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The Guest Book: Laurie Brinklow

The wave-lined edge

In 1985, during my first job at the now-defunct Ragweed Press, we published a grade six social studies textbook called Abegweit: Land of the Red Soil. Until then, most textbooks were from Ontario, and, before that, England or the US. Except for Exploring Island History: A Guide to the Historical Resources of Prince Edward Island (also Ragweed), created for and with the high school Island History course in 1977, there wasn’t anything local about our textbooks. Indeed, our children would see photos of the Great Lakes or the CN Tower or six-lane highways and wonder if they lived in the same country.

Abegweit changed that. I remember going to the post office (when it was still the Dominion Building) and having Blaine Murphy from the popular dance band, Phase II, hand me our mail—and joke how he was famous with the kids now that his photo was in “the new book with the green cover.” Suddenly our children were seeing, in their book, people and places they knew. Suddenly Prince Edward Island was important.

People ask why having our history and culture mirrored back, through books and music, plays and movies, paintings and drawings and photographs, is important. Beyond the beauty they might bring to the world, or joy to their creators, artistic expressions celebrate who we are, feeding our individual and collective identity. They are the story—the glue—that holds our culture together.

Here, on the Island, we have held on to our distinctive culture more tenaciously than many locales, making it a particularly attractive place for artists to express their creativity. Partly it’s because the Northumberland Strait provides a psychological shoreline—Milton Acorn’s “wave-lined edge of home”—that has defined our storyline. Back in the day, before radio and TV and Netflix, when we had to make our own fun, our Island had a rich oral tradition. There wasn’t much to do—especially in the ice-bound wintertime—but tell stories, write poetry, make music, sew quilts, and paint pictures that told those stories. And the shoreline provided an emphatic frame for those shared experiences, emplacing them, beyond any shadow of doubt, on the Island.

The Island was—and still is—a creative place. We take inspiration from the beautiful bounded landscape, and the ocean’s limitless horizon that becomes a metaphor for creativity. We like being set apart from the mainland, the mainstream. We appreciate the scale: the smaller the place, the more intimately we know it; the firmer the ground of action on which we plant our feet. When the tide comes in, we learn from the people and cultures that wash up—and when it goes out, we send a bit of the Island to the rest of the world. The resulting fusion is part of what keeps our culture vibrant, dynamic, making it a living, breathing, authentic experience, and not some static museum piece caught in a time warp.

People ask why supporting cultural producers, such as local publishing houses like Acorn Press or Island Studies Press, or local filmmakers, artists, and musicians, is important. It’s because they are a mark of cultural confidence that feeds itself—telling our story that empowers us to make and tell more stories. And it’s because, if history shows us anything: we need to be in charge of telling our story. If we don’t do it, then someone else will.

Dr. Laurie Brinklow is a writer, editor, teacher, and founder of The Acorn Press. She is Co-ordinator of the Institute of Island Studies at UPEI, which researches and celebrates island cultures—here and around the world.

Sweetheart of a Film

Jenna MacMillan and Ann Thurlow film debuts at IMAF

by Laurie Brinklow

Norma Jean MacLean and Chris Francis and on the Sweethearts set at The Green Man, Vintage and Vinyl.For as long as I’ve known Ann Thurlow, she’s been writing stories in her head. While washing dishes or dropping off to sleep, the long-time CBC broadcaster, journalist, and editor creates quirky characters mired in unlikely situations—then shares them with her friends. Now—not content to publish a short story or a book—Ann has teamed up with Jenna MacMillan to make a film of one of those stories.

Called Sweethearts, the 12-minute film premiered at the Island Media Arts Festival May 8. Featuring total newbies Norma Jean MacLean and Chris Francis alongside actor Lennie MacPherson, the film tells the story of a vintage store shopkeeper who goes home every night to her deadbeat boyfriend. When customer Chris, who is sweet on Laura, finally gets up the nerve to ask her over for dinner, she agrees—with hilarious results.

Ann says, “The movie is about food: Jeff can cook, and Chris can’t. Everyone knows somebody like Jeff—the stoner who collects records and organizes them by sidemen. But they can’t all cook.”

Ann wrote the script just after Christmas, and they filmed it during a blizzard in February. Says Jenna, “Everyone came—even shoveled the sidewalk. They just wanted to make a film.”

“Everyone” included a team of visual and media artists who generously offered their time and considerable talents for free. Kelly Casely and Roger Carter offered their store, The Green Man, for the film’s primary location. “Even my mom (Mary Beth MacMillan) volunteered her incredible cupcake design skills,” laughs Jenna.

Ann says writing the script was easy. “At CBC I produced hundreds of pieces of video and audio. How to structure a story is ingrained in my heart. Once I got used to the idea that I could make people say what I wanted, rather than finding clips, it just kind of went.”

Jenna graduated from Toronto’s Ryerson film program in 2010. “I worked in Toronto for a year on various film projects but struggled to make my own films. When I came home to make Fine Tuning last summer, I fell in love with the community. I’ve already made more films here than I did in Toronto. And here you can get coffee shops and vintage clothing stores to open their doors without having to pay $1,000 a minute.”

Indeed, the film cost $400 to make—much of it to buy candy for the counter scenes.

Next up for the duo are two companion films to Sweetheart, and Jan Rudd’s Mrs. God, of Drill Queens fame, for which Ann and Jenna are planning a fundraiser this summer: a screening featuring three of Jenna’s films: Sweethearts, Fine Tuning, and the documentary Redheads on Redheads—plus a visit from Mrs. God herself.

Ann says making Sweethearts was a team effort. “I was just so impressed that nobody brought any ego into it. It’s the ethos of here that allows such projects to happen. Everyone just wants to help each other. Where else in the world can you say, I think I’ll make a movie and then just do it?”

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