Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Wallflowers

My piece on the Wallflowers appears in the Charleston City Paper this week.

From the stage, The Wallflowers still inspire

Headlights and Collections

For millions of Wallflowers fans, particularly those who were teenagers in 1996, Jakob was the only Dylan who mattered. "Bob who?" girls would ask, resigning the folk icon responsible for "Blowin' in the Wind," the real face of the 1960s, to that of glorified sperm donor.

For those fans, Jakob was the first Dylan to take up permanent residency in the CD player. Every word from the lead singer's lips was a smoky promise that shone with sex appeal. As Jakob got the girls' hearts a'fluttering, the Wallflowers' breakthrough album, the platinum-selling Bringing Down the Horse, etched itself into their brains far more permanently than the periodic table or the Ten Commandments. The album sold over six million copies worldwide.

But it wasn't just the hormone-hampered who worshipped the Wallflowers: older fans found comfort in Bob's progeny too, flocking to the young singer-songwriter like he was the second coming of folk-rock angst. Despite Jakob's deliberate avoidance of any political underpinnings on Horse, his father's fans sought him out, finding a guy with a gift for melody, a more tuneful, pop-rock version of their rebel-yell idol.

But, for a short guy, Bob Dylan casts a long shadow, and for Jakob, his father's legacy has been inescapable. Most of Jakob's first interviews for The Wallflowers were based solely on the importance of his last name. For the most part, Jakob's taken wide circles around any such questions, attempting to subtract his father from the equation.

Thirteen years after Horse's huge success, he's still not talking, refusing to do any press for this reunion tour. What time has shown The Wallflowers, in terms of major label success, is that sometimes one really good album breaks a career even while it's making you a star. Everyone can still hum The Wallflowers' hit single "One Headlight" but almost no one can tell you the name of the band's last album. (It was 2005's Rebel, Sweetheart, for the curious out there.)

Following Horse, The Wallflowers experienced numerous stops and starts, ultimately releasing three more albums, all of which underperformed compared to the hit albatross around their neck. Ultimately the band left Interscope in 2005, and Jakob embarked on solo efforts, spending last summer on the road in support of his album, Seeing Things.

And then suddenly this year, the band regrouped, setting out on a cross-country summer tour in support of their new album Collected: 1995-2006. The track list boasts the five best songs from Horse, including the ode to New York romances gone awry, "Sixth Avenue Heartache" (with Adam Duritz from Counting Crows), and the classic slow burn of "Invisible City," which laments, "feeling pretty is so hard." Listening to Collected's other songs only goes to show just how early The Wallflowers peaked. The two previously unreleased songs, "God Says Nothing Back" and "Eat You Sleeping," are tepid soft rock exercises.

Despite the hit-and-miss collection, The Wallflowers' reputation for a genuinely inspired live show lives on. Catching the slow curl of the guitar wrapping its way around the driving drum beat on the opening bars from "One Headlight" is just enough to melt many self-respecting women back into teenage girls. And, when Jakob takes the stage and lets loose his throaty purr, prepare yourself to start asking, "Bob who?" all over again.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Juliette Lewis

My interview with Juliette Lewis is online at right now.
Juliette Lewis

Juliette Lewis

Juliette Lewis goes it alone

From presumed bad joke to opening for Cat Power and the Pretenders on a current North American tour, Juliette Lewis has navigated the back-and-forth between being an Oscar-nominated actress and a fierce rock ’n’ roll frontwoman with little regard for her naysayers. She makes no bones about the duality of her career or about the creative differences between acting and singing; there are no diva-sized meltdowns when mention is made of her breakthrough roles in Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers. In fact, it’s Lewis who brings up the critics that scoffed when she formed her original band, Juliette and the Licks, in 2003 (the same ones who thought they’d been vindicated when Lewis ditched the Licks earlier this year to go solo).

She may finally be able to prove them wrong. Churning out her new album in just a few months after the split, the piano-driven Terra Incognita (made with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta producing) might just be the record that earns Lewis a little respect.

