That rascal is up to his old tricks once more! Guy Maddin, the Winnipeg-based film director who outraged the Icelandic community with his scandalous portrayal of our foibles in the 1988 cult movie Tales from the Gimli Hospital, has allowed his slanderous debut to be screened anew.
“Here's a strange chance for a filmmaker to revisit his first work, to see if he can better see from this distance of 23 years what it was he really made,” is how Maddin characterizes it. The black and white feature, every grain of its emulsion a gobbet of spit in the eyes of Icelanders everywhere, is playing as a part of the Prairie Scene festival of flatland culture in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on April 30 at 8:30 p.m., where it has been re-titled Tales from the Gimli Hospital: Reframed.
The seventy-two minutes of monochromatic mockery has been outfitted with a new original musical score, which was written by composer Matthew Patton (a Maddin devotee and Icelandophile) and will be performed live by Icelandic musicians, specifically members of such dreamy, string-based aggregations as múm and Amiina.
In addition, new narration has been penned for the piece, and this will be performed by the legendary Udo Kier, a German actor of mammoth cult renown. Kier has turned up in movies as diverse as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and Michael Bay’s Armageddon. His barky Teutonic tones will add a heretofore unexposed dimension to this cursed cultural desecration. Sound effects for the heretofore nearly silent movie will be created live by Seattle’s Aono Jikken Ensemble.
On its original release, the film was roundly (and, it was hoped, fatally) criticized by community grandees, including Einar Arnason, the then-editor of this very newspaper, for its attempts to turn the sufferings and privations of Icelandic settlers, along with what Maddin called the Icelanders’ “humourless obsession with their own history,” into a bagatelle for all to point at and scoff. There were, at the time, heroic attempts at citizen justice against the disrespectful director, such as the time a valiant Gimli fisherman wrapped Maddin’s bicycle in his tangled old nets, or when soiled bits of hardfiskur were sent to the filmmaker through the mails.
Yet Maddin remained – and remains – defiant, insisting on his right to “artistic expression” even at the cost of the Icelandic community’s dignity. “The movie is a child's take on the Icelandic-Canadian myths – not surprisingly, because I had been listening to word-of-mouth accounts of old family tales since my earliest years,” Maddin explains. “So now I get a chance to pass on the film, word-of-mouth style, to my own twenty-three years older self, as if this were an ancient myth now half way through the process of becoming entrenched as an immortal saga.”
The film remains an important benchmark work in the history of Icelandic-Canadian culture, and so cannot be dismissed as a mere provocation. Nor can an opportunity to view an essentially new version of the film, shown on the big screen for the first time in many years, with so much intriguing live-action accompaniment, be ignored, no matter how much the sly pokings of the movie’s satire may sting. The director himself is not immune from its sting, he insists, even as he remains proud of his work. “Here is a chance to enhance what I'm most proud of,” Maddin says, “the themes that have emerged and made themselves more durably significant; and most important, to play up what most embarrasses me, for it would be too easy to snow over the primitive, the roughly hewn and intuitively photographed stuff that originally held itself together just long enough to make up this seventy-minute movie. Strangely, I found it was this most embarrassing, most primitive, most childish material that is the most important – this stuff is what the film is about.” And after all, Maddin concludes triumphantly, “all the musicians are Icelandic!”
Prairie Scene, it should be noted, features other performers or artists of Icelandic descent on its program. Freya Björg Olafson dances her own composition, Avatar, on April 28; Arne MacPherson acts in the play Talk from April 27 through the 30; and filmmakers Jaimz Asmundson and Mike Maryniuk may be found in the curated motion picture programs. Icelanders and the arts! A combination as natural as vínarterta and strong coffee, as all who attend Prairie Scene will soon find out.
He’s a genius. We’ve seen his pictures in Iceland Review. We’ve seen his pictures in L-H.
They’re amazing, astounding, sometimes unbelievable and he held a capacity audience spellbound as he told us how he took those pictures.
Del was taking him to a cottage in the Rockies when they saw a mother bear with two cubs at the side of the road. There was a crowd. They stopped. Páll got out with his camera and moved closer and closer so he could get a good shot. A warden turned up and ordered everyone away.
