Monday, 25 March 2013

Have a little faith

I am a firm believer that everyone needs something to believe in, something to hold on to when times are rough and it feels like there's no hope. But it doesn't have to be a religious figure. I can't say specifically what I believe in - they tend to vary depending on different situations in my life.

My family is Buddhist, but my cousins and I don't go to the Temple except for important reasons. One of them was my grandmother's death in 2002.

Other than that, my brushes with religion have been in thin, nonexistent strokes.

My good friend Kirah and I attended a service at Unity Church last night after deciding we wanted to uncover the truth behind the sensationalized religion of Spiritualism and practice of Wicca. I can't speak for my fellow journalist-in-training, but I had secretly and foolishly anticipated solemn-looking people dressed in head-to-toe black, remaining tight-lipped and vague about their faith. We got the exact opposite.

We were especially shocked to meet Rachel, the "resident witch" at Unity Church and the main character in our news story. A pretty young woman with flowing brown and blond hair, Rachel didn't look like a witch with her pink off-the-shoulder top and black tights.

"We definitely don't have green faces and ride around on brooms and have black cats," she laughed, batting her dramatically long eyelashes. "We deal with the natural, not hocus pocus."

Rachel talked to us about her services at Unity Church; soul paintings, psychometry, and mediumship were her main duties. No bubble, toil or trouble here, just impressions based on energy and vibrations.

We told her she was doing a good thing talking to us and dispelling misconceptions that many (including myself) hold about Wicca. After her interview, we immediately sensed that she regretted talking to us. That was how we got our story angle.

"You know, nobody even knows I do this," she said out of the blue, flipping through her sketchbook of soul paintings.

Wicca, otherwise known as witchcraft, developed in England in the first half of the 20th century. From 1991 to 2001, Wicca was the fastest growing religion at 280%. Over 21,000 Canadians called themselves Wiccan.

People weren't accepting of witchcraft and witches then. But even now, there's a stigma. And Rachel is afraid of what her workplace, neighbours, and people within her social circles will say when (if) this story ends up on the CBC website.

"Just do us some dignity," she jokingly pled.

Have a little faith in us, Rachel.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Family, friends, and a film festival

This will be the last time I write about my Independent Professional Project, Stories from Cambodia, I promise. I just need to write about the whirlwind of events so that I can always refer back knowing I captured the day while it's still fresh in my mind.

I attended the Gimme Some Truth Documentary Film Festival on Sunday night with my parents and cousins. I also invited my significant other and several friends. To those that couldn't come but expressed their interest and sorrow for missing out, I appreciate it. But I will discuss this later on.

When I arrived to Cinematheque for the festival, the lobby was fairly empty at first. Seeing that made my heart plummet, my fears of no one showing up surfaced, but I intended to make the most of it because (as I have been reminded by my loved ones over and over again) this was my moment and I should not let anything or anyone (or lack thereof) bring me down.

Jaimz of the Winnipeg Film Group handed me my delegate pass and four tickets free of charge for my parents and cousins. Initially worried and dreading the festival, I felt an immediate sense of accomplishment when I donned the delegate pass around my neck.

We went into the small, dark theatre where several other people had been sitting for a while. Once I saw the makings of an audience forming, I breathed a small sigh of relief and began to relax. Slowly, more film-goers filled the theatre.

Here's something that I did not expect to happen to that night. With the lobby filled with people, an employee announced that the tickets were sold out. Disappointment and confusion were the main emotions in the lobby, but I couldn't have been more thrilled. I'll explain in a few more paragraphs.

At a little past 4:00 p.m., the festival began - and my documentary was first. No matter how many times I have had to watch my work back, it does not get easier to review the final product, noticing flaws and should-haves and should-not-haves. I know I didn't make a perfect documentary, but I think I did a decent job overall.

The next three documentaries were interesting. Respectively, they were about an artist from Bosnia, a group of refugees from Bhutan adjusting to life in Canada (with a humourous scene on how to use toilet paper), and violence against farmers in Zimbabwe. They were all informative and personal, and it was an absolute honour to be in the same category with such talented individuals.

Afterwards, Jaimz called the filmmakers up to the stage to answer questions the audience may have. The woman who made the documentary about violence against farmers in Zimbabwe got the most questions, as expected, because her film had more drama and gruesome graphics. I applauded her use of visuals as it was something that my own video lacked. I did get to answer one question from a nice woman though.

At the end of the festival, Jaimz announced that there would be a second screening since so many people had shown up. Amazing! I'll have to wait for details as they are pending and not concrete.

Exiting the theatre, I was approached by several people who commented on my video, including someone who just applied for Creative Communications and asked for my advice. It's funny to see this whole experience come full circle.

