Joan MacLeod’s work goes from headlines to centre-stage

When it comes to researching a new play, internationally celebrated playwright and Department of Writing professor Joan MacLeod often takes inspiration from the headlines.

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

From the murder of Victoria teenager Reena Virk to issues facing new immigrants and the importance of righting historical wrongs, MacLeod’s plays are universally acclaimed for their ability to present realistic characters grappling with key emotional situations. When her latest play, The Valley, makes its BC premiere at the Belfry Theatre, audiences will find themselves catapulted into a head-on collision between two of the defining issues of our time—law enforcement and mental illness.

MacLeod—also an alumna of the Writing department—says she was inspired by the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański, who died as a result of RCMP tasering at the Vancouver airport in 2007. But rather than focus on that one situation, she decided instead to look at the pressures that may have caused the RCMP’s controversial response. “I started thinking about an altercation between a police officer and a person in distress,” she says. “As I did more research, I became really interested in that intersection between the mentally ill and the police, who are often front-line workers with the mentally ill—and not necessarily by choice.”

Clearly, MacLeod’s research paid off, as the reviews for the Belfry’s production of The Valley have been uniformly strong. In this review for CBC Radio’s On The Island, Monica Prendergast notes that “MacLeod is so good about giving us these truthful, private moments  . . . when playwrights can craft these kinds of characters and scenes that move us, about events that may or may not touch our own lives, you can call that beautiful”. Adrian Chamberlain said in his Times Colonist review that the characters are “rendered with passion and sensitivity, brimming with compassion.”

Fellow Writing instructor Alisa Gordaneer praises MacLeod’s work in her CVV Magazine review, noting that she “clearly has a keenly tuned ear for voice, and the dialogue in this play is sharp, seething, and bang-on contemporary west coast, with not a spare word spoken by any of the cast. Even so, the dialogue is stunningly naturalistic, heightening the sense of listening in to regular people hanging out in Vancouver.” Finally, in his review for The Marble theatre blog—run by Theatre grad Matthew McLaren—Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw says, “The Valley leaves questions lingering when you leave the theatre: how do you heal someone? How do you protect? Do you have any right to do either for them? These questions themselves are left unanswered, but a promise is made: you can, and will, find an answer for yourself.”

TheValleyWhile the psychotic breakdown of an 18-year-old university student on Vancouver’s SkyTrain may be the spark that ignites the play’s dramatic powder keg, the heart of The Valley is how two families—both the boy’s and the police officer’s—each battle depression. “There’s an assumption that it’s going to be about police brutality, but at the end of the day, this is a play about the ‘everydayness’ of mental illness. I didn’t want it to be an ‘us and them’ thing; I want people to look at the world in a different way.”

Much like policing, MacLeod acknowledges how the perception of mental health has changed over her lifetime—something she’s witnessed first-hand as a university professor. “This is about a first-year student who falls apart, and anyone who teaches post-secondary has had that experience. He’s not based on  any specific student, but as a professor I’m aware of the pressure our students are under, their vulnerability.”

As a playwright, a big part of MacLeod’s research is ensuring the authenticity of her scenes. While writing The Valley, she consulted a police officer and a psychiatric nurse, as well as Andrew Solomon’s definitive 700-page study, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. “Based on the people who have seen the show, the mental health issues are portrayed pretty accurately,” she says. I’m proud of the fact that everyone in this play gets a fair shake—the police officer, his wife, the boy, his mother.”

Is there a trick to achieving that level of authenticity on stage? “That’s just what playwrights do,” she says. ”That’s our job—to get inside a character and make the audience feel that way.”

More than books or television, MacLeod feels the stage is the best place to bring these kinds of emotional issues to light. “Theatre is ideal for that. When it’s done right, you’re having a true emotional experience. And it makes for a very powerful combination when you base it on a real event.”

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Her plays—including Jewel, Toronto, Mississippi, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, The Hope Slide, Little Sister, The Shape of a Girl, Homechild and Another Home Invasion—have been translated into eight languages. She is currently writing her 11th play, Gracie. “It’s based in part on the polygamous community in Bountiful. I never know what I’m going to write. It’s almost like I have to trick myself into getting really interested in something.”

MacLeod has won every major Canadian playwriting prize, including the Governor General’s Award and the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize. “Joan is a master of expressing the profoundest human emotions, putting to paper the vulnerability, the compassion,
the weaknesses and strengths of the human spirit,” said the Siminovitch jury chair.

But when it comes to teaching playwriting, MacLeod says the trick is to find truth and common ground. “It comes down to a sense of veracity, of remaining true to your characters,” she says. “All I can teach students about is language and what good
dialogue is. It’s up to them to make it feel true.”

Listen to this interview with Joan MacLeod and On The Island host Gregor Craigie, taped live at the Belfry Theatre’s B4Play event on January 30. You can also read more about The Valley in this Times Colonist preview article from February 4.

The Valley runs Feb. 2–28 at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. The Belfry will also be hosting a special UVic Alumni event on Feb. 7, where MacLeod—an alumna of UVic’s writing department—will speak after the show.

Fine Arts a big part of Victoria Film Festival

If it’s February, it must be time for the Victoria Film Festival! This year, in addition to the usual lineup of great feature and short films running February 5-14—including a number by Fine Arts faculty and alumni—the VFF is offering special free attendance for Fine Arts students to their annual Springboad film industry event, running Feb 5-7 at the Vic Theatre (details below). This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

VFF The DevoutOne highlight of the nearly 70 feature films screening this year is The Devout, the feature film debut by Department of Writing MFA alumnus Connor Gaston, produced by fellow Fine Arts alumni  Amanda Verhagen (Theatre) and Daniel Hogg (Writing), with costume design by Kendra Terpenning (Theatre). Gaston attracted a good deal of attention at past film festivals near and far with his award-winning short film ’Til Death, the latest short to emerge from Writing professor Maureen Bradley‘s Writing 420 film production class. The Devout screens 7:15pm February 11 and 1pm February 13 at the downtown Odeon, with Gaston and cast members doing post-film Q&As at both screenings.

