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The Crank Film Festival holds space for the community of action film storytellers

The Crank Film Festival will be celebrating action films and their makers from around the world at Westdale Theatre on April 2. It will showcase short action films from countries including Canada, Japan, Chile and the United Kingdom and recognize the amazing talent and storytellers behind them. Following the film presentations, a gala will take place during which attendees will have an opportunity to network .   

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Founded by Aharon Jinjihashvili, a Hamilton-based filmmaker and producer with more than a decade of experience, the festival is looking forward to bringing together action film enthusiasts in one place.  

Jinjihashvili’s passion for the action genre stems from growing up watching films like Predator, Terminator and Die Hard. With strong admiration for these films, eventually, he found himself in film school and directing movies and TV shows, such as Pink Is In.  

He took it upon himself to launch the film festival when he realized there weren’t any local events dedicated to action movies and he wanted to share this exciting genre with others.  

“The vision is to give space, acknowledge and appreciate [action films] because whoever has ever made action films, action choreography or anything understands the complexity of accomplishing such a task. . . But there’s no real proper appreciation that is mainstream towards action, which is the most lucrative and the biggest genre. Any movie that is the most successful has action,” said Jinjihashvili. 

“The vision is to give space, acknowledge and appreciate [action films] because whoever has ever made action films, action choreography or anything understands the complexity of accomplishing such a task."

Aharon Jinjihashvili, Hamilton-based filmmaker and producer and Founder of the Crank Film Festival

The dream turned into real life with help from his long-time friend Volo Bedzvin, a cellist, vocalist and composer based in Ukraine who is acting as the festival director and Maria Grajales, who was recruited by Bedzvin to be the marketing and communications coordinator.  

The Crank Film Festival will also feature a panel of judges who will present awards such as best short, best action scene, best stunt, best fight and best director. One of the judges expected to be present is Jennifer Li, a stuntwoman and actress from Vancouver who has featured in films such as Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. Todd Scott, a stuntman, actor and stunt coordinator, will also attend the festival as a judge.  

To Jinjihashvili, a good action film must contain strong characters and storyline. He emphasizes they are critical to appreciating action at its fullest potential.  

Die Hard, for example, is one of the best action films out there—  not because just the action is great — but because the characters are great,” said Jinjihashvili. 

Another example is the UK short, Poachers, which will be showcased at the event. It will shed light on the increasing poaching threats to African elephants, demonstrating the genre can handle and be used effectively to address serious and heavy topics.  

Jinjihashvili also shares the power of genre-bending in creating a powerful action film. Genre-bending involves combining two or more genres. For instance, the Japanese film Fists of Absinthe will feature martial arts, modern cinematography and anime along with action. The film will embody innovation and creativity. 

Since the announcement of the festival, it has been met with great enthusiasm and curiosity.  

“A lot of people share our vision,” said Jinjihashvili. 

Jinjihashvili is looking forward to seeing people’s reactions first-hand at the event and connecting with others who share the same passion for action and letting people know there is space for celebrating action, the rock ‘n’ roll genre of movies.   

“There’s this rock ‘n’ roll missing in film festivals. You go there and watch and it’s emotional and it’s touching. But I want to add some rock ‘n’ roll to this classical recital. So, let’s bring the electric guitar and make some noise and bring some mayhem to film festivals. So that’s basically my goal and that’s what I’m most excited about,” said Jinjihashvili.  

“There’s this rock ‘n’ roll missing in film festivals. You go there and watch and it’s emotional and it’s touching. But I want to add some rock ‘n’ roll to this classical recital. So, let’s bring the electric guitar and make some noise and bring some mayhem to film festivals. So that’s basically my goal and that’s what I’m most excited about."

Aharon Jinjihashvili, Hamilton-based filmmaker and producer and Founder of the Crank Film Festival

For a refreshing take on film festivals and for some onscreen mayhem and celebration, tickets to the event can be found on the Westdale Theatre’s website. Masking will be strongly recommended unless eating or drinking.  

Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator

Get into the winter spirit with these events during your break from school

With orange and red leaves falling off trees and midterms coming to an end just before exams, the winter season is quickly approaching. As the seasons change, winter seasonal and holiday events are coming back to the Hamilton area. For students currently living in and around campus, here are eight events to get you into the spirit of the season in December.

Winter Wonders at the Royal Botanical Gardens

From Nov. 24 to Jan. 9, Hendrie Park will be transforming into a wonderland at the Hamilton Royal Botanical Gardens — complete with festive lights and nature at every turn. 

