Monday, 25 March 2013

Have a little faith

I am a firm believer that everyone needs something to believe in, something to hold on to when times are rough and it feels like there's no hope. But it doesn't have to be a religious figure. I can't say specifically what I believe in - they tend to vary depending on different situations in my life.

My family is Buddhist, but my cousins and I don't go to the Temple except for important reasons. One of them was my grandmother's death in 2002.

Other than that, my brushes with religion have been in thin, nonexistent strokes.

My good friend Kirah and I attended a service at Unity Church last night after deciding we wanted to uncover the truth behind the sensationalized religion of Spiritualism and practice of Wicca. I can't speak for my fellow journalist-in-training, but I had secretly and foolishly anticipated solemn-looking people dressed in head-to-toe black, remaining tight-lipped and vague about their faith. We got the exact opposite.

We were especially shocked to meet Rachel, the "resident witch" at Unity Church and the main character in our news story. A pretty young woman with flowing brown and blond hair, Rachel didn't look like a witch with her pink off-the-shoulder top and black tights.

"We definitely don't have green faces and ride around on brooms and have black cats," she laughed, batting her dramatically long eyelashes. "We deal with the natural, not hocus pocus."

Rachel talked to us about her services at Unity Church; soul paintings, psychometry, and mediumship were her main duties. No bubble, toil or trouble here, just impressions based on energy and vibrations.

We told her she was doing a good thing talking to us and dispelling misconceptions that many (including myself) hold about Wicca. After her interview, we immediately sensed that she regretted talking to us. That was how we got our story angle.

"You know, nobody even knows I do this," she said out of the blue, flipping through her sketchbook of soul paintings.

Wicca, otherwise known as witchcraft, developed in England in the first half of the 20th century. From 1991 to 2001, Wicca was the fastest growing religion at 280%. Over 21,000 Canadians called themselves Wiccan.

People weren't accepting of witchcraft and witches then. But even now, there's a stigma. And Rachel is afraid of what her workplace, neighbours, and people within her social circles will say when (if) this story ends up on the CBC website.

"Just do us some dignity," she jokingly pled.

Have a little faith in us, Rachel.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Family, friends, and a film festival

This will be the last time I write about my Independent Professional Project, Stories from Cambodia, I promise. I just need to write about the whirlwind of events so that I can always refer back knowing I captured the day while it's still fresh in my mind.

I attended the Gimme Some Truth Documentary Film Festival on Sunday night with my parents and cousins. I also invited my significant other and several friends. To those that couldn't come but expressed their interest and sorrow for missing out, I appreciate it. But I will discuss this later on.

When I arrived to Cinematheque for the festival, the lobby was fairly empty at first. Seeing that made my heart plummet, my fears of no one showing up surfaced, but I intended to make the most of it because (as I have been reminded by my loved ones over and over again) this was my moment and I should not let anything or anyone (or lack thereof) bring me down.

Jaimz of the Winnipeg Film Group handed me my delegate pass and four tickets free of charge for my parents and cousins. Initially worried and dreading the festival, I felt an immediate sense of accomplishment when I donned the delegate pass around my neck.

We went into the small, dark theatre where several other people had been sitting for a while. Once I saw the makings of an audience forming, I breathed a small sigh of relief and began to relax. Slowly, more film-goers filled the theatre.

Here's something that I did not expect to happen to that night. With the lobby filled with people, an employee announced that the tickets were sold out. Disappointment and confusion were the main emotions in the lobby, but I couldn't have been more thrilled. I'll explain in a few more paragraphs.

At a little past 4:00 p.m., the festival began - and my documentary was first. No matter how many times I have had to watch my work back, it does not get easier to review the final product, noticing flaws and should-haves and should-not-haves. I know I didn't make a perfect documentary, but I think I did a decent job overall.

The next three documentaries were interesting. Respectively, they were about an artist from Bosnia, a group of refugees from Bhutan adjusting to life in Canada (with a humourous scene on how to use toilet paper), and violence against farmers in Zimbabwe. They were all informative and personal, and it was an absolute honour to be in the same category with such talented individuals.

Afterwards, Jaimz called the filmmakers up to the stage to answer questions the audience may have. The woman who made the documentary about violence against farmers in Zimbabwe got the most questions, as expected, because her film had more drama and gruesome graphics. I applauded her use of visuals as it was something that my own video lacked. I did get to answer one question from a nice woman though.

