When I left Vancouver in 2011 after a blissful few festival months in this intriguing Canadian city, I always hoped I would be back sometime for the Vancouver Writers Festival
. This year I did it! It was another excellent festival year with exciting authors from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Ireland and a few other countries. I was on the “Walk a Writer” team, which was a great experience. One or two of us would meet with the authors and moderator of a particular event at the hotel, take them over to their venue, help out with book signings and then help them find their way back if required.
My first event was already a real highlight. The topic was “Writing back to the Self” and the pieces read by each of the writers as well as the discussion led by moderator Andreas Schroeder were fascinating and moving. Do look all of them up, each of the books sounded truly fabulous: Eve Joseph
, Alison Pick
, Kathleen Winter
and Michael Pond
The following day I got to meet two of my favourite historical fiction authors, Sarah Waters
and Emma Donoghue
. It was also good to hear that Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is currently filming “Room” (based on Emma’s previous novel) in Toronto and will be working on a film adaptation of Sarah’s “Little Stranger” next. The group of writers I looked after later was equally fascinating. Christos Tsiolkas
, Dionne Brand
, Thomas King
and Lee Maracle
discussed cultural belonging or a lack thereof and its implications.
On the last festival day I worked on one more event, “The Life and Times” with Emma Donoghue
, David Homel
and Jane Smiley
. It was another intriguing session, this time revolving around the intersection of history and fiction. After a scrumptious lunch at the Granville island market, I went to one more event, “The Tie That Binds” in the Improv Theatre. Writers Angie Abdou
, Nancy Lee
, Richard Wagemese
and Rudy Wiebe
each read excerpts from their latest work, which all centred around more or less tricky family relationships.
To describe my festival experience as mind-blowing might seem a bit far-fetched, but thanks to the clever questions of the moderators and the willingness of pretty much all the festival guests to share some very personal thoughts and stories, it did leave me extremely impressed; most of all by the amazing resilience of human beings and the ability of the festival writers to capture the many facets of the human experience in such a captivating way. You could do much worse than picking up any book by any of the above authors.
I had been looking forward to VIWF for quite some time, having volunteered with their regular reading events throughout the year. Between 18 and 23 October 2011 I was scheduled for some book selling shifts at various readings. In return we got a volunteer festival pass that allowed standby entry to events that were not sold out. I even made it into a few sold out ones, like Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson in conversation, two top international crime fiction writers who were as witty and entertaining as usual.
The festival was held in various venues on Granville Island, which made it easy to move from one event to another by foot. During the daytime there were a number of reading events for young people, which gave me an interesting insight into what books are popular with each age group. I was very impressed by the spoken word event Word! with some really amazing performances that even kept a house full of teenagers from playing with their cell phones.
The Vancouver 125 Poetry Cabaret was another event I loved. It was presented in partnership with the Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference and featured well known poets as well as some promising newcomers. I had also been lucky in the volunteer ticket lottery and won a ticket to the always sold out Sunday Brunch. A morning of croissants, coffee and some Canadian and international authors reading excerpts from their books – perfect. The last person to read was also my festival favourite: Cate Kennedy from Australia. The stories she read were really moving and well observed, just brilliant.
Even before moving to Vancouver I had heard about Rabbit Festival, which is run by the local bunny shelter, the Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy. My sister and I used to have a pair of bunnies when we were children and so I started volunteering on a weekly basis with VRRA soon after I arrived in Canada. The volunteers help Olga clean the around 40 indoor cages and outside pens, but the best part, of course, is getting to pet all the fluffy little rascals every week.
During the months I helped out at the shelter we had a lot of drama (a cute bunny I had rescued from a park had to be put down as he had a pellet from a pellet gun stuck in his jaw) and also some happy endings (sick bunnies recovering, older ones with a history of abuse finding a forever home). Looking after our fluffy charges on a regular basis, loving them to bits while also learning to let them go (to a good home) taught me so many things. It’s an ongoing challenge, but an important life lesson – not only where bunnies are concerned.
Rabbit Festival is an annual fundraiser that Olga and the shelter volunteers put on every October in order to raise awareness of issues, such as adequate rabbit care and health as well as cruelty against rabbits. It is also an opportunity for rabbit fans to get together and learn more about their furry friends. Did you know rabbits can easily be housetrained (using a litter box), have unique personalities (some of them love watching TV and can be trained to do some amazing tricks, see here) and can live for 12 years or longer?
For more information on anything to do with companion rabbits, take a look at the excellent House Rabbit Society website or contact your local chapter. They will be happy to help. Find out more about why it isn’t a good idea to give a real bunny as an Easter present here.
It’s been my second year as a volunteer with VIFF (29 September – 14 October 2011) in a row and this time I managed to watch 45 films in two and a half weeks. Yep, sounds like a lot, but mind you, I met one volunteer who had actually seen 85 films including all the media screenings before the festival.
The volunteer team was awesome again this year! I spent all my shifts at the info tent on Granville Street, giving film tips (i.e. movie therapist) and helping film goers find the right lineup (i.e. movie traffic warden). We had so much fun discussing which films were ‘must see’ this year and it was exciting to see lots of familiar faces from last year in the lineups.
Once again, there way too many quality films to choose from. Some of my VIFF 2011 favourites included Cairo 678 and Position Among The Stars (which I had both seen at other festivals before), Cloudburst, Pure, Mitsuko Delivers, Give Up Tomorrow, Burma Soldier, Bone Wind Fire and The Girls in the Band. Having said that, every single person I met had different favourites. That’s what’s so fascinating about film festivals. You can create your own schedule and make it a learning experience, a visual trip around the world or simply a few evenings of quality entertainment. Just go and try it out. But be warned: film festivals are highly addictive!