Other highlights with links back to Fine Arts include Reset, a short film about a female android discovering she has feelings for her owner, directed by Writing grad Jeremy Lutter (a frequent VFF face with the likes of Gord’s Brother), written by Writing grad Ryan Bright (screenwriter of ’Til Death) and produced by UVic Gustavson School of Business grad Jocelyn Russell. It shows at 8:45pm Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Techlandia” shorts program.

No Breath Play

No Breath Play

The short film No Breath Play is chock full of Writing alumni, being written and directed by Stacey Ashworth, starring Julia Dillon-Davis, featuring camera work by director of photography Scott Amos, produced by Kelly Conlin and executive produced by Daniel Hogg. No Breath Play takes a look at what happens when a reclusive young woman explores BDSM, only to be mistakenly left bound and alone at home. This one screens at 4pm on Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Risky Plays, Risky Places” shorts program.

There’s also a special CineVic retrospective happening at the festival, 6:30pm Sunday Feb 7 at the Odeon on Yates. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the local filmmakers society, over half the 15 short films on view feature the work of Fine Arts alumni:

  • Wolfgang Ball, Marjorie Celona (BFA, Writing)
  • Godhead, Conner Gaston (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • Bark to the Land, David Geiss (MFA, Writing)
  • Sisyphus, Maureen Bradley (Professor, Writing)
  • Grass, Scott Amos (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • The Quandry of Señor Muchacho, Jeremy Lutter (BFA, Writing) also starring Theatre alumna Amanda Lisman
  • Woodrow Without Evelyn, Daniel Hogg (BFA, Writing)
  • Near Silence, starring Treena Stubel (BFA, Theatre)

Finally, the annual VFF SpringBoard event focuses on the business side of filmmaking, which is dynamic and ever-changing in this increasingly digital era. SpringBoard offers aspiring Canadian filmmakers the opportunity to expand their knowledge and keep up with new trends in panels and discussions hosted by established industry leaders.

What can you discover at Springboard?

What can you discover at Springboard?

Again, Fine Arts students can attend the Feb 5-7 Springboad events at the Vic Theatre for free. This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to  director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

Friday, February 5:

• Media Worldview Round Up (11am-noon) – Join the VFF for the annual review of what’s new, forecasted and unpredictable. Gain insights into how the changes impact the kinds of projects you create and understand new opportunities. With Harold Gronenthal, Executive Vice- President of Programming & Operations – AMC/Sundance Channel Global at AMC Networks Inc. He has led content acquisitions for AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE TV since 2004.

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

• Getting Your Start (12:15-1:45pm) – A panel of commissioning editors will provide tips on what a career looks like for an emerging filmmaker. Topics will include commissioning priorities, preferences on approach and pitch, and what to expect working in the field. Panelists include TV producer Tania Koenig-Gauchier, who has almost 20 years experience in broadcasting and independent production working as a producer for CTV, APTN and CBC, and has a background in business, marketing and promotions for television; Tara Ellis, CBC’s Executive Director of Scripted Content, including comedy and drama, kids programming and digital originals; and Robin Neinstein, Production Executive, Original Drama Content for Shaw Media, who oversees the development and production of various scripted series and co-productions for Shaw channels including Global, History and Showcase.

Mary Galloway

Mary Galloway

• The Winning Pitch: Mary Galloway (2:30-3pm) – Mary Galloway won the BravoFact! $35,000 pitch competition in 2015 to create her short film Ariel Unravelling, and now returns to discuss making her film and working with BravoFact! Mary Galloway is a young First Nations actor, producer and writer. She has dedicated her career to telling stories with dynamic female leads, as well as being an advocate for equality for Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) woman. She prides herself on being a positive role model for today’s youth. She has lead three feature films, can be seen on TV shows such as The CW’s Supernatural and is in pre-production for many of her own passion projects.

• Pitch Tips (3:30-4:30pm) – This session reveals the nuts and bolts of how and what to say when pitching your project. Pat Ferns is President of Ferns Productions Inc., specializing in blue-chip documentary-drama mini-series, working with his son Andrew, President of Ferns Entertainment Inc. whose principal focus is drama. Major series Pat and Andrew have produced together include the award-winning Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery and Darwin’s Brave New World, both Australia-Canada co-productions.

Saturday, February 6

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

• In Conversation with Semi Chellas (noon-1:30pm) – Semi Chellas discusses writing for film and television. Chellas was Co-Executive Producer and writer for Mad Men, running the room for the final two seasons. She was nominated for six Emmys and shared the WGA award with Matthew Weiner for co-writing the episode “The Other Woman”. Chellas has written for indie features, kids movies, television movies and directed several award-winning short films. Chellas is currently working as an Executive Producer of Steve McQueen’s HBO miniseries Codes of Conduct.

Sunday, February 7

Larry Weinstein

Larry Weinstein

• In Conversation with Larry Weinstein (noon-1:30pm) – Welcome to the inventive world of Larry Weinstein, a wonderfully unique documentary filmmaker whose films have captured the lives of great composers, the former Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, and the mystery of Hana’s Suitcase.  Weinstein is going to look at the anatomy of making a documentary from inception to completion while expanding on his thoughts by screening raw and completed footage of his latest project, Devil’s Horn. He’ll be in conversation with CTV AM’s film critic, Richard Crouse.