They all left except Páll. He was so focused on getting his picture that he never paid any attention. The warden took out a gun that fires a noisy explosive. He fired, the bears fled. The warden dragged Páll off to his truck. When Páll got out, he told Del that he’d told the warden he was from Iceland and in Iceland they don’t have bears so he thought it was a big dog. You should have known better, the warden said to Del. ‘What was I to do’, Del said, throwing up his hands. This is a guy who stands outside on a helicopter runner and is so focused on the perfect picture that he forgets to hook up his safety belt.
The tour guide
When those Edmonton Icelanders offer to pick you up at the airport and buy you lunch, keep your wits about you. Because when you’ve got your mouth full of free food, they say something like “We need a tour guide for the trip to Markerville, we thought you could take care of it.” What can you do when your mouth is crammed full of meat and potatoes? We met at 7:45 a.m. the next morning, Del appeared with boxes of freshly brewed Tim Horton’s coffee, bottles of water, a tray of potato chip packages, cookies, even delicious, scrumptious gluten free chocolate chip cookies for the tour guide and a bag of gifts to hand out enroute.
We rolled through an Alberta countryside where fields were flooded and the sky threatened rain but nothing dampened our Viking spirits. We reached hallowed ground. Stephan G. Stephanson’s restored home, the place where he farmed and wrote his poetry. From there to Markerville. And back. And the tour guide with the help of Gail Einarson-McCleery, managed to leave no one behind. You should have been there,it was a good time
There he was, the inveterate salesman, selling goods, selling the convention, selling L-H, selling being Icelandic, selling Edmonton. The paper’s best friend, he worked the crowd finding supporters for his passionate belief in his heritage. Introducing people, cajoling, seducing, hustling, always busy, always looking for the possible, finding dollars here, dollars there, convincing people to reach into their pockets for a good cause. Harley may not know it but he’s going to buy whatever Walter is selling, Icelandic goods, Icelandic beliefs, Icelandic history, Icelandic culture, Icelandic heritage.
An Endangered species
There is no program that catches the imagination as much as the Snorri Program. Its goal is to take young people from North America to Iceland to spend time learning about the country, the culture and the language. Young people travel, get work experience, make friends, come back to participate in the Icelandic clubs in their communities. Everyone who has had the Snorri experience praises it. To work properly, it needs a minimum of fourteen participants. So far this year, there have only been ten applicants. It is hard to believe that it is because of a lack of interest in Iceland. It may be the cost. The participants have to raise $4,500. The total cost is subsidized by the program. It comes to about $10,000. Take a look at these Snorri graduates. They’re a happy looking lot. If you have to, sell the family dog, give up Starbucks for a year, cash in all those returnables. Do whatever is
necessary. This is an experience not to be missed. And, if when you’ve got the loot, you decide you’d like the experience yourself instead of your kids, sign up for Snorri Plus.
And what would a convention be without a procession? The fjallkona and Gordon Reykdal led by a Mountie in a scarlet coat. How romantic is that? Behind them dignitaries representing our values, history and accomplishments.
Rosie’s presentation was the last of the conference but it was the warmest, most touching, a presentation that made me glad I’d stayed to the end. When she talked about Fannie Pannigabluk, her grandmother, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson, her grandfather, it was full of kindness and understanding of a time past when acknowledging a son, Alex, born in the North, could have destroyed her grandfather’s career. She talked about the times and the attitudes and, although, there must be pain in some of the memories, the remembrances were full of laughter. She told of how her father stressed that learning to read was important and how she learned to read from food cartons. She told of how her grandmother was building her own house from driftwood and Stefansson was sitting on the beach writing. A member of their village asked, why are you building the house and he is writing? She replied, “That is what he likes to do. Besides, this is my house and if I get fed up with him, I can kick him out.” Rosie’s children and grandchildren were with her. As Gísli Pálsson said in his talk just before Rosie’s, we are creating ourselves, we are creating what it means to be Icelandic and Icelandic North American and the story of Rosie and her family, the intertwining of Fannie Pannigabluk and Vilhjalmur Stefansson, have added to the richness that is us.
