Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Worthy Romp in Calgary

It was everything you’d expect from a night out with the girls: candy, drinks, gossip and make-overs. Pink décor overtook the usual dark-and-trendy vibe of Calgary resto-lounge Belgo; professional hair and make-up stations greeted patrons, while a mobile spa awaited them further into the fete. There was even a semi-secluded area with plush couches and big screen TV called ‘the man cave’. Girlish glee aside though, there was something heavy weighing on the minds of party-goers last week: breast cancer. The ultra-feminine, hipster-oriented affair was one of many hosted by Rethink Breast Cancer across the country, designed to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Founded in 2001 by MJ DeCoteau (who attended the recent Calgary event), Rethink Breast Cancer has become one of the nation’s leading sources of information and inspiration for women under forty. DeCoteau was featured in MacLean’s Magazine as one of their “10 Canadians who made a difference” and in Chatelaine as one of the ten women they’d like to see run the country. The organization was also noticed by Marketing Magazine for their innovative communications strategy. Rethink events, like last week’s “Rethink Romp” at Belgo, are designed to be appealing, approachable and accessible for young women because traditional medical literature is often the opposite.

Alongside parties in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto (including a breast film festival at the Royal Ontario Museum in November) Rethink has partnered with retail and fashion brands like Joe Fresh, Roots, Gap and Telus to deliver attractive fundraising merchandise. The organization’s style and results are what prompted Calgary chair Tasha Westerman to get involved after she struggled with the disease and won.

“I was looking for something that was young and hip,” she says, “Something where women could talk about what matters to women, like fertility and appearance, and that would reach out in a supportive but fun way. The experience [of having breast cancer] can be very isolating.” Westerman got in touch with DeCoteau, and together they put together the first Rethink event in Calgary.

An impressive silent auction had party-goers betting and bargaining late into the evening. Items included a Gold’s gym membership, a weekend get-away to Banff Park Lodge, WestJet round-trip tickets to a location of your choosing, and a fabulous basket of chocolate, cheese and other treats. Money raised by Rethink Breast Cancer directly supports young medical researchers in their professional and academic development, family and youth support programs, and, an informative website for breast cancer patients.

Guests of the romp included public relations guru Jason Krell, stylish editor of Malwina Gudowska, Wax Creative copy-writer Stephanie Bialik, Calgary Economic Development’s Sarah Cott, Telus’ Rick Salahub, Vice President of Exploration for Trident Resources Mike Finn, and Souzan Basmahjian of Long View Systems.

Published in National Post on October 31, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fashion and Feng Shui in Calgary

Holt Renfrew, a mecca of labels and luxury in Canada for 170 years (Yes, 170 years! In 1837 it was created as a hat shop in Quebec before becoming the Queen’s “furrier” in 1886 and finally Holt, Renfrew & Co. in 1900), has replaced its store in Calgary with one three times bigger. Among the boutiques newly available in the 151,000 square foot space are Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes, which hosted its own launch a few days after the mother-ship’s opening.

Media tastemakers from across the country flocked to the city for a celebration of beauty and branding at the new Hermes store, just inside the 4th Street entrance to Holt Renfrew. Champagne circulated while Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of Hermes and Jennifer Carter, president of Hermes Canada, delighted in sharing stories of the brand’s history.

In keeping with the evening’s theme of “The Great Escape”, guests were shuttled in a limousine or by stylish cruiser bicycles to The Opera Room in Teatro Restaurant for an intimate dinner. There, Bastien Bicharzon, just weeks after his move from Paris to Calgary, was introduced as the new store’s manager. Guests enjoyed a four-course meal including lobster, beef tenderloin, a selection of fine cheeses, and seared wild strawberries with lemon thyme sorbet.

A sweetly sophisticated Vineland Estate Vidal Ice Wine was circulating just as the affair became a kind of high fashion hoe down, with Hello! Canada Magazine editor Ciara Hunt and Avenue Magazine editor Kathe Lemon standing on the dinner table to reach classic Hermes scarves hanging off the giant globe lamps above.

A round of fluorescent green shooters were ordered and passed around. Meanwhile, Tanya Kim of entertainment news show eTalk Daily, Christopher Sherman of Fashion Television, and Hunt plied local writers for information on the best locale for line-dancing and other things cow-town. Nathalie Atkinson, style editor for The National Post, Karen Ashbee of FASHION, Malwina Gudowska of, Shelley Youngblodt of Swerve Magazine, and Bill Brooks were also in attendance. At the end of the night, each guest was gifted with a souvenir Hermes bicycle helmet and a piece of gold-embossed porcelain bearing the iconic jumping horse of its Cheval d’Orient collection.

Earlier this season, style in the home was the focus of another event, this time spanning four days. The Calgary Home and Interior Design Show took place at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park. High profile presenters included Bryan Baeumler, host of popular television show Disaster DYI, Alykhan Velji, a Calgary-based designer soon to be launching a new signature line of rugs and home furnishings, and Mag Ruffman.