As you stroll through the gardens, there will be festive music as you go along the 1 ½ kilometre walk, which should take around an hour to complete. Student and youth admission is currently on sale at a discounted rate.

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The Nutcracker

Ballet Jӧrgen will be carrying on the time-honoured winter tradition with this year’s production of The Nutcracker, held at the FirstOntario Concert Hall. Located at George Brown College, Ballet Jӧrgen is a Canada-wide touring company founded and directed by acclaimed choreographer Bengt Jӧrgen

The show will feature costumes designed in collaboration with Kleinburg’s McMichael Canadian Art Collection and backdrops inspired by 20th century Canadian landscapes. Tickets are now on sale for the show on Dec. 4.

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Centre[3]’s Small is Good Show and Sale

Centre[3]’s annual holiday show and sale will return this year after being postponed last year. The exhibition will run from Dec. 10 to 31 and it will feature a range of works from the artist-run centre’s members. 

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Ancaster Craft Show

Local vendors and small businesses will be gathering at the Ancaster Fairgrounds on Dec. 11 for the annual Ancaster Christmas Craft Show. Admission costs five dollars and provides community members with access to the mistletoe and tinsel lining the hall and all of the local vendors this year.

Holiday Night 2SQTBIPOC Market

The third and final event in Black Owned Hamilton’s Holiday Pop-Up series, their Holiday Night 2SQTBIPOC Market will be held on Dec. 4 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Side Door Bar. The market will feature Black, Indigenous and people of colour and queer vendors and is being held in collaboration with community organization Fruit Salad, which aims to expand space dedicated for 2SLGBTQIA+ women and gender nonconforming folks. 

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Cranky Celtic Christmas

The Westdale’s Hamilton Originals series is continuing with a holiday concert featuring Celtic Christmas tunes. The Westdale is a historical Hamilton theatre and registered not-for-profit charity located in the heart of Westdale Village

Musicians Wendell Ferguson and Scantily Plaid will be performing, with the event hosted by Mike McCurlie. Though the concert will be happening in-person at The Westdale’s theatre, the entire event will be live-streamed over Youtube and Facebook. Tickets are on sale for the concert on Dec. 20.

Holiday Historic Cooking Workshop: Victorian Delights

The Dundurn National Historic Site is also offering a Holiday Historic Cooking workshop on Dec. 3 and Dec. 12. In Dundurn Castle’s 19th century kitchen, participants will learn how to prepare seasonal desserts from two Dundurn cooks. 

Tickets are on sale now. Participants will be socially distant, masked and asked to show proof of vaccination before entering.

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Christmas Tree of Hope Lighting

The City of Hamilton and the Downtown Hamilton BIA will light the city’s Christmas of Hope, in Gore Park, on Dec. 3 at 6:15 p.m. This year there will be both in person and virtual viewing options, with in-person attendees being asked to mask and maintain social distance. 

Live on the stage in the park, Little Peter and the Elegants will kick off the event at 5:30 p.m., with a live stream being available from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. through Cable14’s website and 9000 CHML’s social media channels. There will also be ferris wheel rides in the park, starting on Dec. 3 and lasting until Dec. 23.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Children’s Fund to support families who may be struggling during the holiday season.

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Students looking for opportunities to get into the winter spirit have many events in Hamilton to choose from this upcoming December. Take advantage of these opportunities as the semester comes to a close.

The Westdale brings the film adaptation of award-winning book Monkey Beach to Ontario audiences

On Nov. 6, The Westdale will screen the Ontario premiere of Indigenous supernatural mystery film, Monkey Beach. The film is adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson. It follows Lisamarie Hill, a young woman with supernatural abilities from the northern BC community of Kitamaat Village, as she searches for her brother who disappeared at sea.

The film has been many years in the making. The movie’s director, Métis Cree filmmaker Loretta Todd, first heard about the book in the early 2000s, when someone brought to her attention that Eden Robinson’s style of storytelling is similar to her style of filmmaking. Eden, who aims to have all her adaptations handled by Indigenous filmmakers, quickly came on board when Todd approached her about making Monkey Beach into a film.

However, the journey to make the adaptation was long and mentally taxing. Todd spent many years pitching the film, with the support of people such as executive producers Fred Fuchs and Carla Robinson, a journalist who is also Eden’s sister. After many years of pitching, Telefilm Canada funded the film in 2018 along with a few other Indigenous films. Unfortunately, Todd still had to fight to tell the story the way that she wanted to.