On Saturday, April 30th, 2011, a special ceremony was held at Moose River Gold Mines Provincial Park to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 1936 cave-in and rescue effort at the mine site. This mining disaster became one of the biggest international media events before World War II. It made Moose River a household name.
Gold was discovered in this vicinity in 1866 but it was not until l876 that prospecting began in earnest. The Icelandic immigrants began to settle in Markland in 1875 - 1881. Many walked the three or four miles to Moose River to get employment. Even very young people looked for work at the mine. Labour regulations in Nova Scotia forbade the employment of children under the age of 10. However, they did allow for boys of 10 to 12 to “do light work as long as the work week did not exceed 60 hours”.
Johann Magnus Bjarnason lived with his family in Markland on Lot 15, Hlidarhus – Hillside House. He was 16 when he left Markland to move to Manitoba. There he became a teacher and writer. In 2001 Borga Jakobson, a member of the Icelandic Society of Nova Scotia, translated 14 short stories which he wrote for various almanacs. Many stories are told in this book about people working in the gold mines. The book, published by Formac Publishing Company Limited in Halifax, is called “Errand Boys in the Mooseland Hills”. Copies of this book can be purchased from the Society for $20 plus $3 shipping.
Gold mining reached its heyday between 1890 and 1909 long after the Icelanders had left Markland. Caribou Mines, Moose River and Tangiers were declared to be Gold Mining Districts which entitled the government to collect royalties on from any gold found. In all, 26,000 troy ounces of gold were taken from this particular area establishing Moose River Gold Mines as one of the more productive gold districts in the Province. By 1910 the mines were abandoned.
In 1936 a gold mining syndicate headed by Herman Magill, a Toronto barrister, and Dr. David E. Robertson, a Toronto doctor brought renewed hopes of prosperity to the area with the reopening of the abandoned mine. Despite reports that the mine was unsafe, on Easter Monday, April 13, 1936, mining operations began. On April 12, 1936, Magill, Robertson and Alf Scadding, the mine timekeeper, entered the shaft to inspect the workings. The mine collapsed, trapping the men at the 141 foot level for 11 days. After 6 days there was no sign of survivors. On day six, a government diamond driller reached the 141 foot level and made contact with the entombed men.
On April 19, 1936, Herman Magill developed pneumonia and died before he could be rescued. On April 23, Roberston was removed from the mine and Scadding followed afterwards. The broadcasts of J. Frank Willis of the CBC were carried to over 700 radio stations in Canada, USA and England. Radio was just in its infancy. This was the largest broadcast hookup originating on the continent and set a world record for that time. These broadcasts represented North America’s first major “media event” and are claimed to have changed radio.
The Province of Nova Scotia designated the site to be a Provincial Park in the 1980’s. A proviso was made in the designation to remove the park status if a mining operating was ever to resume in the area. Atlantic Gold NL, an Australian mining company, recently made plans to develop the mine. Many of the homes in the immediate area have been purchased by the mining company and the village now truly looks like a “ghost town”. The Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association has been actively campaigning against the gold mine project.
Next door to the mine site, the Moose River and Area Gold Mines Museum, established in 1986 provides detailed information about mining activities in the area and the 1936 disaster. Dolly Belmore, past president of the Icelandic Society, and her family (Betty Belmore , Kathy Didkowsky and Glenda Burrows) are instrumental in opening and operating this Museum. Each year the Society takes bus tours of visitors from Iceland to Markland and then lunch at the Mine Site and a tour of the Museum. The Museum has several pieces of furniture which the Icelanders left to the local people when they abandoned their homes in 1881 and 1882.
This area has had a rich history. It has close links with the Icelandic settlement at Markland. The Icelandic Society will watch with interest to see what the futureholds for this area.
The Toronto Icelandic club celebrated an enjoyable and festive Þorrablót this year, with new families in attendance and many new events.
First acknowledgements go out to the amazing Icelandic feast prepared by our club members, and for Arden Jackson and Meredith MacFarquar for organizing the delicious appetisers, main course and desserts!