I’ve been to Japan twice and often miss hanging out with my Japanese friends. Luckily, last weekend almost felt like being back in Japan. Powell Street Festival, which celebrated its 35th birthday this year and took place on 30 and 31 July 2011, brought back lots of good memories. Over two days there was an unbelievably packed schedule of everything Japanese: from children’s origami workshops to modern and traditional music, a craft and food market, dancing and singing as well as various cultural and sports displays, even a sumo tournament.
I had a great time volunteering. I was mostly based at the children’s tent helping kids make face masks, decorate warrior hats or create origami animals. I also sold raffle tickets (first prize was a trip to Japan, sigh) and worked with security, making sure that festival patrons found everything they were looking for.
One of my highlights at the festival was a documentary called ‘One Big Hapa Family’ by local Japanese-Canadian animator and filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns. It explored the history of the Japanese in Western Canada and the stories of people with mixed-race identities. The other event I really enjoyed was the Japanese history walking tour around the Powell Street area, where the first Japanese immigrants to Vancouver originally settled (see also the website of the Japanese Canadian National Museum in Burnaby)
And of course I also had some Okonomiyaki, which reminded me of a night in my friend Sakiko’s house in Japan, when I had this yummy dish for the first time and how I wrinkled my nose at the dried fish flakes that actually moved on the hot pancake…now I can’t get enough of it!
It was my first year at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which was held from 15 until 17 July 2011, so I don’t know whether it had rained this much at previous events. I just kept stoically repeating my volunteer raffle seller’s credo ‘smile and the rain will go away’ and hoped for the best. And, despite the rain, the best it was in terms of the fun I had and the amazing music I got to experience over a long weekend in (believe it or not) July.
From Gillian Welch to Rosanne Cash, Mary Gauthier and Cris Williamson it was the female performers that most rocked the festival for me. Every time I wandered from stage to stage on the beautiful festival grounds at Jericho Beach I kept stopping in awe of an intriguing singing voice that caught my ear and had me pinned to the ground until that particular person put down their guitar. This is also how I came across my festival favorite, Diana Jones. Her haunting rendition of ‘Pony’ was still going around in my head by the time I left the festival grounds late on Sunday night and inspired me greatly to put pen to paper again more often.
Of course there were also Josh Ritter (now a novelist too!), who woke up rain-weary festival goers with his energetic performance, and Emmanuel Jal, whose serious message was perfectly packaged into danceable tunes, which resonated particularly well with the younger crowd. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of the performers have active twitter accounts and some seem to even use them on the go. Here are a few if you happen to be a twitter junkie, like moi: @rosannecash @dianajonesmusic @gillianwelch @joshritter @emmanueljal @solasmusic @joykillssorrow @the_jayhawks @pokeylafarge @dannymichel @jplaskett @elliotbrood @buck65 @fugitivesmusic @imaginarycities @davidwaxmuseum
My volunteer experience was also totally ace! For putting in 12 hours of work (hard earned particularly on the rainy Saturday, mind you) the 1600 (!) volunteers got free festival passes, enjoyed some incredibly yummy lunches and dinners (incl. salmon, strawberries and icecream) as well as had two festival parties, one of which was attended by a few of the performers and had a handy shuttle service to the location. Yes, it was a very wet weekend indeed, but the stellar lineup at Jericho Beach has also more than whetted my appetite for exploring more folk music in the future.
Imagine you’re sitting in a beautiful garden under the stars surrounded by trees and flowers listening to sublime sounds or enjoying a theatre show. Don’t think that kind of venue exists? It does! From 3 until 5 June 2011 a number of community oriented (and to some, pretty brave) neighbours opened their doors to welcome In The House Festival patrons for a variety of boutique musical, theatrical, spoken word, puppet and dance shows in East Vancouver.
Luckily, we were blessed with the sunniest weekend so far this year. The festival started for me on Friday night with a shift on Semlin Drive where ‘The World in Music’ brought together brilliant musicians from as far as Australia, Iran and Zimbabwe.
On Saturday night I caught an amazing jazz gig including the Lachance Ensemble, the Whitridge Brothers and the Heavy Pets, who all managed to squeeze themselves and their instruments in somebody’s living room. This was followed by a movie screening in a garden on Parker Street, which began once darkness had settled on the city. What could be more perfect than lounging on blankets in the grass, sipping homemade chai tea and nibbling popcorn with fellow festival goers who were all excitedly talking about their favourite In The House events so far.
On Sunday I helped out with a children’s show by Lost and Found Puppet Company and Dixie Star Storytelling in the same garden where we’d watched films the night before. The weekend came full circle for me when I headed back to Semlin Drive for my last gig of the festival, three Indie bands: Melissa Bandura, Wintermitts and Blackberry Wood.
In The House is the kind of festival that could and should happen in many more communities, and Myriam and her – mostly volunteer – crew did an amazing job making such a wonderful weekend possible. The festival brought together neighbours and friends, newcomers to the city and visiting musicians in a community setting that fostered interaction, sharing experiences and having fun. Alas, In The House lost a substantial arts grant this year and is very much in need of support to keep its unique programme going in the future. You can help in many ways, find out how here and do come along to one of the ongoing events held in Vancouver throughout the year.