For those unconvinced by scarves and showrooms, a new book about how to build a healthy, happy home was released this month at a small yet bustling function in Okotoks. Alberta author Dawn Hankins teaches Feng Shui at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Her new book, The Forces Behind Feng Shui: A Companion to Energizing Your Life, gives pragmatic advice for those seeking a positive, peaceful and prosperous environment. Among the tips are: add a touch of red into your décor to boost your financial abundance and enthusiasm for life; de-clutter your front door and make sure it is well lit to invite positive energy; and make sure the foot of your bed is not facing the bedroom door for a good night’s sleep and a feeling of security.

Published in National Post on October 17, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Movie Madness for Mavericks: CIFF at Ten

The parties were a little more modest, and a little less crowded than last year. There were more directors than cast members (read: celebrities) present, which is a good thing according to executive director Jacqueline Dupuis. The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is about the filmmakers, she says, unlike Toronto’s marketing blitz and Vancouver’s mass-appeal programming. Every speech, interview, media piece, or private conversation alluded to the festival’s financial status.

Yet these signs of the economic times hardly prevented success on CIFF’s ten year anniversary, but rather narrowed the focus to what was most important: a record number of submissions, over a dozen well programmed series of truly international films, industry panels on the future of film, and a $25,000 cash award to a ‘Maverick’ filmmaker. And there were still plenty of free drinks to go around.

The opening and closing galas were held in the same location: a large section of downtown’s Eau Claire Market, which was sectioned off with billowy white curtains, flanked by a stage at one end and the white canvas FASHION / American Express / CIFF photo-op backdrop at the other.

The opening film was Crackie, a Newfoundland tragi-comedy starring Mary Walsh and Meghan Greeley, who was in attendance with director Sherry White. White and Greeley participated in a post-screening question/answer session, moderated by local reporter Nirmala Naidoo.

Then came the Rock n’ Roll Red Carpet Party, which followed John Chester’s new documentary about photographer Robert Knight, whose expert eye and relaxed demeanor has earned him privileged access to some of the greatest rock performers of our time, from Mick Jagger to Robert Plant. The party took place at the Barley Mill, across from Eau Claire Cinemas, with both Knight and Chester in attendance.

Toronto’s Ryan Noth, Geoff Morrison, Luke Bryant and Sarah Lazarovic were in town to premiere two movies - NPP: Gros Morne and No Heart Feelings. The documentary-cum-art-project called National Parks Project: Gros Morne is a city-specific experience which combines stunning footage of our national parks (in this case Newfoundland’s Gros Morne) on the big screen with a line-up of local musicians who perform a live soundtrack to the images. No Heart Feelings, a very funny film about a group of twenty-somethings in the big city, held its after-party at the Uptown Theatre’s Marquee Room, where cast member Steve Murray (also of The National Post) was in attendance. Director Lazarovic was the first ‘visiting creative’ to earn a free hotel stay at the newly renovated Nuvo Suites, which along with Calgary Arts Development is offering one complimentary stay per month for artists visiting Calgary.

Damien Chazelle, jazz drummer and Harvard grad, was one of the ten emerging filmmakers to earn the title Maverick. His beautiful black-and-white musical film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench was celebrated with live jazz and a hopping after-party at Beat Niq Social Club. Chazelle also participated in an industry panel on “the art of filmmaking.”

At the closing gala last week, Chris Chong Chan Fui was awarded the coveted Mavericks prize for innovation and excellence in filmmaking, for his film Karaoke. Theatre actress and director Karen Hines took home the award for Best in Alberta short film for her work on A Tax on Pochsy. Among those mixing and mingling at the party were David Lee Miller, director of My Suicide, Juliet Garcias, director of Be Good, Ian Day, Tyler Fraser and Scott Townend of the locally-made short film Greenwash Gang, Spencer Estabrooks, director of the Western zombie flick Dead Walkers, Geraldine Byrne of WADE Canada, and Dr. Terry Rock, president of Calgary Arts Development.

Published in National Post October 10, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saints and Scoundrels on Wall Street

The Salon Speakers Series has opened its 2nd season in Calgary’s Teatro restaurant with author and New York Times business writer Joe Nocera. The theme this year is Risk and the Global Economy.

Some things at the Salon Series don’t change: the outstanding quality of a three-course meal at Teatro, for example, or the introductory remarks from a local business icon (in this case Jim Palmer, founder of Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP), or the name-dropping within thirty seconds of the speaker’s remarks (last session we heard Bill Kristol’s scathing review of Al Gore’s company; this time we heard about Mr. Nocera’s casual visits to T. Boone Picken’s living room). On the other hand, some regular guests (it is an invite-only affair) have noticed some marked differences. In his introduction, Mr. Palmer, whose firm is also a title sponsor, pointed to the rather conservative nature of last year’s speakers and implored that the audience “be okay with some thinkers that are slightly to the left.”