The evening was made even more exciting with the addition of our Viking Challenges, where members could test their strength (and stomach’s) by eating svið (sheep’s head), hákarl (rotten shark) and hrútspunger (ram’s testicles).
A few daring members decided to take the ultimate Viking Challenge and eat an entire testicle in record time. Thorthur took the challenge to heart and completed it before all other competitors, although he admitted that it wasn’t very fair since he was born and raised in Iceland and has done this before.
In last place was Ingmar Mah, who commented throughout the agonizing two minute process that he really wanted to “savour” the flavours and experience. Thanks to our vice president Karen Wallington for bringing this speciality back from Iceland just for our Þorrablot.
The final Viking challenge was Freya’s ball toss, which was a huge hit with the kids as it involved some serious hand-eye coordination to accurately fling tennis balls around a ladder. Hours later, the kids were still perfecting their skills!ICCT Scholarship winner David MacFarquar was not in attendance, but sent his aunt to accept on his behalf. Meredith told a wonderful story about David’s ingenuity in imparting Icelandic knowledge to his classmates when he, unbeknownst to his school, served up his version of hrútspunger to everyone’s horror. David substituted the actual thing for some seaside scallops doused in pepper, but none were brave enough to take a taste.
We welcome David’s creativity and energy to the ICCT next year when he begins his studies in Ontario. In attendance was Ólöf Sigvaldóttir, Attache to the Icelandic Ambassador, who gave a poignant speech about the current economic climate in Iceland and the challenges the country continues to face. She also reflected on how events such as Þorrablót are our way of connecting and preserving the Icelandic heritage, something more profound for her as her beautiful nine month old daughter Elin was in attendance.
The evening ended with a few last rushes to the Silent Auction, where this year, members were enticed by bidding on items through a “Secret” ballot. Once you found your item of choice from the many excellent donated items, you could take a risk and put your bid into a sealed envelope. Highlights included a striking image by photographer Kara Schuster and two tickets from Icelandair which brought in excellent revenue for the club’s scholarship programs.
Fusing her formal music training with informal studies in painting, photography and business, Katrina Anderson founded both Gallery Fontana Swing (2010) and Yellow Dog Music (1990) an alternative teaching studio in 2010.
Both the Gallery and Yellow Dog proudly offer to established and emerging artists, musicians, writers, nurturing environments where they can perform, showcase or study under the guidance of supportive mentors who share the mandate of being open to all ideas, big or small, traditional or contemporary, black, white and all shades in between.
Gallery Fontana Swing is an exhibition and live music performance space located in the heart of Toronto’s Studio District. A light-drenched loft gallery, it is ideal for art shows, concerts, photo/film shoots, literary events, lectures or private functions. The Gallery also serves as Katrina’s home and working studio space.
Ever since Katrina can remember, she’s wanted to live in an art gallery. When she discovered that some people live in lofts, instead of traditional houses, she tucked the idea into her imagination, but never thought it would one day become a reality, her reality – she would not only live in a loft, but her loft would also be a gallery. Her own gallery. Gallery Fontana Swing.
She says, “My loft home/gallery is the most perfect place I’ve ever lived. It fits all of me, both inside and out. It is the one living space that provides for and supports key elements that are essential to my happiness, most importantly, astonishing light, and wide-open space. It fits my art studio, my grand piano, my books and even my indoor swing.
On any given day my ‘home’ can transform from sanctuary into a work studio where I can paint, write, play piano, shoot photos, or teach students to do all those things themselves. And when it is not being used for personal or teaching purposes, it can become a space where friends and family can gather and enjoy art exhibitions, live concerts, book readings, lectures, etc.
I say, ‘can become’ because it is only used for such public events when I feel like that is something I want to do. I think that to me, this is one of my biggest successes where this space is concerned. I can live in this loft and protect it as my home, my sanctuary, but I can also at any moment, turn it into a commercial space – one that supports my career; allows me to give to the arts community and support fellow artists/writers; helps me to afford to live in such a glorious space in the heart of one of the most creative, artistic neighbourhoods in Toronto.”