When I asked my parents what they thought of the festival, my dad said nonchalantly, "Yeah, not bad." Knowing him, that's a pretty positive response.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Hunting for news

Looking for news content is hard.

How does one begin to find a story short of relying on news releases? My friend Kristy wrote a blog post a while ago discussing the same thing but that is where the similarities end. She has a solution - to keep your eyes open, walk around, talk to people, and jot notes. I'm still trying to fine-tune my nose for news.

I read articles such as this one, and it makes me think, "Wow! How did they ever discover such a bizarre phenomenon?" And why would kids swallow magnets? Gross.

When I go news-hunting, the stories I find in comparison are pretty banal and predictable. A kid got recruited to a college basketball team. This immigrant learning centre is switching locations. A school got their first defibrillator. And those came from news releases I stumbled upon.

One day, I'd like to report on a story of my very own. Something I found without the help of a PR person. Something out of the ordinary. One day, my news-sniffin' nose will get me there.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Have You Seen Candace?

Have You Seen Candace?, a non-fiction book, details years of pain and questions regarding the disappearance and murder of a child from the perspective of Wilma Derksen, a Creative Communications graduate, writer, and - most importantly - mother of Syras, Odia, and Candace Derksen.

What works in this book by Wilma Derksen is the honesty. And I don't mean honesty as in every single detail in the book is 100% true - not to doubt Wilma's recollection of the events or credibility as a storyteller, of course.

I mean that Wilma's writing is honest, raw, and unapologetic. She lays out the facts like a true journalist, but she doesn't hesitate to provide the details of her maternal psyche. For example, on page 20, when the cops insist that Candace had run away because Wilma and Cliff are overbearing, religious parents, Wilma explains her hurt and anger:
"How incredibly naive we'd been! The minute they caught the slightest whiff of our religious background, especially the words Mennonite and pastor, they instantly classified us as fanatical, over-religious hypocrites. Maybe they even believed we used religion as a cover for deviant behavior. I wouldn't normally have cared about their skepticism, but our daughter's life depended on their believing us. We had to convince them."
That is just one example, but her thoughts and feelings are seamlessly but prominently laced throughout the book that remind the reader that this is not just a plot but an actual account of a mother's suffering.  One such example is her uncharacteristic desire to shoot the person who murdered her daughter. In class, she had confessed to still having those thoughts, and she laughed about it too. That is what I love about the book - her honest feelings towards the whole situation, holy or not, are permanently printed for all to see. Her vulnerability is truly admirable.

And that is something journalists can learn from the book - to feel something when they write their stories. I know that we are supposed to remain fair and balanced when reporting - and don't worry, I still think that - but passion and emotion make a story so much more interesting. Being fair and balanced doesn't mean void of emotion. I realize not every story will have some sort of sentimental calibur, but it's just something to keep in mind.

What doesn't work in the book at times is the flashbacks. I appreciate Wilma's anecdotes about Candace, but for the most part, while I was reading, they didn't have a monumental affect on me. Candace's personality is definitely captured through these anecdotes, but I wanted the story to keep advancing without constantly stepping into the past.

Having already read Journey for Justice: How 'Project Angel' Cracked the Candace Derksen Case, a true crime book written by Mike McIntyre, last year, I felt I was familiar with the plot and that there would be no surprises. I find Wilma's book, free of legal-speak and psychiatrical clutter, more appealing to read because I am a minimalist, taking in one detail at a time on a single track of thought. I liked Mike's book, don't get me wrong, but Wilma's version is something I could pick up and read again without being bogged down by details that don't necessarily interest or affect me. Mike's book's role to me is an update on the situation which include topics such as Mark Edward Grant's arrest and his history and his medical condition.

When speaking to our class - and at the seminar last year - I was amazed both times by how composed and happy she had appeared. I mentioned earlier that she had made jokes last week which was both sweet but uneasy for me as an audience member. Should I laugh or would that be crossing the line? Where is the line? Instead, I watched her continue her speech, this strong woman made of armour encased in a block of fragile glass.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Stories from everywhere

Today's blog post calls for some shameless self-promotion.

Over the past year or so, I have managed to produce, direct, and write an 11-minute documentary of interviews with my parents about their experience in the Khmer Rouge regime. (Side note: I would have loved to have gone to Cambodia for the project, but I was told it was monsoon season, and um, hello, I ain't rich.) It turned out pretty decent, I think.

After nearly completing it, I sent an email to the Winnipeg Film Group over at Cinematheque, informing them of my project and if they were interested in it to contact me. It was a long shot, and I didn't think they'd respond at such short notice. Their website states that in order to screen something I had to send it a year in advance. I halfheartedly clicked the "send" button, not expecting a reply for a while. Or ever, to be honest.