Visual Impetus XIX

For 19 years now, graduate students of the Art History & Visual Studies department have been planning, organizing and mounting their own annual symposium to showcase the kind of dynamic research they’ve been undertaking. And they’re back again this year with Visual Impetus XIX: “Artistry & Creativity: Environments. Materials. Objects.”

VIposter2016Running 4-7:30pm Friday, Jan 22 and 9am – 4pm Saturday, Jan 23 in room 103 of the Fine Arts building, Visual Impetus XIX provides important opportunities for grad students to present their research to peers and faculty alike, as well as providing a supportive forum to develop their presentation skills.

This weekend event, which also features a poster fair on Friday night as well as numerous presentation panels, welcomes both Dr. Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts, and Dr Dennine Dudley as guest speakers. All students, faculty and community members are welcome.

Here’s the weekend schedule:

Friday, January 22

4pm – Opening remarks by Dr. Susan Lewis

Panel 1: Fashioning Identity: Family; Society; Self.

4:05 pm – Panel introduction by Brian Pollick

4:10 pm – Alexandra Macdonald (MA Candidate): “Understanding the Importance of Gossip and Rumor: Johan Zoffany’s The Gore Family with George, Third Earl Cowper”

4:25 pm  – Kristen Matulewicz (MA Candidate): “And Down She Lay: Decoding The Lady of Shalott in Victorian Society”

4:40 pm – Christine Oldridge (MA Candidate)” “Sensuality, Decorum, and Self-fashioning in the Art of Rosalba Carriera”

4:55 pm – Question period / 5:10 pm – 10 minute break

Panel 2: Symbols and Emblems through History

5:20 pm – Panel introduction by Jaiya Anka

5:25 pm – Alicia Hagy (MA Candidate): “Post-War Tides: Situating Iannis Xenakis in the Rebetiko Revival”

5:40 pm – David Christopher (PhD Candidate) “Apocalyptic Impulses in Canadian Art”

5:50 pm – Question period

6:05 pm – Art History and Visual Studies Graduate Association, Logo Launch by Jaiya Anka

6:15 pm – Closing Remarks by Christine Oldridge

6:30 pm – 7:30 pm – Poster fair, popcorn, & pizza

Saturday, January 23

9:00 am – Pastry and Coffee Reception

Panel 3: Sensory Reception Beyond the Object

9:30 am – Opening remarks and Panel introduction by David Christopher

9:35 am – Bailey Arnholz (MA Candidate): “Can Death Speak? An Exploration of the Voices of Images in the Medieval Art of the Macabre”

9:50 am – Françoise Keating (MA Candidate): “Emblems and Proverbs: Moral Humanistic Allegories for Tapestry Makers in Manuscript 2446”

10:05 am – Susan Hawkins (PhD Candidate): “Ceci n’est pas une Pomme: The Illustrated Apple”

10:20 am – Question Period / 10:35 am – 10 minute break

Panel 4: Textual Identity and Visual Communication

10:45 am – Panel introduction by Alexandra Macdonald

10:50 am – Zahra Kazani (PhD Candidate): “Rethinking the ‘Religious’ in the Arts: Examining the Development of the Early Qur’an as an Art Object”

11:05 am – Atri Hatef (PhD Candidate): “Pseudo-Arabic Scripts in European Art (1300-1600 AD): Legible Words or Symbolic Signs?”

11:20 am – Dana Harold (MA Candidate): “Graffiti or Street Art? The Importance of Terminology when Classifying Graffiti and Street Art in Cairo, Egypt”

11:35 am – Question Period / 11:50 pm – Lunch

1:00 pm – Keynote introduction by Alicia Hagy

1:05 pm – Dr. Dennine Dudley (Continuing Sessional Instructor): “Creating Environments: My Path to Process”

1:25 pm – Question period

Panel 5: Eastern Encounters

1:40 pm – Panel introduction by Françoise Keating

1:45 pm – Jenelle Pasiechnik (MA Graduate): “Assembling Oh Persepolis II: The Simultaneity of Tradition and Modernity in Parviz Tanavoli’s Monumental Bronze Sculpture”

2:00 pm – Brian Pollick (PhD Candidate): “The Club of Kings: The Role of Luxurious Material Culture in the Mission of William of Rubruck to the Mongols”

2:15 pm – Question period / 2:30 pm – 10 minute break

Panel 6: Spirituality and Philosophy in Landscape, Architecture and Artisanal Communities

2:40 pm – Panel introduction by Kristen Matulewicz

2:45 pm – Yang Liu (PhD Candidate): “Chinese Subjectivity: The Comparative Study of Daoism, Phenomenology and Object-Oriented Ontology through the Lens of Traditional Chinese Landscape Painting”

3:00 pm – Astara Light (PhD Candidate): “Movement and Meaning: Intersections between Balinese Temples and Indian Sacred Architecture”

3:15 pm – Fahimeh Ghorbani (MA Graduate): “Kasbnama-yi Bafandegi (Weaving kasbnama); Doctrine of Jawanmardi/futuwwa and Artisanal Culture in Safavid Iran”

3:30 pm   – Question period

3:45 pm – ARTiculate introduction: the Graduate Student Journal of Art History and Visual Studies

3:55 pm – Closing Remarks by Christine Oldridge

4:00 pm – Closing Remarks by Dr. Erin Campbell, Art History & Visual Studies Chair

Writing alum Billeh Nickerson offers publishing workshop

Exciting news for students and community writers: celebrated Department of Writing alumnus, author & editor Billeh Nickerson (BFA ’98) returns to campus with an exciting new workshop. “Getting It Into Print” will reveal the trade secrets of getting your work published in literary journals.

