What to watch
On CBC-Gem you can watch Influence which is a feature length documentary film about Lord Tim Bell. He was the British advertising genius who insisted he was merely amoral, not immoral. An ultra-rightist, from the 1970s to the 2000s he was an ad moghul turned behind the scenes politico. He drove Margaret Thatcher to three consecutive election victories. He worked on behalf of regimes such as Chile’s Augosto Pinochet’s which murdered tens of thousands of leftists. The Globe & Mail’s TV critic John Doyle called him the most wicked man in the world.
More recently Bell tried to operated a corruption scheme which served the former Jacob Zuma government in South Africa. The documentary is startling since we see Bell in his last year of life – doubtless a shadow of his former self, a chain-smoker whose lung cancer is so advanced he squeaks out his responses to the interviewer. Yet Influence is a frightening reminder of Margaret Thatcher’s tribute to him: “…he understood that selling ideas is different from selling soap.”
Shoplifters is a 2018 film about a near-homeless couple in Japan who surround themselves with an adopted extended family. Added to the family is a little girl in the neighbourhood whom the family takes in – essentially kidnaps — when they see that the girl’s mother neglects her. The father of the extended family is a career shoplifter. The mother works in a laundry and earns very little money. But they have a family life that is warm and caring – in a home that is little better than a squat. Their lives start to spin out of orbit when it’s time to return the 5 year old girl they took in to her home and her biological mother. This is a great film, well worth watching on Netflix. Some compare it to the Academy-award winning family saga from Mexico, Roma, but I think Shoplifters is far better, less ‘weepy’ and more hard hitting. Here’s the trailer.
I’m still watching what seems to be the never-ending American TV homicide-cop series, Bosch. The first five or so episodes seem routine and rather boring. Harry Bosch, a Los Angeles detective, has an ex-wife who flirts with mobsters, and a teenage daughter who wants to live with him — rather than under the stricter rules at her mother’s house. What seems to be a yawner gets more interesting over the 25 plus episodes. A number of plot lines collide with police station politics which makes the series a little edgy. Though detective Bosch himself is a bit of a cipher, and has a rather flat personality, others in the cop shop pick up the slack and seem to carry the series. Not bad, and by the way, Bosch’s Los Angeles is always bathed in brilliant sunlight, funky streetscapes and even the seedy sides of town look intriguing. I got this series on Amazon Prime.
False Confessions is a fascinating documentary available on CBC-Gem. Of course the data and cases are all from the US, but you start to see how and why people — of all ages — confess to serious crimes they never committed. You learn of the prosecution’s tricks, and the whole system which makes life a living hell for people on the edge – emotionally, physically and intellectually. Here it is.
What to Read…
Fifteen years ago, a Halifax writer published a fast-paced, witty and urgent novel about people in Africville, Uniacke Square, privileged white south-enders, Liberal party politics and the legal system. The book is Reparations by Stephen Kimber, who is author of a wide range of books, a columnist for the Halifaxexaminer.ca, and a journalism prof at the University of King’s College. While the book shows its age in a some minor ways, it is a fascinating dive into the tribal politics of Nova Scotia. Reparations makes a good case for reparations for African-Nova Scotians. I’d say it’s well worth reading and a literary treasure.
The Book of Disappearance (2018) by Ibtisam Azem is wonderful. In an apartment building in Tel Aviv lives a liberal Israeli Jew, Ariel, who works as a media journalist, and on the floor above, his good friend, Alaa, an Arab-Israeli chef. Both men have been friends for years, but politically they are still wary around one another. The wariness stems from the gut-wrenching events of 1948 – when more than 700,000 Palestinians (including Alaa’s grandmother) were driven from their land and their homes by the army of the new state of Israel. Most never were allowed to return. Flash forward 71 years and suddenly, one day, all the Palestinians disappear. The million Israeli-Arabs who live in Israel proper – descendants of those who managed to stay after ’48— and the Palestinians from Occupied Territories in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The first clue that they disappeared was that the buses all over Israel, or don’t arrive to pick up passengers. are late. Have the Arab bus drivers gone on strike, Jewish Israelis wonder as they now must walk to school or work. Likewise there are no Arab taxi drivers, or gardeners, or cleaners at their jobs. Cafes and restaurants everywhere are closed, the waiters, kitchen help and owners are gone. There are a few Jewish-owned cafes open, and from them we hear the refrain – “Where are our Arabs?” and “We treated them right, we gave them jobs and education – and now they’re gone!” The Israeli government announces a state of emergency and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are dispatched to find the Palestinians, and bring them “home”. The book is funny, pathetic, and yet very human.
Book… on right: author Ibtisam Azem
The Book of Disappearance is the 2020 book for Librarians and Archivists with Palestine’s international reading campaign, One Book, Many Communities. I was lucky enough to attend a webinar with the book’s author, Ibtisam Azem, at the end of June. Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJVCanada.org) started a book club series which kicked off with The Book of Disappearance. It was amazing to “meet” the author who now lives and works as a journalist in New York City; she is hard at work on another book. Independent Jewish Voices has another book club event on Zoom on Tues. 7 July at 4 pm ADT (3pm in Toronto). The webinar is free and open to the public. It features author Daphna Levit whose new book is Wrestling with Zionism: Jewish Voices of Dissent. Levit is a critically acclaimed author, a Canadian Jew who lives in Nova Scotia and grew up in Israel. The webinar is free and open to the public: click on this link to register!
What to Listen to….
If you are looking for a good political podcast, tune into Canadaland show #267, called Consequence Culture. It features Canadaland host Jesse Brown interviewing Desmond Cole (author of the national bestseller, The Skin We’re In). They are interrogating the issue of racism in the Canadian media.
They discuss Margaret Wente formerly of The Globe and Mail, whose many instances of plagiarism in her Globe columns sent shock waves through the mainstream media. She was recently obliged to resign after being appointed a senior member of Massey College, at the
University of Toronto. In mid-June, Dr Alissa Trotz, a U of T professor of women and gender studies and Caribbean studies resigned as a member of Massey College’s Governance and Nominating Committee because of Wente’s appointment. Trotz said,
The Canadaland podcast also delves into a recent scandal at the CBC-TV. Former high-powered host of national show The Weekly, Wendy Mesley, used a racial slur at a program meeting. The Weekly was promptly taken off the air, and her future employment at the CBC remains uncertain. Andray Domise, who is African-Canadian and a contributing editor at Maclean’s magazine said he thought the incident with Mesley was
“…emblematic of what it’s like to work in Canadian media and Canadian journalism: that everything is just a one-off scenario. We want to look at it as a series of one-offs, little blunders that we can fix. But that’s exactly how systemic racism works.”
The Canadaland show is a must-hear if you are interested knowing more about Black Lives Matter, racism in the Canadian media and want to hear a first rate debate. Spoiler alert: I think Desmond Cole won the arguments with Brown.
The podcast Espionage is also worth listening to. The two part series about Chris Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee was fascinating. In the 1970s, two young Americans decided to sell US state secrets to the Russians – Boyce because of political antipathy toward the US because of the Viet Nam war and Lee just to make easy money. You can download the podcast, for free, from Spotify. Just go to Spotify podcasts and click on Espionage.
Featured Painting at the top is Emily Carr’s Vanquished (1931). (Vancouver Art Gallery)