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Open Studio Days

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My Eagerly Awaited Film

Island premiere of Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit

by JoDee Samuelson

Uncle Bob's Hospital VisitEvery time I start another film it seems like I’ll be working on it forever. My life gets swallowed up in frames and seconds. I don’t even dare think of getting to the end because it seems so impossibly far away.

Yet here I am with another film “in the can.” When I started this filmmaking lark, footage was sent to the lab in a canister and came back in a can. Those days are over for me: I have entered the digital age. My new film Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit was created on a Mac computer using Photoshop, AfterEffects and a Wacom tablet. After writing a story and creating a storyboard, I worked my way image by image through 20,160 frames. How did I ever do it?

It was my mother who gave me the idea. She was having the final hospital visit of her life, and from her sickbed she whispered, “You should do a film about Rules For Visiting Sick People.” “What rules, Mom?” I asked, grabbing a pen and paper. “Don’t,” she said, “wear perfume. Don’t bring smelly flowers. Don’t talk about troubles…are you writing this down?” “Yes, Mom, I am.” “Good,” she sighed, and continued on.

Several years later, having finished my film Mabel’s Saga, I was flipping through my sketchbooks when I came across Mother’s list of hospital do’s and don’ts. Somehow I knew it would make a good film. Kent Martin of the NFB agreed. Uncle Bob started to turn into a real character.

A short animated film usually takes three to four years for one person to complete. Uncle Bob was no exception. I started in 2005 and here we are in 2008. Along the way I’ve had the most important help of all: interest and encouragement from my friends. My son Hans took care of technical details. Echo Lau played a Debussy piano piece for an important part of the film. Sylvia Abikattar-Mutch, Cef Pobjoy and Jon Matthews sang the lovely round which accompanies the end credits. Laurel Smyth and Rob MacLean created all the women’s and men’s voices. Dave Ward recorded Rob and Laurel in my kitchen, with squirrels and crows competing for attention outside the window. Amelie Gallant pipes in as Uncle Bob’s little granddaughter.

The sound track was created by veteran composer Norman Roger and his talented assistant Pierre-Yves Drapeau. Stan Carew of CBC’s “Week-End Morning” narrated the English version, Quebec folk musician Tex Lecor narrated the French. Both versions will be shown at the up-coming screening.

I’m looking forward to seeing Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit on the big screen! Hope you’ll like it too.

There will be two free public screenings of Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit, in English and French, at City Cinema on Sunday, June 22 at 2 and 3 pm. Reception to follow at 4 pm.

Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit is a production of the National Film Board of Canada. Producer Kent Martin.

First Prize in Torino

by JoDee Samuelson

JoDee at the Roman gate in TorinoIn the heart of every filmmaker beats the desire to have her film shown at Cannes. Or Berlin. Or London, Copenhagen, Rome…or Torino? Yes of course, why not? So when the announcement came that Mabel’s Saga was in competition at Festival Internazionale Cinema delle Donne in Torino—and by the way, would I like to attend, all expenses paid?—I couldn’t say no.

Italy In October! Chestnuts strewn across lawns and highways, International Harvester combines blazing wide swaths through golden corn fields, olives, grapes, pears, kiwis! Everything is being harvested. Around Torino wet, glistening rice fields stretch in all directions because Torino is situated on the flood plains of the Po, a meandering river that begins in the Alps and ends its journey at the Adriatic Sea near Venice. A flood plain is the perfect place to grow rice, and rice becomes risotto, the delicious sticky mainstay of the northern diet.

Torino is a city of a million industrious Italians on the western edge of the Alps. It was founded in Roman times and has one Roman red brick gate still standing. Mostly it is a practical city that has grown with the times, meaning that old stuff has had to make way for the new. There are still enough palazzos, cathedrales and museos to satisfy any curiosity seeker, plus a world record number of porticos (covered walkways)—eighteen kilometers of ‘em! Apparently the kings of Torino didn’t like to get their feet wet when it rained, and it rains a lot in this northern city. When Italy was unified in the 1800s Torino was the first capital of the country, and it was also the Italian film capital before filmmaking moved to Rome. There is an excellent film museum, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, situated in what was once the world’s tallest building, the Mole Antoneliana. So, should you get tired of huddling at the bottom of the ski jump at the Winter Olympics, you won’t lack for cultural options.