Billeh Nickerson

Billeh Nickerson

Learn valuable tips from an industry professional, including the key do’s and don’ts of cover letters and what writers can learn from rejection letters. (Believe it!) This workshop, co-presented by Geist magazine and the Writing department, is as fun as it is instructional. A frequent Geist contributor, Nickerson well knows the ins and outs of the Canadian lit scene.

As the author of five books, including the 2014 City of Vancouver Book Award-nominated Artificial Cherry, Nickerson is the ideal instructor for this workshop. A former editor of both PRISM International and Event (two of Canada’s most respected literary journals), and a previous writer-in-residence at Queen’s University and at Dawson City’s Berton House, he is now Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Vancouver’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Getting It Into Print” runs 11am – 2 pm Friday, January 29 at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates. This $50 workshop also includes a one-year subscription to Geist for yourself or a friend. Register now.

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Carl Wilson is Writing’s 2016 Southam Lecturer

When it comes to writing about popular culture, Carl Wilson’s heart will always go on. That’s partially because, as a music critic for Slate and Billboard magazines, Wilson is deeply passionate about the impact music can have on everyone’s lives; but it’s also because his book about Céline Dion struck a chord that rivaled the power of love.

Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson

Originally published in 2007 as part of the acclaimed 33 1/3 music criticism series, Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste deftly deconstructed Céline Dion’s dichotomous popularity and vilification. Described as “a thought experiment,” Let’s Talk About Love prompted readers to second-guess what they like and dislike, and to really consider what they value or scorn.

“Different forms of culture are lenses through which we can look at our lives and society,” says Wilson. “It’s more about engaging in dialogue with the work than a knee-jerk thumbs-up/thumbs-down reaction. When you’re writing about music or movies or books, you can write about anything; it potentially encompasses all experience.”

As the 2016 Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Department of Writing, Wilson will be offering students the benefit of his experience as a contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Pitchfork, The Nation, Exclaim!, Spin and others—including nearly 15 years as a feature writer and editor at The Globe and Mail. “One of the reason I like to work in pop culture is that it’s a more immediately accessible and relatable form,” he says. “Whether or not you’re deeply versed in the history of those forms, it’s a medium you have direct access to that works as a conversation with other people through this common experience of popular culture.”

With his class running in the winter semester and a public lecture planned for the end of February, Wilson intends his course to be “a collective workshop on approaches to critical writing about popular culture. It will be really hands-on—I want the students to read a lot of things that will give them ideas and then try to put those ideas into practice.”

let's talkReprinted in 2014 as a stand-alone edition subtitled “Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste,” Let’s Talk About Love now includes additional essays by the likes of novelists Nick Hornby and Sheila Heti, musicians Owen Pallett and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), cultural critics Ann Powers and Sukhdev Sandhu, scholars Daphne A. Brooks and Jonathan Sterne, and many others. And while not quite as popular as Ms. Dion herself, Wilson’s book has sparked debates about taste in the music-writing community as well as on blogs and podcasts, in cultural studies departments and across traditional media outlets ranging from The Village Voice to The Colbert Report. It even got a shout-out from actor James Franco on the red carpet at the 2009 Oscars.

As the ninth Southam Lecturer for the Writing department, Wilson follows in the footsteps of the likes of CBC Radio’s Jo-Ann Roberts, author Richard Wagamaese, humour writer Mark Leiren-Young, and sports journalist Tom Hawthorn, among others.

He does admit to being “kind of excited and scared” about teaching. “I feel like academia was the shadow life I never had,” he says, adding that he holds a BA from McGill. “I intended to stay in school, but that never happened. But a lot of the work I do is academically informed—I read a lot of cultural studies, because a lot of the questions that interest me are broad theoretical questions and to do that work you have to know what’s been done before, and what you can add to that.”

Of course, it helps that Let’s Talk About Love has become academically popular. “One of the really surprising things is how much it’s been adopted as an academic text,” he says. “It’s been taught in a lot of places and courses have been designed around it, which I never considered at all when I wrote it. But I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms over the past few years because of that.”

The big question, then, is whether or not he’ll be using his own book in class. “I’m still deciding,” he says with a laugh. “It’s slightly hubristic to make your own text required reading—but, on the other hand, it does deal with the same questions we’ll be dealing with in the course.”

In search of the mighty beaver

The next time you pull out a nickel, spare a thought for the humble beaver. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood mammals, the beaver has played a more significant role in shaping our continent than any other animal.

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Not only did beavers directly influence North America’s exploration, settlement and economic development but, after being hunted to near-extinction, they’re currently experiencing an ecological revival—all of which is summed up in a new book, Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver by Writing instructor and alumna Frances Backhouse.

“They’re one of the most important ecological stories happening today,” says Backhouse. “As a keystone species, I can’t think of any other animal in North America that has had such an impact as Castor canadensis.”

By definition, a keystone species plays such a crucial role that an ecosystem would be dramatically different—or even cease to exist—without it. The beaver used to live everywhere—from the Rio Grande to the Arctic treeline and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In fact, North America’s only beaver-free regions were extreme deserts like Death Valley and the alligator-infested Florida everglades.

HatsBackhouse’s original research into beavers provided the basis for her Master’s degree in Fine Arts. She also has a zoology degree and five other books under her belt, and her acclaimed gold rush family history, Children of the Klondike, won the 2010 City of Victoria Book Prize.

The first book of its kind, Once They Were Hats is already garnering acclaim in the likes of the Globe and Mail (“fascinating and smartly written”) and the National Post (“deeply, enthrallingly, page-turningly fascinating”), where it was also named one of the best 99 books of the year (coming in at #47).