When you decided to start pursuing music, did you imagine that this is what your life would look like?
Lewis: I imagined it from the artistic standpoint in the new work that I’ve made. I imagined I would evolve or progress as a songwriter, and get more and more out of my comfort zone. I saw those things as part of my artistic evolution, and it’s sort of like what I am in film — I try not to work from the ego and do things that make you feel uncomfortable, make you do things you’re scared of and really surrender to the moment. But did I ever know I was going to end up in Turkey or Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall, and be like, “Oh, I’m only here because of my rock ’n’ roll dream; I’m not on vacation’? No. I had an intention. You can dream a dream, and then it manifests and you’re like, “Holy shit, this is happening!”

Here’s a little story. When I first started my band five years ago, I was trying to get a manager and booking agent, and to explain to people about how committed I am. They’re so nervous about actors because they think you’re flaky; they think they book a tour for two months and then you go, “Oh sorry, I got a movie. Cancel the tour.” I’m never that! It’s sort of the other way around. Film’s created such a strong work ethic in me that once you have something committed, you honour that... I was telling this manager, “You don’t know how far I wanna go with this. I wanna go all the way to Brazil!” I said Brazil because it seemed like the farthest place I could imagine, and then four years later, there I was on a festival stage playing for 50,000 people, sharing the stage with Björk and the Killers.

All these images are so surreal.
What’s funny to me is that music is more of a cinematic existence than film. Film is a very technical medium, and don’t get me wrong: I’ve been to amazing places and worked with exceptional people, but the medium itself is very tedious. A two-minute scene can take three days. With music, it’s communal, it’s spiritual, it really is the first art medium. You’re dealing with sound, and rain dances, and celebrations, and an asking of the gods — people would bang stones together and chant. I don’t know — it still goes back to the jungle, in a way, for me.

That explains the bull image on the front of your album. Very primal.
I wanted to allow all my contrasts to come through on this record. That means sonically and emotionally, and the whole thing of Terra Incognita is exploring the unknown... Some of the songs, I just broke rules. The initial notes of [the song] “Female Persecution” — that’s my really abstract song, it doesn’t even follow a scale structure. And some of these songs don’t follow conventional song structure. Lyrically and melodically, they’re more exposing, and that’s what I wanted to do. Like, “Okay, it took me five years to really cut my teeth. Now let me get to who I am as a songwriter and really express all the facets, and not just the rock ’n’ roll animal that people know me as.”

Was there a piece of music that made you decide music was something you could do with your life?
There were a couple of turning points. I was always a music lover and tweaker, if you will. [Laughs] Music is the soundtrack to all my heartaches and joys, and I always use music to get into roles and get into the feelings of certain scenes. It’s a visceral ignition, a drumbeat or two chords. But I used to be deathly afraid of crowds, and it comes from when I was young and when I was extremely introverted and got kind of famous, because the last thing you need is extra eyes on you when you go out to get coffee. [Laughs] But I went to a Rolling Stones concert in ’98, and it’s not so simple as that, but I just sort of felt the perspective of the audience, this elation, and I guess it made me less fearful of that, because I was this screaming person saying, “I love you, Mick! I love you, Keith!” Long story short, I started the band with the intention of confronting what I feared, which was to sing and express myself that way.

And it would be so different to perform in front of 50,000 people versus 100 people on a film crew.
Oh, yeah. Movies are a very insular, creative process and it’s really interesting, and I love it, but it’s totally different. I just did a bunch of movies last year; I hadn’t done any in a couple years. And it was so exciting because all the things I love and get frustrated and challenged by come alive. It has everything to do with who you’re working with and the material you’re working with. Film is totally collaborative, and for it to be good, it relies on so many other things.

Juliette Lewis opens for Cat Power and the Pretenders on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, 5 pm. Tickets $55 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, and Highlife.

Post Grad

My Post Grad review appears in WE this week.

Post Grad


Starring Alexis Bledel, Michael Keaton, Carol Burnett

Directed by Vicky Jenson

2 stars (out of 5)

Ryden Malby, a perky post-feminism victim with a gender-neutral name, has got her whole life mapped out — up to and including the cushy job she’ll land once her diploma’s in hand. A young woman with an agenda? Can’t have that, and neither can Post Grad, a messy coming-of-age “comedy” that’s as awkward, unfunny, and borderline-degrading as the morning after a frat party.

