Rabbit-proof wall

Polish filmmaker Bartosz Konopka recounts the history of the Berlin Wall from the perspective of rabbits trapped in the no-man’s land created by the structure. Freed from hunting pressure, they multiplied and prospered. After all, no one was shooting at them.

Such structures, known to biologists as “exclosures,” often belie their brutal genesis with an unintended beneficial impact on wildlife. After all, they exclude the most destructive of predators: people. The DMZ between North and South Korea is said to be teeming with otherwise endangered wild animals. Until the cleanup began last summer, the fenced-off Sydney Tar Ponds was home to large populations of foxes, feral cats, muskrats, voles, field mice, and a multitude of ducks, gulls, and shorebirds.

Konopka talks about the rabbit project here.


A photo recently added to the White House photostream on Flickr reveals a startling presidential penchant for meticulous editing:


Ouch! The speechwriter who endured this grueling feedback, Jon Favreau, is the second-youngest in presidential history. The only man every to serve at a more tender age, Atlantic magazine writer and former Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows, offered these comments on the photo:

The volume of Obama’s editing is unusual but not unheard of. The quality of his editing is exceptional for a public figure. Think of just one sentence in the shot above. The original says “This has always been our history.” Obama changes it to, “This has always been the history of our progress.” A different, more interesting, and more original-sounding thought.

Those wishing to track President Obama’s edits in detail can view an enormous version of the photo here.

Hitch and Maher do Raztinger

America’s most lovable atheist interviews Anglo-America’s most irritating on Pope Benedict’s cover-up crisis, and though it pains Andrew Sullivan to say it, “he’s right, isn’t he?” Moneyquote:

Suppose you and I are having a martini… and I ask you [if you’ve ever been in trouble with the law], and you say, “Well, there was that thing with the joint, and that thing with the traffic light, and there was that time I was really short of money and the bank of Santa Monica…” and I think “OK, all right, we’re all human.”

But if you say, “And I had some friends once who had two little boys, and they trusted me as a babysitter, and, boy, I had a lot of fun with those kids!” And if you say, “Want to have lunch with me next Friday?” No, I don’t. It’s the one crime that no one can think of without vomiting—that’s the one the great moral church wants wiggle room for.

…The Pope, when he did his letter to the Irish on the weekend, you probably saw, everyone reported saying, “Strange he didn’t call for anyone to resign or anyone to be arrested. He only expressed regret.” Well, if he called for anyone to be arrested, or anyone to resign, he’d be starting his own impeachment process, because the reasons they’d have to quit are the reasons he has to quit.


With the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho fast approaching, the Times of London asked various luminaries to assess its impact. Peter Bogdanovich, director of The Last Picture Show and author of The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, recalled its first public screening:

I saw the very first showing of Psycho for the critics and the public together in the DeMille theatre in New York at 10 o’clock on the morning of June 16, 1960. It was an extraordinary event. psycho3There were about 1,000 people sitting in the stalls below and the press were 500-strong upstairs. The picture started, and everyone thought that it was a movie about a woman who stole some money. And then, about 45 minutes in, came the shower scene. I’ve never heard such screaming — sustained screaming — from the audience. You couldn’t hear the soundtrack. It was unprecedented, and it really was the first time that going to the movies was not a safe experience. I came out of the theatre at noon and walked down Broadway and Times Square, feeling as though I’d been raped. I hated the picture, but I thought that it was extraordinarily powerful. And I knew that it was a tour de force that was going to change moviegoing.

I later got to know Hitch well and knew him for 20 years, and never once got to see a dark side to the man. He said that Psycho was made with a lot of humour. And the film is certainly a circus. It’s a sensation. Brilliantly made. But demonic in its brilliance.

An Indonesian interviews the US President

When is the last time the U.S. had a president like this? Never, that’s when.

Putra Nababan is an interviewer for Seputar Indonesia (English: Around Indonesia), Indonesia’s most-watched newscast. On Monday, he interviewed Barack Obama. From age six to 10, Obama lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, the home of his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro.

Tarnishing the green halo

A study [pdf] by U of T researchers Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong purports to show that people who purchase green products behave less altruistically.

[P]eople act more altruistically after mere exposure to green products than after mere exposure to conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal, after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products

UK Guardian columnist James Baggini thinks he know why:

The general truth lurking behind these findings is that the feeling of being pure is a moral contaminant. In ethical terms, the best never think that they are the best, and those that believe themselves to be on the side of the angels are often the worst devils.

Why should this be so? One reason is that complacency is as dangerous in ethics as it is in any other area of life where we strive for excellence. If we think we are “good people” we might think less about the possibility that we might actually be doing wrong.

This explanation echos my long ago analysis of former Premier Donald Cameron, a basically good man who was so convinced of his pure motives, he took actions he would have condemned in others, thinking they must be OK because he was doing them. Outcome: Westray.

Life lesson: Beware of people who have God on their side.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Plastic bag

One of the nice discoveries in my role as manager and chief film-picker for the Cape Breton Island Film Series has been the movies of Ramin Bahrani, the Iranian-American director of dramas like Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo. Bahrani portrays the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in a naturalistic style that is almost documentary in character. We were the only film series in Canada to show Chop Shop; by the time Goodbye Solo came out a year later, Bahrani’s movies were de rigueur on the indie circuit.

Bahrani grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Roger Ebert calls him “the new great American director.” Charlie Rose, the US Public Broadcasting Systems wonderful interviewer, talks with him here. Last September, the Venice Film Festival debuted an 18-minute Bahrani short that is an anthropomorphic account of the life of a plastic bag. In a whimsical touch, Bahrani tapped Werner Herzog, bad boy director of Grizzly Man and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, to voice the part of the bag.

Last week, Bahrani released Plastic Bag on YouTube, which gives me the chance to show it to you:



Thursday night, the Cape Breton Island Film Series screened its 200th film, a milestone we had no thought of reaching when we began the series in January, 2003, with Bowling for Columbine. You can download a pdf list of all the films we’ve shown here, and you won’t find many turkeys. The list makes a great aidemémoire at the video store.

Ten films I particularly liked were:

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
City of God
House of Sand
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lost in Translation
Man on Wire
Rabbit Proof Fence
Shut Up and Sing
Thank You for Smoking

The Lives of Others

Hardly anyone liked:

Russian Arc

The Empire company’s head office and their fantastic staff in Sydney have been wonderful to work with. Many volunteers pitched in over the years, including Ron Keough, Terry and Lynda Casey, Sadie Richards, Ashley McKenzie, Nelson MacDonald, and many, many others. The ineffable Prof. Noreen Golfman of the MUN Cinema Series in St. John’s showed me how to do it, and held my hand through the first few months. Most rewarding of all, Cape Breton’s film-goers have been incredibly loyal and appreciative. Deep thanks all around.

Top photo: the late Ulrich Muehe in The Lives of Others; Bottom: Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.


Overheard at Fleming Park


A father and his daughter were strolling along the shore of Sir Sandford Fleming Park Tuesday when the father  spotted a seabird on the opposite shore.

Father (age 39):  Look, Rosa, over on the far side. I think it’s a loon.

Rosa (age 3-1/2):  It’s a black guillemot.

Father:  Maybe it’s a red-breasted merganser.

Rosa:  It’s a black guillemot.


Later, at home, the photo was enlarged.

Verdict:  Black guillemot, winter plumage.