In the meantime, I scoured the Internet for film festivals to which I would submit. I found several that piqued my interest. The Reel Asian Film Festival, for one, seemed it would be receptive of my documentary on a Cambodian genocide. However, submissions weren't being accepted until March. Onto the next.

The Vancouver International Film Festival also seemed appealing to me. I emailed the contact person - who later told me that I wasn't eligible to participate, being from out of Vancouver and all. Phooey.

And the Female Eye Film Festival cost too much money to enter. ($100 just to submit an application? No way.)

I settled for only the Canada International Film Festival. They were still accepting submissions and it cost only $25 to enter. Not bad.

A week or so later, I received an interesting email.

Jaimz Asmundson from the Winnipeg Film Group wrote, "Hi Cindy, Is your film finished? Could you drop it off this week?"

My clumsy fingers fumbled over the keyboard; in my excitement, I managed to write back, "I will have a final copy for you on Friday."

I have never spent so many hours inside an edit suite at one time. I burned my video onto a DVD, and the next day I gave it to Jaimz at Cinematheque. He didn't give me any indication he was going to screen it any time soon. He promised to watch it and contact me afterwards.

Not even a day later, he emailed me to tell me he wanted to put my documentary in the Gimme Some Truth Documentary Film Festival on March 17. Of course I obliged. It was an absolute honour to be placed in the Stories from New Canadians category among other filmmakers who I was sure had more skill than myself.

Gimme Some Truth is a four-day long festival from March 14 to 17. My own documentary, Stories from Cambodia, is screening on March 17 at 4 p.m. at Cinematheque, 100 Arthur Street. I'd love to see you there.

For more information, visit the Gimme Some Truth website.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The means, but to what end

I recently stumbled upon a letter (and response) that confirmed (and yet somehow soothed) my fears. Someone wrote in,
Dear Cary, 
I spent the last four and a half years studying print journalism in college and watching vacantly as the newspaper/magazine industry crumbled before my eyes. The decline never bothered me. I always figured I had what it takes to get a job even in an extremely competitive market: Before I ever graduated, I had completed four internships at newspapers, magazines and a Web site, published almost a hundred clips (including longer, high-quality pieces), and left a good impression with everyone I worked with. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and I knew that I wanted to write for a living. 
Now, six months after graduating, my parents still pay my cellphone bill and I am working full-time making ice cream. I make a couple hundred bucks here and there freelancing for a magazine I interned at, but otherwise my “freelance” career, as well as my journalism career, is dead in the water. I find myself despondent and unable to send out any more cover letters, and I can’t find the time or motivation to research a story idea enough to send it to an editor because I assume he or she will simply reject my half-baked idea. I’m panicking, but I fear failure so much that I can’t even get started. Freelancing seems to be my best option career-wise, but I can’t summon the willpower and enthusiasm to do it. Plus, I lost my license to a DUI conviction (that got me fired from one of those newspaper internships), which has immobilized me and left me unable to relocate to a new job until October. The DUI also contributes to my job-hunting anxiety. 
What I see is that my passion for journalism and writing is waning. Working full-time has taught me that work is work and play is play, and that I need to maximize the efficiency of my hours I spend at work in order to maximize how much I can play outside of work. I am looking into jobs in other fields that pay better. Is it healthier to stick it out working at an ice cream store and desperately try to make it as a writer, or should I pursue a career where financial security is more realistic? 
Scared Journalist
And Cary* replied,
Dear Scared Journalist,  
If you are a true journalist, the world is going to kick your ass. If you are a true journalist, you are supposed to be having a hard time. This is how the world makes writers. It kicks their ass long enough that they start finally telling the truth. They just finally give up and start bleating out little truthlets. 
We have applied and applied and applied for jobs and gotten nothing, and then things have been dropped at our feet that we were not sure we wanted but which we accepted because there was nothing else available. We have applied and applied and applied for jobs and been rejected and been forced therefore to work in unsuitable occupations that surprisingly led us to good fortune. We have kept our heads down and crawled forward like G.I.s in Korea. We have alternately railed at the system and begged it for favors and received the same infuriating coolness and indifference either way. We have ranted and we have started movements and we have tried to infiltrate the ranks of journalism as poets and insurrectionists. We have attempted to better our public relations skills. We have tried to network and join organizations. We have bought drinks at bars frequented by journalists and have praised works we detested. We have tried to detect trends and written queries suggesting feature stories about such trends. We have tried to develop specialties and gained immense knowledge of the inconsequential. We have interviewed celebrities and resold the interviews to numerous publications, each paying less than the one before in a vector of diminishment resembling our own entropic trajectory toward death. We have entertained the notion of getting into TV. We have wondered why the best quit or get fired and the mediocre persevere. We have wondered how mediocre we must be if we are still employed. We wonder why so many brilliant writers remain unheard, and why we ourselves were not thrown out long ago. We wonder why we don’t have a six-months cash reserve. We wonder who will save us from our own foolishness. We wonder if maybe there is a God who is quietly taking care of us. We take note of our increasing store of mediocre ideas such as that one. [...] We peruse brochures for MBA programs at prestigious East Coast universities. We think about the exponential growth of creative writing programs. Maybe our skills could be useful in detective work. Maybe we could start our own newsletter. Maybe someone will call today about our résumé.
And then, with the irony that cloaks us against utter nihilism, we think, if only we were living in more interesting times! And that is the confounding thing about it, isn’t it? That we stand on the nodal point of a great, creaking, crunching change in historical direction, at the beginning of cataclysmic planetary collapse, at the dying of civilization, at the rising of new empires, at our own meltdown, as a million stories bloom out of the earth like wildflowers in the spring and we think, gee, uh, if only there were some good stories to tell. [...]
Yeah. That’s the ultimate irony, no? That in the midst of remarkable and unprecedented change, in the midst of the greatest stories to happen all century, we are paralyzed by some changes in the delivery system. Well, we do know, as McLuhan taught us, it is not just the delivery system; paper itself is a kind of message; it tells us that information is permanent, whereas the Net tells us that information is in motion. So the print journalism curriculum may have taught, incorrectly — because it is  taught by ox-cart drivers — that information is permanent, not that it is in motion, and you may well be struggling to throw off that teaching, as perhaps you must if you are to tweet your way to victory. We must ask: If information is in motion, does that make it more or less true? That depends on whether you believe the world is in motion. Obviously the world is in motion. So information must be in motion as well.
So that’s where we’re at. That’s how we are, me included. We stand paralyzed before the fire, like animals watching their habitats burn. I can see what’s happening but am also somewhat paralyzed, doing an essentially 19th-century thing in this 21st century medium. I can scarcely figure out how to download the MP3 of my band from 1983 — but believe me, when I get it together next week, I’ll sell it to you for $1.50 a pop and maybe make enough to pay my cellphone bill.
It’s a weird world but it’s interesting and fun. Fuck the little stuff. Don’t worry about your career. Find a story and write about it, and stay off the streets if you’re drunk.
Right now I'm finishing up the last lap of my academic career in CreComm. The next logical step is to find a job. I'm afraid of ending up like Scared Journalist who apparently took the education but doesn't have an employer to show off to. But the statistics speak for themselves - CreComms are notorious for landing jobs straight out of and occasionally during school. That's one thing I'm (heavily) relying on.