She also spoke with CBC Radio on January 6 about the reappearance of beavers in Vancouver’s False Creek area, which you can listen to here. And, south of the border, Backhouse did this interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting in January.

Describing the beaver as a “history maker, landscape shaper and national symbol,” Backhouse’s extensive research led her not only to archives and museums but also to bogs, traplines, fur auctions and Canada’s leading hat-maker. “I see the beaver as something where biology and history intersect,” she says. “North American exploration was largely beaver-driven. There was a rolling ‘beaver frontier’ that kept moving across the continent, always getting pushed west.”

But it’s the beaver’s role as landscape shaper that surprised her the most. “When I began, I didn’t know Castor canadensis had been transforming our landscapes for a million years. But then I found research that suggests an ancestor, the prehistoric beaver Dipoides, was also a tree cutter and dam builder . . . and that potentially puts beaver landscape-shaping in North America back to 24 million years ago.”

An example of Backhouse's dam good research

An example of Backhouse’s dam good research

While dam building can affect the course of streams, the hydrological impact often results in irrigation of land that might otherwise remain dry. The beaver also influences the type and quality of trees and plants that we think “naturally” occur in an area.

Backhouse is equally impressed with the beaver’s resilience, and its human-assisted rebound from near-extinction.

“We’ve suffered from a sort of ecological amnesia for over a century now,” she says. “All the settlement came after the fur trade and we came into this land thinking it was a certain way. Then, as beavers were reintroduced, people found them difficult to live with because they change the hydrology and landscape.”

But the hard-working beaver may also play a pivotal role in our ability to adapt to climate change. “There’s a real interest in reintroducing beavers these days because they offer a solution to drought problems.”

What impact does she hope her book will have? “I’d like people to see that beavers are beneficial to have around, and that we can co-exist with them. And to realize what cool animals they really are.”

Bonus beaver facts!

Bakchouse_Knowledge• The beaver today looks pretty much identical to a beaver of a million years ago, and it’s been on the Canadian nickel since 1937. It also appeared on Canada’s first postage stamp—the “three-pence beaver,” which was the first stamp in the world to not feature a monarch or head of state.

• After 300 years of intense trapping, North America’s beaver population in 1900 stood at less than one per cent of the most conservatively estimated pre-colonial population, which Backhouse says was between 60 and 400 million. “That puts the 1900 estimate in the low hundred-thousands.”

• The largest beaver dam on record was reported by 19th-century explorer David Thompson, who saw one that was 1.6 km long. The longest known beaver dam currently in existence is 850 metres long in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta. Most dams are about 20 metres long.

• Once They Were Hats is a great example of how creative nonfiction books effectively combine research and narrative, which Backhouse is keen to pass on to her students in UVic’s Department of Writing. “The extensive interviewing and other research I did for this book gives me lots of real-life examples to draw on when I’m teaching creative nonfiction—everything from the kind of people skills you need for interviewing to how to find the story in an academic paper.”

This story originally ran in the Times Colonist on December 27 as part of the monthly UVic research KnowlEDGE feature. Read more KnowlEDGE stories here

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2015

It’s the end of another busy—and rewarding—year here at the Faculty of Fine Arts, where there was never any shortage of things to keep everyone busy. With five departments offering literally hundreds of annual concerts, theatrical productions, readings, exhibits, symposiums and lectures by visiting artists, academics and professionals, Fine Arts remains one of the most community-engaged faculties on campus. Here’s a quick wrap-up featuring some—but certainly not all—of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

A very Meigs year

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

It was quite the year for Department of Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs. Hot on the heels of being named one of eight recipients of the Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March—an honour that saw her work featured in a special curated exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada this past summer—she presented her most recent solo exhibit of new work, All to All, at Toronto’s acclaimed Susan Hobbs Gallery. Plus, she was announced as the winner of the $50,000 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO in October, an award that also comes with a solo show at the Art Gallery of Ontario and a further $10,000 towards a publication on her work. Read more about Meigs’ successes here and here.

A Royal event

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds converged on Victoria in November when the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—honoured three of our own. Celebrated playwright, Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod was one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows, while noted composer and Music professor Dániel Péter Biró was elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins was presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature. Find out more about UVic’s Royal Society connections here.

Really made in BC

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Back in September, Fine Arts was proud to host the launch of Made in British Columbia: Eight Ways of Making Culture—the latest book by noted cultural historian Dr. Maria Tippett. “UVic has always impressed me as being sensitive to art in British Columbia, and is a superb place to launch the book,” noted the Governor General’s Award-winning Tippett. It was a packed event with nary a seat in the house and, despite nearly having to cancel due to ill health, Tippett proved a real trouper and carried on with a fantastic event. Read more about the book here.

Singing his praises

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

A tenor of international renown with a repertoire ranging from baroque to classical and contemporary, Music professor Benjamin Butterfield was announced in June as the 2015 winner of UVic’s Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression. “The measure of Professor Butterfield’s impact on the musical world can truly be found in how he applies his talent and expertise to the training of a new generation of singers,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “He makes the difference for young singers, providing both inspiration and sound teaching to prepare them for the world stage.” Discover more about Butterfield here.

(Re)Acting to a crisis

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Back in March, a first-of-its-kind national symposium co-organized by Department of Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz questioned and examined traditional acting methods, as it addressed what has been described as “the crisis of actor training in Canada.” Acting Training in a Shifting World saw 34 instructors from the majority of Canadian post-secondary drama institutions—ranging from universities and colleges to conservatory programs—converge on the Phoenix. “It’s good for UVic to host a discussion where we’re questioning all the things we’ve taken for granted for decades—that acting always comes out of a printed script,” says Alexandrowicz. “We’re under a lot of pressure to think of theatre training as a greater part of a liberal arts education, so we should be including people from all across campus, people who want to learn about performance but have no interest in professional acting per se.” Read the original Ring article here.