“Like even with the storytelling, Loretta did have to fight really hard to get the story told the way she wanted to, in a nonstandard approach. And so, you can't just edit it the normal way and it’s going to take longer and it's going to take more resources. So she really did have to fight to get an adequate amount of resources . . . [You] definitely have to fight harder and convince people of the worth of a different kind of storytelling . . . [I]t was a battle in a lot of ways, but definitely, one that I think is worth it,” said Robinson.

[You] definitely have to fight harder and convince people of the worth of a different kind of storytelling . . . [I]t was a battle in a lot of ways, but definitely one that I think is worth it,” said Robinson.

The filmmakers continued to face challenges during filming and postproduction. For a supernatural movie filmed in a remote area, the budget was small. In addition, if they started filming any later, the movie may not have been able to shoot at the location.

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Towards the end of filming, it was announced that a liquefied natural gas pipeline would start building in the area, leading prices to rise almost overnight. As a result, Robinson described the film as almost a time capsule of what the area was once like.

However, regardless of this, filming in Kitamaat was always a priority for the filmmakers. Robinson noted that about a third of the budget went towards travel, but it was worth the cost because there was nowhere else that could capture the same emotions.

“[I]t's beautiful up there and it's unique. It's hard to get the same hauntingness or the same vastness, the same personality that the land gives . . . You know the animals, the characters, all of the characters have very strong storylines. It's not just the main characters, it's like [even] the land has a progression,” said Robinson.

“[I]t's beautiful up there and it's unique. It's hard to get the same hauntingness or the same vastness, the same personality that the land gives . . . You know the animals, the characters, all of the characters have very strong storylines. It's not just the main characters, it's like [even] the land has a progression,” said Robinson.

Filming on location fed the supernatural elements of the film. Not only did the land serve as the perfect backdrop but they also felt that the ancestors were helping them with the project. Even though they were filming in autumn, which is normally rainy and cold, they experienced extremely good weather that Robinson credited to the ancestors.

The challenges that the filmmakers’ overcame to make this movie mimics the journey of the main character, Lisamarie Hill. Lisamarie initially feels that no one is listening to her. However, much like the filmmakers who brought her to life, she persisted. The story acknowledges and highlights both the harm of the residential school system on today’s Indigenous peoples, but also demonstrates the resilience of these communities.

This is one of the reasons why the film is so important for Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewers alike. The important and universal themes in the film makes Fuchs, who is also the chair of The Westdale Cinema Group, so excited to bring the film to Hamilton. As many theatres in Ontario are currently closed due to COVID-19, the Westdale is going to be the only theatre in Ontario that screens the film.

“[T]he whole reason we bought [The Westdale] and restored it and it's a heritage-designated building was for exactly great movies like this. We want to showcase Canadian film, independent film, arthouse film and we want to provide as much diversity in terms of the films we select and be as inclusive as possible for all the different audiences,” explained Fuchs.

On the opening night of the film, singer-songwriter Gail Obediah will provide an introduction. After the premiere, there will be a question and answer session with Fuchs, Robinson and her daughter Leenah Robinson, who also stars in the film. There will be three screenings of the film from Nov. 6 to Nov. 8.

Fuchs thinks students should see the film because they will be able relate to the struggles of Lisamarie as she grows into adulthood. By watching this story, hopefully audiences will be able to tap into emotions that are better explained by art than by words.

Header photo: A still from the Speak Your Mind trailer

Hamilton has become an increasingly popular destination for production companies to film their projects. From Netflix’s Umbrella Academy to Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk, pictures of all genres were created on the streets that we call home. One such movie is an indie project called Speak Your Mind, directed by Hamilton-born Cyrus Baetz.

Baetz called Dundas home throughout his high school years. When he graduated, he decided to pursue a path in public relations at Humber College. At Humber, Baetz tried out an acting for film and television course for a year and then decided to complete a course on intensive film studies at Ryerson University. Since Baetz completed his studies, he has focused on film, writing, directing and editing two short films and two feature-length projects.

Recently, the director has been working on his latest flick, Speak Your Mind. The film revolves around a struggling actor who was told by his therapist to express everything and anything that is on his mind. He struggles to walk the line between what is socially acceptable and what is honest enough to satisfy his own conscience. 

Speak Your Mind came from a desire to work with [Steve Kaszas]. I have worked with him on a short film called Blue Collar Buddha . . . He was so special, so talented in the audition and he showed up for the film and really sort of stole the show . . . so I wanted to work with him and I wrote an entire feature script,” said Baetz.

Writing film is a methodical process for Baetz. He likes to work and write by himself, setting time aside each day to chip away at scripts. However, for this production, Baetz was operating under a tight time constraint as he wanted to film in Hamilton, but he was set to move to Brooklyn at the end of 2017. Since he had started the script at the beginning of the new year, there was little time to make final revisions before going into production.