At the end of the festival, Jaimz announced that there would be a second screening since so many people had shown up. Amazing! I'll have to wait for details as they are pending and not concrete.

Exiting the theatre, I was approached by several people who commented on my video, including someone who just applied for Creative Communications and asked for my advice. It's funny to see this whole experience come full circle.

When I asked my parents what they thought of the festival, my dad said nonchalantly, "Yeah, not bad." Knowing him, that's a pretty positive response.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Hunting for news

Looking for news content is hard.

How does one begin to find a story short of relying on news releases? My friend Kristy wrote a blog post a while ago discussing the same thing but that is where the similarities end. She has a solution - to keep your eyes open, walk around, talk to people, and jot notes. I'm still trying to fine-tune my nose for news.

I read articles such as this one, and it makes me think, "Wow! How did they ever discover such a bizarre phenomenon?" And why would kids swallow magnets? Gross.

When I go news-hunting, the stories I find in comparison are pretty banal and predictable. A kid got recruited to a college basketball team. This immigrant learning centre is switching locations. A school got their first defibrillator. And those came from news releases I stumbled upon.

One day, I'd like to report on a story of my very own. Something I found without the help of a PR person. Something out of the ordinary. One day, my news-sniffin' nose will get me there.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Have You Seen Candace?

Have You Seen Candace?, a non-fiction book, details years of pain and questions regarding the disappearance and murder of a child from the perspective of Wilma Derksen, a Creative Communications graduate, writer, and - most importantly - mother of Syras, Odia, and Candace Derksen.

What works in this book by Wilma Derksen is the honesty. And I don't mean honesty as in every single detail in the book is 100% true - not to doubt Wilma's recollection of the events or credibility as a storyteller, of course.

I mean that Wilma's writing is honest, raw, and unapologetic. She lays out the facts like a true journalist, but she doesn't hesitate to provide the details of her maternal psyche. For example, on page 20, when the cops insist that Candace had run away because Wilma and Cliff are overbearing, religious parents, Wilma explains her hurt and anger:
"How incredibly naive we'd been! The minute they caught the slightest whiff of our religious background, especially the words Mennonite and pastor, they instantly classified us as fanatical, over-religious hypocrites. Maybe they even believed we used religion as a cover for deviant behavior. I wouldn't normally have cared about their skepticism, but our daughter's life depended on their believing us. We had to convince them."
That is just one example, but her thoughts and feelings are seamlessly but prominently laced throughout the book that remind the reader that this is not just a plot but an actual account of a mother's suffering.  One such example is her uncharacteristic desire to shoot the person who murdered her daughter. In class, she had confessed to still having those thoughts, and she laughed about it too. That is what I love about the book - her honest feelings towards the whole situation, holy or not, are permanently printed for all to see. Her vulnerability is truly admirable.

And that is something journalists can learn from the book - to feel something when they write their stories. I know that we are supposed to remain fair and balanced when reporting - and don't worry, I still think that - but passion and emotion make a story so much more interesting. Being fair and balanced doesn't mean void of emotion. I realize not every story will have some sort of sentimental calibur, but it's just something to keep in mind.

What doesn't work in the book at times is the flashbacks. I appreciate Wilma's anecdotes about Candace, but for the most part, while I was reading, they didn't have a monumental affect on me. Candace's personality is definitely captured through these anecdotes, but I wanted the story to keep advancing without constantly stepping into the past.

Having already read Journey for Justice: How 'Project Angel' Cracked the Candace Derksen Case, a true crime book written by Mike McIntyre, last year, I felt I was familiar with the plot and that there would be no surprises. I find Wilma's book, free of legal-speak and psychiatrical clutter, more appealing to read because I am a minimalist, taking in one detail at a time on a single track of thought. I liked Mike's book, don't get me wrong, but Wilma's version is something I could pick up and read again without being bogged down by details that don't necessarily interest or affect me. Mike's book's role to me is an update on the situation which include topics such as Mark Edward Grant's arrest and his history and his medical condition.

When speaking to our class - and at the seminar last year - I was amazed both times by how composed and happy she had appeared. I mentioned earlier that she had made jokes last week which was both sweet but uneasy for me as an audience member. Should I laugh or would that be crossing the line? Where is the line? Instead, I watched her continue her speech, this strong woman made of armour encased in a block of fragile glass.