Gilmore Girls alumna Alexis Bledel is Ryden, possibly the most naïve Type-A personality ever committed to celluloid. Freshly graduated, she signs the lease on an apartment she can’t afford in anticipation of landing her dream job at a top Los Angeles publishing house . Surprise, surprise! Ryden doesn’t get the job, and she’s forced to move back home with her wacky family, including dad (Michael Keaton, mugging like Tim Allen circa Home Improvement) and grandma (Carol Burnett, mining Betty White’s dirty-old-lady territory, but with scary plastic surgery that lends her the air of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond).

Ryden can’t land a job, so she fills her days exploring a potential romance with the hot, older Brazilian neighbour, and, in the film’s most egregious and infuriating element, driving away Adam (Zach Gilford), the best friend who’s always been in love with her.

Writer Kelly Fremon believes girls just need to be worn down: Even if she’s rejected you repeatedly for four years, fella, just keep up the tender foot rubs in supermarkets and the writing of songs. If that doesn’t work, throw a fit and move to the other side of the country. She’ll realize her life-long pursuit of a dream job was “weird” (in Ryden’s father’s words). She’ll see the error of her ways and, suddenly, know what she wants to do with her life: She’s got a plane to catch.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fruit Bats

My Fruit Bats piece appears in this week's WE. Mind the short length!
After a hiatus during which he joined the Shins, Eric Johnson (centre) returns with the latest incarnation of Fruit Bats.

After a hiatus during which he joined the Shins, Eric Johnson (centre) returns with the latest incarnation of Fruit Bats.

MUSIC: After a long break, Fruit Bats fly again

Originally just a shy guy hanging out with his four-track in his Chicago home, Eric Johnson freely describes himself as having been “unambitious” before forming his folk-pop group, Fruit Bats. Now, a decade later, he can’t quite believe his accidental good fortune: He’s a full-time member of Portland-based chart-toppers the Shins, and he’s recently resurrected Fruit Bats after a four-year hiatus.

The band’s lengthy journey has been fraught with stops and starts, and Johnson, the de facto leader, has been the sole constant member of the often in-flux group. But, with the release of their fourth album, aptly titled The Ruminant Band, Johnson’s ready to shed his solo style and return to the original concept for Fruit Bats.

“Initially, the concept was that it was going to be a sort of sprawling collective of a bunch of people that were in different bands,” Johnson says. “I even envisioned not being the primary writer. But ultimately, I was the person who put it all together, so when it all came down to it, it was going to be my thing no matter what. But I had more time between the last [album] and this one, and I actually put a band together. In a lot of ways it’s kind of a rebirth, and in a lot of ways I was considering turning it into a new band. It’s kind of a new thing and an old thing, all at the same time.”

The Ruminant Band provides a campfire sing-along’s worth of ’70s-style golden rock, spiked with an alt-country twang. The title track also provided a chance for Johnson to pay tribute to both his newly assembled group and his adopted hometown of Portland.

“We had the brief thought of changing the name from Fruit Bats, and [the Ruminant Band] was one we kicked around,” Johnson says. “Some of the images started to worm their way into the writing, too. It’s basically a song about being in a band, which is the most self-referential thing I’ve ever done. It’s also a little bit a song about Portland, even though I never mention Portland in there. It’s just about me riding my bike along the Willamette River, and there’s tons of homeless encampments, and I would see these interesting hobo-type guys and you would wonder who they were. That’s kind of what that song is, and even the record, in a lot of ways, is a concept record about that: people’s pasts, and where they are now, and playing music.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vancouver Queer Film Fest

My piece on the Vancouver Queer Film Fest is in Xtra West this week.

Queer Film Fest turns 21
By Andrea Warner

Riding high off its 20th anniversary last year, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) — like anyone entering their 20s — is facing plenty of new changes and challenges as it prepares for its 21st year of programming, beginning Aug 13.

QUEERING THE CITY. 'Our trailer will be playing on the screen above Future Shop at Robson and Granville, so that'll be queering things up a little bit,' says Out on Screen executive director Drew Dennis (right) with programming director Amber Dawn.
(Andrea Warner photo)

The VQFF has blossomed since it started as a series of flicks shown in a West End living room. Now it has evolved into an 11-day festival featuring 71 films from all over the world, and bringing together international and local filmmakers, writers, actors and artists.