Indie films work on far different schedules than those of major motion pictures. Although each have their benefits, Baetz looks more to the indie side of the industry.

“The benefits of the more indie style of the film, once we auditioned the actors, we were able to do a pretty intense rehearsal process . . . it let us perfect the scenes and dig deep in the dynamics, that way we showed up on set and the actors felt comfortable and prepared,” said Baetz.

Post-production, Baetz sat down with his laptop and cut together his film from start to finish. This time, he was no longer pressed with a tight timeline. Finishing the final edit of a project that had occupied so much of his time, Baetz was able to reflect on the movie as a whole. 

“The film is designed to be provocative but also very entertaining . . . at the end of the day it’s a comedy, a bit of a dark comedy at times but it’s still a comedy,” said Baetz.

Thus far, the film has been well received,. At the Toronto Independent Film Festival, it won the best no-budget feature, an award for films with budgets under $25,000. While the film has been popular with audiences thus far, Baetz hopes that patrons walk away with their eyes opened to the times that we live in.

“[On] a more personal level and more one-on-one based level, the idea is that we assume things about people based on what we see superficially on the fronts they give us and we think we know people who we’ve been in relationships with and [in] friendships with for years, in fact a lot of the time we don’t. Sometimes the only way to really get to know people is to humble yourself and not assume you know them and ask from a place of vulnerability,” said Baetz.

The Westdale movie theatre (1014 King St. W.) will host a screening of Speak Your Mind followed by a question and answer period with Baetz. While everyone is encouraged to come out and watch the film, the director believes that students especially will take something away from it.

“This film is perfect for students because it’s a film about young people . . . who [are] struggling to find their place in society, in their social circles and find their voice and their confidence,” said Baetz. The emotional yo-yo process that comes along with that, it’s also really relevant in terms of the conversations that any socially and politically engaged student inevitably has been having. It deals with that in a way that genuinely attempts to be fair to all parties and tries to point it in a direction where there’s a compassionate dialogue and I think that’s something that could hopefully be a productive and entertaining fable for any student to enjoy.”

Speak Your Mind will be screened at The Westdale (1014 King St. W.) on Thursday, Nov. 14 and will be followed by a question and answer period with director Cyrus Baetz.

 

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Westdale Theatre is saved, and that is something worth celebrating.

When the venue first hit the market, there was an understandable panic. Part of Westdale’s charm is the business community along King Street, and losing the theatre would magnify the changes that have happened to the area over the past five years. Corporate franchises like Pizza Nova have popped up and weakened the community feel of the neighbourhood. If we had lost the theatre, it could signal a shift towards a more corporate Westdale. Instead, the opposite has happened.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, a not-for-profit group called Westdale Cinema Group purchased the theatre a month ago. Graham Crawford, Fred Fuchs, Bob Crockford and Jeremy Freiburger led WTG and rounded up the cash to save the theatre.

The next steps are significant. Westdale Theatre requires a variety of upgrades, ranging from new seats to replacing the heating and ventilation systems. The Spectator reports that the venue could be closed for a year to complete renovations.

Those renovations will not be as expensive as originally thought, though. Crawford told the Spectator that “electricians, designers, painters, neon sign experts and caterers” have offered free help.

In a few short months, the Westdale Theatre has gone from the brink of existence to an iconic Hamilton project. The passion this city has for itself is hard to ignore and at times, it can feel exaggerated. Hamilton has tried to brand itself as “the ambitious city” but light rail transit and bike lanes remain weekly topics at city council meetings. Cities don’t turn on a dime, but Hamilton tends to drag things out.

The Hammer wears its heart on its sleeve, whether that is on a Saturday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field for the Tiger-Cats or during Supercrawl in September. The people of Hamilton care about what makes this city different and they will fight to keep the unique aspects of it, spending their own time or money to do so. With the Westdale Theatre, we have the prime example of what the citizens of the city are about.

Westdale’s iconic movie theatre is currently on the market.

Westdale Theatre opened in 1935 and is Hamilton’s last freestanding movie house in operation today, playing both mainstream and independent movies every evening.

Listed for nearly $1.8 million, the 495 seat, single-screen movie theatre has been a staple within the Westdale community for over 80 years.

The theatre has seen several owners over its course but has been owned by the Toronto-based Sorokolit family since 1980. After the death of long-time owner Paul Sorokolit in 2015, the family has been struggling to keep the theatre alive.