Mile-high research

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Being the first to gain access to an archive is the kind of research opportunity most academics dream of—and it’s how Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff spent his summer. Antliff was recently announced as the inaugural Research Fellow in Residence at the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center in Denver, Colorado. Named for the famed American painter—whom Antliff describes as “a leading artist in the abstract expressionist movement”—the position at the CSM represented an exciting opportunity. “No scholars apart from those at the CSM have had access to his archive or library before this—I’m getting first crack at it,” said Antliff, who spent two months on site. Read more about Clyfford Still here.

Welcome to the (faculty) club

Fine Arts was pleased to announce three new hires this academic year: Music’s Joseph Salem, plus Cedric Bomford and Megan Dickie in Visual Arts. “Dr. Salem comes to us from Yale University, where he completed a doctoral degree with a dissertation on Pierre Boulez,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “A scholar with expertise in music after 1950, he brings a strong analytical focus to his approach to music. He is a passionate teacher who will ignite the classroom and instill a love for music our students.”

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Joining Visual Arts from the University of Manitoba is sculptor and photographer Cedric Bomford. “[His] career is on a upward trajectory as evidenced by an international exhibition record and his work being recently nominated for the prestigious 2014 Sobey Award,” noted Visual Arts chair Paul Walde.

And stepping up from her longtime position as a sessional instructor is local sculptor Megan Dickie. “Megan has been teaching with Visual Arts for 10 years now,” says Walde. “She is consistently one of our most highly ranked instructors and is extremely popular with our students. In the past four years, Megan’s studio research has developed in new and innovative ways, bringing her more exhibition opportunities both nationally and internationally.”

Nominating success

Director Maureen Bradley on the set of Two 4 One (photo: Arnold Lim)

Director Maureen Bradley on the set of Two 4 One (photo: Arnold Lim)

An impressive 26 nominations in the 2015 Leo Awards for films created by Department of Writing faculty and alumni proves we’re punching above our weight when it comes to film futures—truly, a surprising number for a university that doesn’t even have a film production program. “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams,” says film professor Maureen Bradley, whose groundbreaking feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) was nominated for six awards. “I don’t know anywhere else in the country where this is happening. There are good student films being made, but they’re not being driven by faculty [led-courses].” Read more about our film course here.

Finding art in conflict

Applied Theatre professor Dr. Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta became the latest Fine Arts TEDx speaker in November, when she enthralled audiences with her talk “Utopia of Unwanted Spaces: Art in Conflict.” From her experiences bringing theatre to some of the most seemingly hopeless places in our world, Sadeghi-Yekta has learned what it takes for art—and culture—to not just live on, but thrive in conflict zones. “Theatre transcends the destructive places where a horrendous physical world exists,” says Sadeghi-Yekta. Some of her most notable work has been with working with the children in the Downtown East Side in Vancouver, young people in Brazilian favelas, disabled women in areas of Cambodia, adolescents in Nicaragua and students with special needs in schools in the Netherlands. You can watch the video here:

Gone but not forgotten

Finally, this past year saw the passing of three important figures in the Faculty’s history: School of Music professor Gene Dowling, Visual Arts professor Don Harvey, and Writing professor Dave Godfrey.

An inspirational teacher and invaluable colleague, Dowling passed away in June. “He showed incredible generosity and thoughtfulness towards his students and helped make the School of Music a great place to be,” says Acting Dean of Fine Arts and former School of Music Director Susan Lewis.

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Also passing in June was former Writing chair Godfrey, a Governor General’s Award winner. Retired Writing professor Lorna Crozier remembers him as being “generous, sharp and excited about ideas and young people. He was a central figure in the Canadian renaissance, in our belief that our own stories have value. We need more of his kind now.”

Professor Emeritus Harvey passed away in August. A founding member of the Visual Arts department, current professor Robert Youds recalls Harvey as having “a formidably quick wit and a razor sharp eye for anything to do with colour, mark-making, and the pictorial in art. He played an enormous role in the early development of the Visual Arts department at UVic—for which we current members owe a real debt of thanks.”

RSC honours Fine Arts professors

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds will be converging on Victoria this weekend as the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—comes to town. The RSC’s annual general meeting runs November 26-28 at the Fairmont Empress and will feature scientists, scholars and artists from across the country. But while such a grand gathering of vibrant minds is notable in itself, it’s triply important for Fine Arts as three of our own are being honoured.

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

Celebrated playwright, Department of Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod is one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows—the country’s highest academic honour—while noted composer and School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró has been elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (colloquially known as the RSC’s “rising stars”). Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins will be presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature, alongside two other UVic medal winners.

“The Faculty of Fine Arts is fortunate to have colleagues of the calibre of professor Joan MacLeod and Dr. Biró, both of whom bring their research and creative practice to bear on their teaching and mentorship of our students,” says Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “We congratulate our two colleagues on their appointments to the RSC.”

Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod

Lewis is quick to praise MacLeod’s creative output. “One of Canada’s foremost playwrights, MacLeod’s works explore contemporary social justice issues with characters who are often on the margins of Canadian society,” she says. “She has received numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award for Drama, two Chalmers’ Canadian Play Awards, a Dora Award and the Siminovitch Prize.”

For her part, MacLeod seems equally happy and surprised by the honour. “I’m pleased about the Royal nod because my research is my stage plays, of course—my artistic practice,” she says. “I have always had a sense of community in theatre and writing, but academic community is something else. To be included in a group of eminent scholars, scientists . . . it’s astounding.” MacLeod joins existing Faculty of Fine Arts Royal Society Fellows Tim Lilburn, Mary Kerr and Lorna Crozier.