Probably the most notable change over the last 12 months has been the addition of a new director of programming, replacing the departing Vanessa Kwan. Local performance artist and filmmaker Amber Dawn (Xtra West’s Hero of the Year in 2008) has stepped into the role.

“It’s feeling very much like a natural progression [to take on this role],” Dawn says. “I also have a not-for-profit background, mainly in sexual health in the gay community. I have that go-go-go, make-a-lot-happen-on-really-humble-resources-and-budget background,” she elaborates.

“I’ve been in the queer underground arts community for a long time. And it’s great, when I love a film or a book, I always try to recommend it to all my friends, and now I feel like I can recommend it to 300 friends, ‘cause that’s the capacity of the theatre,” she adds.

Under Dawn’s direction, this year’s festival has created two unique programming tracks for some of the featured films. One — Asian Voices — brings together queer Asian directors. The other, Focus on Hope, highlights documentaries about queer champions who inspire the community.

Additionally, a Speakers’ Cabana with local filmmaker Gwen Haworth (She’s A Boy I Knew) invites attendees to share their personal narratives with Haworth, which will then be screened randomly before films and put online in full. The festival will also feature performance art that promises to push lots of boundaries.

“I come from a performance background and having live performance happen within the festival is great,” Dawn says. “We’ve commissioned a collaboration, a sort of artistic mashup or learning exchange, if you will. We’ve brought together a Chinese shadow box puppeteer and burlesque dancer and just told them to make something together, which is turning out to be a narrative of a young woman’s wet dream.”

Moreover, the festival is further expanding its youth-accessible programming, featuring several films for those who are under 18. “We’re at 22 films this year, and were at 16 last year,” festival executive director Drew Dennis points out.

“We’re also having a special youth gala, a collaboration with Pride in Art.”

With audience surveys proving that the age range is now skewing younger (it used to be that most attendees were in their late 30s), it’s an important direction for the festival’s continued growth, particularly in the face of a global economic crunch that’s hurt most not-for-profits.

“It’s definitely been a challenging year for anybody within the non-profit sector, or any sector for that matter,” Dennis acknowledges. “Mostly, it’s the uncertainty of the economy that makes it difficult to plan with confidence. So far we’ve been very fortunate,” Dennis notes.

“We have a strong community of giving behind us, both with individual donors and corporate sponsors. We’ve had a small drop in sponsorships, but we’ve brought in new ones, so I think we’re weathering [the economic storm],” Dennis says.

“The one piece of funding we know will impact us is the BC Arts Council. The province cut their funding by half, so we’re probably looking at about a $10,000 drop for 2010,” Dennis reveals.

But the numbers are on the VQFF’s side. Attendance has gone up 53 percent over the last three years, and this year’s programming will find the festival taking up residency at Granville 7 theatre for six full days, almost doubling the seating capacity for many films.

“I think it’ll be exciting to bring some more queer activity to Granville St,” Dennis says. “Our trailer will be playing on the screen above Future Shop at Robson and Granville, so that’ll be queering things up a little bit.”

In a year that’s seen an apparent increase in gaybashings and attacks on the queer community, the festival’s message of hope, inspiration and tolerance couldn’t be more relevant.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Road to Canterbury

My review for The Road to Canterbury. Check it out at Queen Elizabeth Park.


By Andrea Warner

To Aug. 21 at Queen Elizabeth Park (33rd & Cambie), 7 pm (meet at the Bloedel Conservatory). Tickets $10-$17 from 604-221-6604.

Turning public spaces into theatres is one of the things the Itsazoo folks do best. Last year’s Grimm Tales took audiences over the hills and dales of Queen Elizabeth Park, satirizing the familiar (and often disturbing) fairy tales of our childhood. This year, they return to the same stomping grounds as Itsazoo’s resident playwright Sebastien Archibald tackles Geoffrey Chaucer’s sprawling English-lit epic and high-school staple, The Canterbury Tales. Re-imagining five of its most famous characters, including the Knight and the Lady of Bath, The Road to Canterbury cleverly incorporates contemporary pop songs and moments of brash humour, all the while making each story a broad social commentary on how fucked up life is.