The sale of the theatre has been in question for nearly five years, but it was officially put on the market on Dec. 22, 2016. As the theatre is not yet covered under the Ontario Heritage Act, residents and city councillors alike are worried about the future of the theatre, and whether its sale sees either closure or demolition under new owners. Ward 1 councillor and longtime theatre-goer Aidan Johnson has been working diligently for over a year to designate the theatre as property of Cultural Heritage.

“The Westdale Cinema is secular sacred space. It is a place for community, art, and contemplation,” said Johnson. “The cinema is an integral part of the original heritage landscape of Westdale Village. It is inseparable from Westdale itself. It needs to be protected.”

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Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the owner of a designated property is not able to alter or permit the alteration of the property if the alteration could affect the property’s heritage attributes. The owner may, however, apply to Hamilton’s city council and receive written consent to alter their property.

The designation of would typically take years to complete, but due to the high priority of the case, Hamilton heritage officials are expected to complete an inspection of the theatre by 2018. Alternatively, city council could vote to give the theatre emergency heritage protection. The next council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25.

McMaster University was able to review the opportunity of owning the historic theatre after ideas of using it as a classroom began circling. But now that the L.R. Wilson Building is complete and potential projects are rising, the university has several spaces that will meet the needs for campus and the community and is not considering the ownership of the theatre.

“While we certainly agree it is a unique and much-valued community landmark and asset, the university is not in a position to consider ownership or investing in a possible purchase,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs.

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The future of the cinema remains unclear at this point, but the magic of the theatre has left a lasting effect on the community. Several residents within the Westdale neighbourhood have expressed their concerns over the potential closure of the beloved cinema.

“The community is rightly alarmed by the thought of losing the city’s last one-room movie house,” said Johnson. “The community is eager to see a partnership to save the cinema.”

On August 31, 1935, a new movie house dazzled audiences for the first time ever in the budding suburb of Westdale in Hamilton, Ontario.

Opening to rave reviews, the Westdale Theatre cast itself as an immediate Hamilton staple for those seeking a high-quality and comfortable movie-going experience.

The theatre continues to act as an anchor in the expanding community today. But recent events suggest that this anchor could soon become unmoored.

On Dec. 22, 2016 the theatre was listed online for $1.8 million.

Westdale’s token theatre has been a long-time supporter of independent cinema. Blockbuster movies rarely don their single screen theatre.

What is featured is a well-curated selection of great films both under and on the public’s radar.

Typical showings feature foreign and award-laden movies, as well as critically-acclaimed films that bear high expectations in their respective award seasons.

Some examples of past showings include Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come and Tom McCarthy’s Academy Award winner Spotlight.

Although devoted patrons find Westdale Theatre’s history charming, its age proves to be its great flaw.

Most students choose to see the latest blockbuster at pricier Cineplex theatres, which offer D-Box live-action seats, 3-D movie experiences and IMAX surround sound systems.

Compared to the lofty prices of tickets and concessions at these mainstream cinemas, it’s a wonder why more people don’t favour Westdale Theatre for their $10 tickets and affordable snacks.

 

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The Standing Short Festival

For an entrance fee of $10 at Club Absinthe (38 King William Street), you can check out Hamilton’s half-stand up comedy, half-comedic short festival on Aug. 4. Barbecue on the patio all day and after party to follow. Burgers, music and lols? Worth it.

 

Starlite Drive-in

There comes a moment every summer (usually halfway through my hundredth Godfather marathon) that the reality of my laziness finally hits me and I realize I need to stop watching movies on my laptop in bed. But I don’t exactly feel up to blowing 15+ bucks on a movie I may or may not like. Piling into a car with my friends and going to a drive-in is always fun and refreshing.

It must also be a perfect date spot – not that I would know (that’s a longer list for another time). If you’re in the area, Stoney Creek’s Starlite Drive-In sounds like a great spot.

 

Westdale Movie Theatre

If you aren’t feeling especially adventurous and you’re in the mood for a limited-release film in an old-school theatre, Westdale is the place to go.

Now playing: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

 

FYI

Youngblood, X-men, How to Deal, Against the Ropes, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Cinderella Man, Four Brothers, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Silent Hill, Away from Her, American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile, Hairspray and The Time Traveler’s Wife were all filmed in Hamilton, at least in part. Who Knew? (Wikipedia, apparently.)

 

Reviews in 50 words or less

I have yet to see The Avengers, but judging by the number of box office records it’s broken and the billions of dollars it represents, I’m sure I’ll feel “mind = blown” afterwards and able to  quickly shake off the nagging knowledge that it’s based almost solely on commercial interests.

The most important character in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is Rome itself, and we can forgive the lackluster dialogue and familiar storyline thanks to the loveliness of the Eternal City.

 

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