Lewis, also the Director of the School of Music, well knows the work of her colleague Biró, noting his position at the forefront of music composition and research. “In 2011, Dániel was Visiting Professor at Utrecht University and in 2014-2015, Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. His compositions are performed around the world and he is internationally active as a composer, researcher, performer, lecturer and teacher,” she says.

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

“I am happy to be elected a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” Biró says. “Composing music is not only creating something new, but also discovering the past. It’s almost like we’re conservationists of culture.”

Biró notes that the Aventa Ensemble’s Mark McGregor will be performing one of his pieces—Kivrot Hata’avah (Graves of Craving), for solo bass flute—during the RSC Gala. “This composition was selected to represent Canada in the International Society of Contemporary Music 2013 World New Music Days in Vienna,” he says. “McGregor commissioned the piece and will premiere this new version.”

Be sure to check out this new UVic video featuring Biró discussing his work.

For those not familiar with his many books, the Comox Valley-born Jack Hodgins is an influential writer dedicated to chronicling the people and stories of Vancouver Island. Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 1979 for The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, he was also presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2006, was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009, and won the 2011 City of Victoria Book Prize for his recent novel The Master of Happy Endings. He taught with the Department of Writing from 1983 to 2002 and, in the process, became a mentor to a whole new generation of authors.

 Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Yet Hodgins’ creative efforts are not limited to the page. In 2014, he wrote “Cadillac Cathedral” which he performed live on stage with the Vancouver men’s choir Chor Leoni, composer Christopher Donnison created an opera based on several short stories from Hodgins’ book The Barclay Family Theatre, and his life has been commemorated in the NFB documentary Jack Hodgins’ Island.

The Royal Society AGM kicks off with a public event—a special day-long symposium on Canadian marine biodiversity on Thursday, Nov. 26—followed by the welcoming of new fellows and college members into its fold and awarding medals for outstanding achievement. UVic is undeniably proud to have eight researchers among those being honoured. “This incredible breadth of expertise and impact really speaks to this university’s research strength as a whole,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president research.

UVic President Jamie Cassels is equally excited by the event. “We’re very pleased to be the presenting sponsor for this event,” he says. “This gathering is an opportunity for all of us to welcome Canada’s eminent scholars and celebrate their impacts in areas vital to Canada and the world.”

UVic’s other new Fellows include chemist Frank van Veggel and philosopher James Young, while exercise psychologist Ryan Rhodes and astronomer Sara Ellison become members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Ellison also joins Hodgins as a medal winner, receiving the RSC’s Rutherford Medal for outstanding achievement in a branch of physics, as does cosmologist Julio Navarro, who wins the 2015 Tory Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy.

For those who want to stay up on our honorands’ creative practice, Joan MacLeod’s latest play, The Valley, will appear at the Belfry Theatre from Feb. 2-28, 2016. A stage version of Jack Hodgins’ Spit Delaney’s Island—based on the short story, which earned him his first Governor General’s Award nomination for the book of the same name—is being adapted for the stage by Victoria’s Theatre Inconnu from December 1-19.

Finally, Dániel Péter Biró was recently commissioned by the Klangforum Heidelberg to write a new work for voices and ensemble. The Schola Heidelberg and Ensemble Aisthesison at the University of Heidelberg premiered Biró’s Messiaen, Couleurs de la Cité Celeste in October 2015, with additional performances in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen that same month—but you can hear it right here.

Mackie’s back in town

For a song written only days before the premiere, “Mack the Knife” has not only become the most recognized number from The Threepenny Opera, but also a musical standard performed by some of world’s greatest artists. The history of the song also represents a fascinating journey for how we view one of theatre’s most notorious villains, the character MacHeath—better known as Mack the Knife.

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing in Phoenix Theatre's production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern theatre. After opening in 1928 in Berlin, it became one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Here was a satire so irreverent and cutting in its humour, so gritty in its reflection of the down-and-out, and so uncompromising in its criticisms of post-WWI German society that it would influence all theatre thereafter. Kurt Weill’s precedent-setting, jazz-influenced music would create a resurgence in the musical worldwide.

Opening November 5 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, this mainstage production of The Threepenny Opera is directed by Department of Theatre professor Brian Richmond who has set it in an absurd, near-future dystopia. Part biting satire and part sheer theatrical innovation, this famed musical is a landmark of modern theatre. “This is quite possibly the most important piece of musical theatre in the 20th century,” says Richmond, who worked with Applied Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta to bring a strong sense of realism to this production.

To learn more about the vision behind this production, director Richmond will be giving a pre-show lecture at 7pm on Friday, November 6. The Threepenny Opera then runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000. 

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The Threepenny Opera borrows from the 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera and offers an edgy mix of biting satire and sheer theatrical innovation as it takes aim at the traditional bourgeoisie and reveals a society where law is fickle, money corrupts and crime absolutely pays. Richmond is well-known for breathing fresh life into classic works, as evidenced by past Phoenix productions like Guys & Dolls, Dark of the Moon, The Wind in the Willows and Romeo & Juliet.

“Mack the Knife,” the song that has since become an iconic symbol of the play, was only added at the last minute at the behest of Harald Paulsen—the actor playing MacHeath in the premiere—as he wanted a number that would better introduce his character. A number of translations and versions of the play were produced following the original, but it wasn’t until Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 New York City version that Threepenny became a hit in America, ensconcing the play and its music in popular culture. Conducted by the preeminent Leonard Bernstein (a friend of Blitzstein) and featuring Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weil’s widow, who had been part of the original Berlin cast), it ran Off-Broadway for over six years and broke records set by Oklahoma.