The cast is up to — and seemingly eager for — the challenge of bearing the worldly burden Archibald has set out for them to carry. In this make-believe universe, the audience follows the Host (a thoroughly charming and inexhaustible Peter Carlone), as he leads the audience through the park like members of a Chaucerian tour group, pointing out landmarks of interest and areas allegedly graced by Chaucer himself. Five other actors are planted among the tourists, and are selected to compete in a Chaucer-inspired tale-telling contest. The Preacher (Colby Wilson), the Teacher (Katie Takefman), the Dowager (Ella Simon), the Mercenary (Jason Moldowan, boasting a beautiful voice), and the Bohemian (Amitai Mormorstein) each get their turns spinning yarns that reference everything from the economic crisis to body-image obsession to racial profiling. Each actor is responsible for playing numerous characters in every remarkable, refreshing, wholly immersive vignette.

The stories range from black humour to bleak, with a finale that’s thoroughly jarring. One of the city’s best young playwrights, Archibald’s voice is a welcome throwback to rabble rousers like Bertold Brecht — though perhaps not quite as nuanced yet. He’s spent the last year echoing the social discontent of the masses (as with his corporate satire, Death of a Clown), but his work never feels like it’s trumpeting the death knell of civilization. Even Canterbury’s final scene, set to a reworded Bob Dylan classic, “The Times They Are Not Changing,” feels like a call to action.

And, since the show ends at the bottom of the Queen Elizabeth Mountain, righteous indignation is welcome fuel for the hike back uphill.

Rent review

My review of Fighting Chance's Rent.

Jacqueline Breakwell as performance artist Maureen in Fighting Chance Productions’ staging of Rent.

Jacqueline Breakwell as performance artist Maureen in Fighting Chance Productions’ staging of Rent.

Credit: supplied

By Andrea Warner

To Aug. 30 at Presentation House Theatre, 8 pm (Tues-Sat). Sundays, 7 pm. Matinees: Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 1:30 pm. Tickets $25-$30 from or 604-990-3474

It’s every urban snob’s belief that New York City is 20 years ahead of most North American metropolises, but never has that felt more true than in Fighting Chance Productions’ invigorating and lively staging of this Tony Award-winning Broadway rock musical.

Based on La Puccinni’s La Boheme, Rent was Jonathan Larson’s ode to the disenfranchised artists who populated New York’s late ’80s- and early ’90s-era Lower East Side. Tackling AIDS, homosexuality, poverty, drugs, art, and friendship, Rent, when it debuted in 1995, would go on to define the impassioned idealism and messy reality of minorities, from all walks of life, rising up against the systematic ruling class.

Rent opens on Christmas eve, with Roger (Craig DeCarlo), a recovering addict and musician, and Mark (Anton Lipovetsky), a nerdy filmmaker, living in a rundown apartment owned by their former friend, Benny (Kholby Wardell), who’s become a money-grubbing sellout after marrying rich. Collins (Nick Fontaine), an old friend, returns to town after being fired by MIT, and meets Angel (Cesar Erba), a cross-dressing busker. Mark’s ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Jacqueline Breakwell), a performance artist, has left him for Joanne (a powerful Jenn Suratos), a lawyer, and is protesting Benny’s plans to build a cyber arts centre on a vacant lot that’s become home to a tent city for homeless people. When Roger meets next-door neighbour Mimi (Christine Quintana), an exotic dancer and addict, sparks fly, and the whole group forms a little family — albeit a fragile one — that must face AIDS, jealousy, drug addiction, and eviction.

Long-time Rent fans (known as “Rent-heads”) used to a multi-racial production will require a few minutes of adjustment when faced with the mostly Caucasian cast, and the choreography often comes off as unnatural rather than fluid. Any concerns are soon cast aside by the group’s vocals, so impressive they practically shake the walls right off the tiny Presentation House Theatre. Some technical issues mar the sound quality, but the actors imbue every lyric with enough intensity and passion to make even diehards rediscover new meaning in old favourites (particularly in the titular opening number).

With a global economic recession, the Olympics just six months away, and many Vancouverites entrenched in their own quandary of how to pay the damn rent, this joyous production could not be more timely.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Education: Self Employment

My cover story for this week's WE on government-funded self-employment programs.
Pauline Siu launched her own clothing label, flora&fauna;,after graduating from BCIT’s BEST program.