And besides, how could you not find a job in this world? There's one of me and a zillion opportunities out there. I've never been scared of not finding a job. That is, until I started considering it.

To distract myself from these unholy thoughts, I'm going to take Cary's advice. To find a story and write about it. Just keep writing, Cindy, just keep writing.

* I included only excerpts because the answer itself was way too long. Click the link I provided if you want the response in full. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Uptight(s) about yoga pants and leggings

"Leggings and yoga pants banned," I murmured to myself, eyes slowly moving across my computer screen.

I'm reading an article on the Winnipeg Free Press about a high school's decision to ban their students from wearing yoga pants, leggings, or tights.

I frowned, looking down on my own pair of comfortable lululemon yoga pants. Good thing I graduated from high school five years ago, I thought, wiping the sweat off my brow.

Yoga pants, leggings, and tights are not new to the scene. In high school (that would be 2005-2008), every second teenage girl was rocking a pair of the aforementioned. At first, the form-fitting alternative to pants frightened me - almost as much as when skinny jeans arrived to the forefront of every retail store - but now they've grown on me (the yoga pants, not the skinny jeans).

I can begin to understand why St. Boniface Diocesan High School banned these articles of clothing. Tights, for example, are tricky. This is only my opinion, but I agree that they are in no way a substitute for pants; the thin material resembles a more pantyhose-like garment. There's even a website dedicated to the cause. Read the manifesto; even if you don't agree with their mission, it's quite entertaining.

To me, I don't think this is news. Dress codes (and bans) are frequent in adolescence - and I think they always will be. In the '90s, platform shoes were supposedly sent from hell a la Spice Girls.

I felt like this could have been a news story which focused on shaming the bad teenage girls for choosing such scantily clad clothes, but I applaud Gabrielle Giroday for interviewing a retailer, a representative from a school board, someone who has been through a similar situation in the past, and someone who could be affected by this decision now. That made this a well-balanced story - it covered all the bases on a topic which apparently doesn't cover enough skin.