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

It was Blitzstein’s translation of “Mack the Knife” that was famously recorded by some of the biggest stars in the 1950s and ’60s, including Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. While based on the Blitzstein version, each artist made the song his or her own, accentuating or repeating different lyrics to highlight Mackie’s exploitive playboy nature. Musically, some interpreted the song with more swing, more jazz, more up-tempo, more lounge, as best fit the artist’s style. Armstrong spontaneously added Lotte Lenya’s name into the lyrics as she watched his recording session. Sinatra added references to many previous singers in his lyrics.

In 1976, a new version of Threepenny opened on Broadway (later made into a movie), featuring a version of “Mack the Knife” that returned to Brecht and Weill’s original idea of a murder song that accentuated MacHeath’s trail of victims more than his womanizing ways. This version was recorded in the ’80s and ’90s by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Sting and Nick Cave. Then, in 1994, Robert David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams hoped to recapture some of the original edginess of Brecht’s irreverent cutting humour and mounted a version of Threepenny with an emphasis on Mackie’s more gruesome villainous ways.

Director Brian Richmond

Director Brian Richmond

It is this most recent translation that director Richmond chose for the Phoenix production. “Directors often ask not only how, but why an audience responded to a particular work at the time of its premiere,” he says. “[We] then try to build an interpretive bridge between this central nerve, or zeitgeist, of the culture from which the work arose and the times in which we live now.”

Still reeling in the aftermath of the war, the 1920s German Weimar government was plagued with hyperinflation, political extremists, severe poverty and famine. At the same time, there was false sense of affluence and indulgence among the elite, leaving Germany teetering on the brink of inevitable disaster. As young artists and political activists, no doubt Brecht, Weill and friends could see that this house of cards was about to fall.

The 1994 translation restores the grittiness and angst of the original for today’s audiences. “Looking at the present day conditions—economic, political and social—it’s not difficult for current audiences to relate to this fear of an impending collapse of society,” says Richmond. “Thankfully this has not happened yet . . . which is why we decided to set this production in the future, where we can take for granted that society has already collapsed. We felt that an absurd dystopian future would further highlight the absurdity of how man’s appetite for greed, lust and gluttony, keeps contributing to our downfall.”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

The Threepenny Opera runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000

Writing alumni news

Fall is the season for new book launches, and there are a few on the horizon for our busy Department of Writing alumni.

Ali Blythe

Ali Blythe

First up is Ali Blythe, who is launching their first book of poems, Twoism. Recently described as “a stunning debut” and named one of the top-10 hottest books coming out this fall by CBC books, Twoism was also praised by Quill & Quire in their fall preview for how it “questions the validity of gender binaries and bodily limits.” Blythe will be joined by at the launch reading by friends and fellow Writing alumni Garth Martens, Melanie Siebert and Anne-Marie Turza.

Don’t miss Blythe’s launch at 7:30pm Tuesday, September 15, in the Bard and Banker Pub’s Sam McGee room, 1022 Government. Hosted by Russell Books.

Arleen Paré

Arleen Paré

Hot on the heels of that comes the latest poetry collection from 2014 Governor General’s Award-winner Arleen Paré, whose latest volume is titled He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car. Another collection of lyrical poems, but with a darker exploration than her GG winning Lake of Two Mountains, Paré’s Funeral Car is described as “elegiac, lyrical, ironic; a series of reflections, recollections; a collection about relationships—to family, clocks, water, trees, ungulates, endings—recognizing that not all relationships are straightforward.”

Join Paré for her launch at 7:30pm Tuesday, September 29, at Munro’s Books, 1108 Government—and be sure to congratulate her about Lake of Two Mountains being nominated for the 2015 City of Victoria Book Prize!

Frances Backhouse

Frances Backhouse

Another fall launch features the much-anticipated nonfiction book by MFA alumnus and current Writing instructor Frances Backhouse. Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with the beaver, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. Backhouse goes on a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they’re returning.

Don’t miss the launch, 7pm Thursday, October 8, at the Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas.

A scene from Connor Gaston's The Devout

A scene from Connor Gaston’s The Devout

Also debuting this fall is the debut feature film by Connor Gaston. The Devout will be making its world premiere nearly simultaneously at both the Vancouver International Film Festival and Korea’s renowned Busan International Film Festival (aka “the Cannes of Asia”). VIFF comes first on October 2 with Busan following less than 12 hours later on October 3. In Busan, The Devout was selected as one of 10 films in competition for the Busan Bank Award—the festival’s top international prize—and at VIFF it will be appearing in the Canadian Images program, as well as highlighted in the BC Spotlight competition.

Gaston wrote the screenplay for his Master’s thesis, and the story follows a Christian schoolteacher who has a profound crisis of faith after his terminally ill four-year old daughter claims to have had a past life. Obsessively seeking answers, he risks his marriage and his last remaining days with his child to determine is she has lived before, and if she will live again.

Journey Prize longlister K'ari Fisher

Journey Prize longlister K’ari Fisher

In other alumni news, congratulations go out to both alumni Eliza Robertson and Melanie Siebert (also a former Writing sessional instructor) for each winning $5,000 in the Writers’ Trust of Canada “Five x Five” program, sponsored by the RBC Emerging Artists Project. Impressive that two of the five winners both emerged from the Department of Writing! And we’re very excited to announce that former BFA and current MFA K’ari Fisher was named to this year’s Journey Prize longlist. Better still, her nominated story—“Mercy Beatrice Wrestles the Noose”—originally appeared in UVic’s very own The Malahat Review. Writing MFA alumna Yasuko Thanh was a Journey Prize winner in 2009.