Now a few words about the film festival. Well, I didn’t get to the film museum because there wasn’t time. Too many films to watch, too many parties. We filmmakers all stayed at Hotel Bologna in the heart of the city. (“clean and comfortable” but so much more: we actually had a fresco on the ceiling!) We ate delicious meals together at Ristorante Conservatorio, then wished each other well and sauntered across the piazza to the film festival theatres. There, for one short week, women filmmakers of the world showed their work to an adoring public. Films from just about everywhere, Russia, the Netherlands, Brazil, England, the U.S., France, India, Canada, Sweden; about love, lust, violence, immigration, old age, adolescence; short films, features, documentaries. Seven wonderful days of cultural overload.

Then it was closing night. Directors were escorted to the front of the beautiful theatre to sit in reserved seats. We sat through speeches by politicians and dignitaries, special mentions, mission statements. Awards were given out. Third prize, second, then first. When it came to the short film category, a film from Norway got third prize. I thought, good choice, she deserves it. Second prize went to a film from Korea. Oh well, I said to myself, at least I got here. Then first prize was announced. In a daze I heard Ma-bell’s Saga and “Jo Dee’ Sam-uel’-son.” Can it be? Yes, they’re all smiling at me. Mari beside me is jumping up and down and hugging me. Someone is handing me a bouquet. I’m up on stage making a speech. A pretty nice moment, one to keep warm on the back burner for a long time.

Here is the jury citation: “At long last a film that dares broach with irony and optimism an issue which is still delicate and taboo both for females and males: menopause. We appreciated the graceful and in depth touch of presenting the difficulties linked to this particular moment in a woman’s life which doesn’t represent the end but the beginning of a new phase. Moreover, we wanted to award a prize for Mabel’s Saga’s simplicity and essentiality which are rarely brought on screen.”—

What a gracious piece of writing. Gracious just like the Italians. I hated to leave that gentle beautiful country. Islanders, for a magical unforgettable time, get thee to Italy!

JoDee would like to acknowledge the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts and Technology PEI in making this trip possible. As it turned out, all travel expenses were not paid: Arts funding in Torino was diverted into sports funding at the last moment.

Mabel and Me

by JoDee Samuelson

JoDee Samuelson at her Canoe Cove home

Mabel’s Saga, my new animated film, will be officially launched on Sunday, June 20 at City Cinema in Charlottetown.

Now that I see these words on paper, I realize that the film is actually done! Mabel has been a five year 20,000 frame project, which explains why I more or less disappeared off the face of the earth.

Here’s how it all got going. I’m in that time of life called menopause and so are many of my women friends. Out in Canoe Cove one night, some of us middle-age-type women were sitting around comparing notes, you know, heavy periods one month and nothing the next, hot flashes, moodiness, anxiety. Before the evening was over, someone suggested that I should make a film—an animated film—about menopause. And it should be funny.

That got me thinking. There are over twenty million North American women in menopause at this very moment. Hmmm. I’d already made two animated films, The Bath and The Sandbox. Maybe I could make one more. I applied for and received a Canada Council grant, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mabel’s Saga is a short film about getting through the “change of life” and moving on. Of course it’s not that simple. For my own part I found that, apart from hot flashes and other bodily discomforts, what I minded most were the losses in my life. My sister died, my mother, aunts and uncles, friends, and now this does not stop. For many of my friends too, support systems shift and sway, marriages break up, there is anxiety about children, and then grandchildren...

Still images from Mabel’s Saga

It’s distressing to hear the bad news about Hormone Replacement Therapy and know that millions of women have been led down a garden path. Who can you believe? HRT was supposed to cure osteoporosis, heart disease, wrinkles, bad moods. But there just aren’t cures for some things—like growing old. Once we’re born we’ve signed up for the whole package. Women get breasts, we have periods, our hormones go crazy and some of us get pregnant, and suddenly—it seems sudden anyway—it’s all over! We’re got gray hair, we’re drying up, our joints are loose, we groan when we stand up and we creak when we move... and maybe that’s okay. Our mothers and grandmothers, every woman who ever lived to old age went through this. Hey, menopause is just a word meaning the time of life when we don’t have to hatch any more eggs. No more periods—who wouldn’t want that!

Now, some Island folks who helped with this project: Don Ayer, Mari Basiletti, Donna Davies, Rob and Jen Drew, Roy Johnstone, Kent Martin, Gail Mullen, the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra, Hans Samuelson and Dave Ward. Lesley McCubbin of Montreal created the wonderful funky backgrounds. Thanks everybody.

I hope you’ll come out and celebrate the birth of Mabel. There will be two screenings at City Cinema on June 20, at 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm, with a reception from 2:45 to 3:30 pm. Admission is free.

Mabel’s Saga was made possible with the generous assistance of The Canada Council, and was co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

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