Pauline Siu launched her own clothing label, flora&fauna, after graduating from BCIT’s BEST program.

Credit: Doug Shanks

EDUCATION: Self help
By Andrea Warner

A few months ago, Vancouver’s Pauline Siu celebrated the first anniversary of her small business, an ethical and eco-friendly clothing label called flora&fauna;. In the midst of an economic downturn so fierce that B.C.’s unemployment rate has almost doubled in the past year (119,000 in July 2008; 200,000 in July 2009), Siu’s success is noteworthy — even more so given that she doesn’t have an MBA and, by her own admission, had no real business acumen when she started. Instead, Siu is a graduate of one of the government-funded self-employment programs that are now churning out some of the province’s best entrepreneurs.

With tuition fees proving prohibitive for many Vancouverites (particularly those queuing up to receive EI benefits), intensive self-employment programs offered by institutions including BCIT, Douglas College, and S.U.C.C.E.S.S. are an attractive — and lucrative — alternative. Most of the programs boast a 90-per-cent success rate, meaning graduates sustain their businesses through that first crucial year.

“I’d been wanting to start flora&fauna;for a couple of years, and I’d been working in the fashion industry, but I knew nothing about business,” Siu says. “Before I found out about the BEST [BCIT Entrepreneurial Skills Training] program, I was considering going back to school for a bachelor’s in business, but I’d already spent so much time in school. When I found out about the program, I was so relieved, because it meant I was getting what I need to know for a small business, whereas the university program would be about big business.”

A typical government-funded self-employment program offers 12 weeks in the classroom and 40 weeks of real-world learning, with advisors helping to guide students through the process. Funding conditions mean that applicants must meet specific criteria (i.e., having an active EI claim, or having received EI within the last 36 months, or having received a maternity/parental claim in the last 60 months) to qualify for the program. Paid versions of these programs, such as BCIT’s Venture program, are also available to applicants who don’t meet such requirements.

Most applicants vying for a seat are simply following a growing trend, as indicated in a July report from Statistics Canada on labour force conditions. From July 2008 to July 2009, the self-employment sector was B.C.’s sole area of growth, increasing six per cent (about 28,500 people). Siu and her 16 peers in the BEST program were among those who made the leap.

Although the application process for a self-employment programs is intense, Siu credits it with “getting the ball rolling,” and helping her to “think like a business person.” A business plan must be submitted for review, and applicants have to agree to participate in numerous interviews. The information is then scrutinized by a committee that determines one’s eligibility. The daunting process helps prepare prospective students for the seriousness of starting one’s own business.

Melanie Burke, owner of Gastown salon Burke & Hair, graduated from the self-employment program at Douglas College more than four years ago, and credits the program with helping her business to thrive.“I probably could not have successfully opened my business and stayed open without that program,” she says. “I took it because I needed to know how to run a business aside from doing hair — that part I knew really well, but I didn’t know how to set up my inventory or do my taxes, and the program offered a lot of insight into how to do that. They had experts in the field who came in and talked about how to do specific things. I don’t know how anyone opens a business without taking a program like that!”

“It eliminates your chances of making those huge mistakes,” Siu says. “All of your classmates are thinking, or trying to learn to think, in a business way, so just to bounce ideas off of them [is important]. We still meet every month; there are 17 of us who are still doing the businesses they planned on doing. I mean, no one’s raking it in, but being able to sustain yourself like that is amazing.”

Ironically, though, the program Siu credits with helping her launch her business is currently on hiatus. According to Ken Takeuchi, business advisor to BCIT’s Venture program, BEST fell victim to government consolidation and bureaucracy last year. “It’s something that slipped through the cracks,” he says. “Basically, at the end of last year, all contracts for self-employment programs were under review. Service Canada, who was the partner in the program at that time, felt that there were more programs out there than there was demand for. Vancouver had five, and they dropped it to three. The Burnaby/New West area dropped from two to one.”