Nocera’s gift, as a speaker and a writer, is story-telling. Energetic and knowledgeable, he spoke about the tension, the vacuum and the free-fall on Wall Street and in the White House after the collapse of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. He described scouring for information, trying to figure out what would happen next. “They had no idea,” he said, “As the debate over Freddie and Fannie was going on, that AIG was just a few days away, then Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch … it’s like all five heads of the family, in mafia terms, falling like a deck of cards.” Then he took questions.

In his book, Good Guys & Bad Guys, Nocera unravels the narrative of big business from the early ‘80s until today, giving the reader an up-close-and-personal look at how major deals close, companies grow or falter, and ultimately how a few personalities have dramatically shaped the American fortune. The book is compelling and accessible, deftly turning high finance into a good story. His descriptions of Wall Street in the mid-1980s (a chapter called “GaGa Years” is particularly good: “The scent of the market is powerful here, intoxicating,” he writes, “All around me I can see the blandishments of money, the seduction of wealth, the lure of financial security.”) are riveting. Oh, the heady climb before the fall.

For such a prolific insider, it’s a surprise that his writing didn’t offer forewarning of last year’s economic tumble, but boy can he explain it well today. And his prediction for the future? “People want to know if this will happen again,” he said, “And the answer is yes. It is inevitable that as people forget the downside of risk, they risk again, and ultimately fall into national - in this case international - insanity.”

While the question and answer period focused mainly on domestic economic recovery plans, Nocera did have a few awe-inspired comments for China (“It’s impossible not to be dazzled by China’s economic rise.”) who along with India and Brazil was given increased sway over the activities of the IMF only days prior and which, not incidentally, owns a significant portion of American debt.

Guests received a signed copy of Nocera’s book courtesy of Enbridge; other sponsors included Bennett Jones, Vendemmia International Wines, Global Public Affairs, and The National Post.

Published in National Post October 3, 2009
Photos by Adrian Shellard

Calgary International Film Festival

A daily blog
following the films, parties, and general antics of this year's CIFF for The National Post

Published on The Ampersand, September 25 - October 4

National Music Centre fit for a king

Plans were unveiled last night for the Cantos National Music Centre in Calgary; the results of an eight month global design search and competition. Opened in March 2009, the contest was narrowed to five architecture firms by July, each of whom presented their vision to a public audience at an event dubbed Designs on Calgary. The competition was then moved to a jury made up of artists, architects, and Senator Pamela Wallin.

The new institution will build upon the historic King Edward Hotel (affectionately known as the 'King Eddy'), a legendary house of blues that was shut down by public health authorities in 2004 after falling into serious disrepair. Located in a construction-riddled, slightly seedy part of town, hopes for a revitalized neighbourhood and national koodos are pinned on the multi-million dollar development. Cantos expects up to 120,000 people will visit the centre annually within two years of its opening.

In its new life, the King Eddy will house multiple performance spaces, a museum, educational programs, and play an iconic role in the city's skyscape. It will also serve as the new offices for Cantos Music Foundation.

Allied Works Architecture, an Oregon-based firm known for its landmark performing arts spaces across the United States, will partner with local architects BKDI to design, develop and construct the new centre.

The concept behind the design is building as instrument, a theme picked up by the other competitors as well. A secondary inspiration is the Western landscape, in particular the canyons, mountains and hoodoos of Alberta.

Andrew Mosker, executive director of the Cantos Music Foundation, which spearheaded the competition and re-development, said Allied Works and BKDI were the firms that "jived most" with his staff and "best understood and paid homage to the legacy of the original King Eddy."

Published on The Ampersand, September 24 2009

Calgary's Cultural Capital

Three years ago, Maclean's magazine dubbed Calgary a “cultural capital”, a moniker which has been internalized and proudly reiterated by our city's citizens ever since. It was a relief to some to be recognized for something other than oil and wealth, and a source of intense satisfaction to many to be mentioned in a national (i.e. Toronto-based) publication. Finally, people took notice. But the magazine, and the country, noticed something else - “Some Calgarians wish the hype would go away” wrote Anne Kingston; they worried about losing something authentic as the city boomed.

Today, the city’s cultural and fine arts communities are feeling something different. They are adamant that the high quality of cultural experience in the city has deep local roots, and is growing organically - and rapidly - every day. Despite being on the waning side of the boom and bust cycle, the arts and culture communities have seen sustained growth. And what's more, it's not imported shows and touring exhibitions begging for attention, but the high level of homegrown talent, risk-taking and adaptability.

“Cultural capital” may not be something we are, but something we have.

Read Entire Article Here ->
Published in Avenue Magazine, September 2009