acknowledge that this is poor form, but I have not skied in 7 years, so pity me, fools!

One selfless skier tried to come to my rescue, but of course, he just fell in the process. It wasn’t until his other friend came and helped us both up – with lots of effort and impressive strength on her part – that I managed to continue on down the run.

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Because really, if you don’t fall at least once a day, is it even skiing?

*This is a boldfaced lie, I mention the first two at least twice a day, every day, and people are getting tired of it. Whatever, they’re just jealous.


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