It was the tiniest of cracks that BEST fell through. Its staff submitted all the required paperwork, thinking it would be a “rubber-stamp kind of thing,” but failed to submit one spreadsheet in quadruplicate. Thus, the program was disqualified from the bid process, despite its long history of success: 10 years, 700 graduates, and more than 70 per cent of its graduates continuing to operate their own business. Now, a year after the decision to cut programs due to the booming economy, the unemployment rate has almost doubled, increasing the demand for the programs.

“In hindsight I’m sure they’re kicking themselves for it,” Takeuchi says. “We were pretty upset, and felt the system lost a really strong program. Hopefully, looking ahead, they have to maintain an adequate service level. Let’s face it: As much as this downward trend came very suddenly, there are economic cycles to be aware of.”

Loretta Hands, program assistant for S.U.C.C.E.S.S.’s self-employment program, which helps landed immigrants and other qualified applicants, says the number of e-mail and telephone inquiries she’s received since November, 2008 have doubled. This past June (“Traditionally a slow time,” she says ), the program received 36 applications for 16 seats. Web traffic for the site has increased 27 per cent over the last three months.

As for cuts to the program, Hands says S.U.C.C.E.S.S. has actually received increased funding to expand the number of intakes through 2011 (five per year, versus four in 2008), but she admits that the workload for staff has doubled.

Mari-Lou Shoukar, marketing manager for Douglas College’s two self-employment programs, has also noted a spike in interest. “The information sessions are full all the time,” she says. “We hold seven sessions per program, per month, and it’s easily been double to triple the number of attendees.”

With a set capacity, and no foreseeable room for growth until self-employment-program contracts come up for renewal again in 2010, the government appears to be attempting to tackle the unemployment problem from a different angle, and BCIT is determined to provide a solution through a proposed business-skills training program.“Because of the unemployment rate, there was a call for proposals to have people upgrade and find better employment for themselves,” Takeuchi says. “Not so much to start their own business, but to learn a lot of the business skills to help them be better employees.”

As Siu prepares for flora&fauna’s second year of business (at the time of our interview, she was choosing between two different models for a photo shoot), she’s taking comfort in having met other graduates of similar self-employment programs — in plenty of surprising places.

“Right now I only work with other local small businesses, because that’s the scale that I’m at, and it’s what I want to support,” Siu says. “I just found out that my screen-printer went through the program seven years ago, and a number of other independent local designers have gone through similar programs as well, and they’re all still in business several years later. You never think that, like, ‘It’s just me who’s gone through this.’ It’s a nice thing to see.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Funny People

My review of Funny People is online at

Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in

Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in "Funny People"

Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen
Directed by Judd Apatow
3 stars (out of 5)

By Andrea Warner

Director Judd Apatow, creator of the brilliant but short-lived TV show Freaks and Geeks, can take full credit — for better or for worse — for the recent reinvention of the R-rated comedy. The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were box-office hits, the latter making a star out of Seth Rogen (also from Freaks and Geeks). Look closely at Pineapple Express, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall — you’ll see his producer credit tacked on to these exemplifiers of the guy-friendly, dick-joke-heavy smashes that have taken over during the last five years.

In Funny People, his third directorial effort, Apatow digs a little deeper. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a middle-aged former stand-up comedian who’s become rich and famous making crappy, family-friendly Hollywood blockbusters. Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) is an up-and-coming comedian who sleeps on the couch of his more successful friends (Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill) and works at a deli. George is ill and reevaluating his life, leading him back to his roots in stand-up. He asks Ira to write him some jokes, and the bromance begins.

But then, halfway through the film, Apatow’s real-life family shows up, and Funny People takes a sharp left turn — and it just can’t nail the landing. Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) plays Laura, the girl George drove away 12 years ago. She’s now a mom to two adorable girls (Mann and Apatow’s own children), and a wife to a philandering Aussie, played with spunk by Eric Bana. It’s not a bad plot development, but it jarringly moves the action away from the film’s core for about half an hour, and never manages to feel integrated.

Funny People’s saving grace is that it’s chock full of genuinely funny people, feeling like a neat behind-the-scenes glimpse of the comedy world. And the cameos are pure catnip for stand-up fans, with everyone from Norm MacDonald to Sarah Silverman popping up. Even folk-rock legend James Taylor gets in a laugh, and a random bit between Eminem and Ray Romano brings new respect for both.