Tag Archives: Travel

The Trauma Of Losing Your Luggage

Sarah's missing luggage, not shown.

Sarah’s missing luggage, not shown.

Five years ago Sarah lost her luggage on a trip to Vegas.

It was very traumatic for her at the time and it still burns even to this day.

She wrote about this feeling in a new essay for Racked.

To read it go here.

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British Chocolate Bars, Graded

British chocolate

British chocolate

This summer I went to England to help the Polaris Music Prize curate a big Canada 150 concert in London’s Trafalgar Square.

On this whirlwind trip I tried as many stereotypical English delights as possible — pies, late night curries, pints, etc — but the thing I hit with the most crushing frequency were the chocolate bars.

Any time I had too much change jingling in my pockets it was straight to the hotel vending machine or the local shop to buy another bar to try.

I graded these chocolate experiences along the way.

Here’s what I got:

Galaxy Caramel Collection, Smooth Caramel

“Smooth and creamy Galaxy chocolate with luscious caramel.”

GRADE: C+

Cadbury Wispa Gold

“A delightful rush of tonnes of tiny chocolatey bubbles, layered with golden caramel and covered in smooth Cadbury milk chocolate!”

GRADE: B-

Maltesers

“The lighter way to enjoy chocolate.”

GRADE: B+

KitKat

“Real Milk Chocolate, Light Tasting Crispy Wafers, Quality in Every Bite. Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat.”

GRADE: B+

Twirl

“Two fingers of indulgent chocolatey swirls, wrapped in smooth Cadbury milk chocolate that melt in your mouth as the twirling ribbons unfold!”

GRADE: A+

Dairy Milk

“Our classic bar of deliciously creamy Cadbury Dairy Milk milk chocolate, made with fresh milk from the British Isles and Ireland. A mouthful of ‘mmmm’ in every piece!”

GRADE: B-

Shortcake Snack

“Snackable squares of delicious shortcake biscuit, covered with smooth Cadbury milk chocolate for a perfect biscuity bite!”

GRADE: C

Kinder Bueno Milk & Hazelnut

“Bueno is a delicate chocolate bar with an indulgent taste. Each melt-in-the-mouth piece promises creamy hazelnut, smooth chocolate and crispy wafer for you to enjoy.”

GRADE: B-

Revels

“Discover the chocolate world Revels, enjoy everything from the ‘fun stuff’ to whats is in the range.”

GRADE: C+

Yorkie

“It’s not for girls”

GRADE: C+

Toffee Crisp

“The delicious combination of biscuit, crispy cereal and caramel all covered in chocolate makes Toffee Crisp a biscuit your family will love.”

GRADE: inconclusive, forgot to write it down

Double Decker

“A contrasting combination of crispy cereal and soft, pillowy nougat, layered up and coated in smooth Cadbury milk chocolate, giving you two bars in one!”

GRADE: inconclusive, forgot to write it down

So there you go. Twirl is the best British chocolate bar. Feel free to pick me up a few if you’re ever in the U.K.

 

 

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12 Things We Learned At Psycho Fest Las Vegas

Things got intergalactic when Oresund Space Collective performed.

Things got intergalactic when Oresund Space Collective performed.

Last week Team Risky Fuel went on an adventure to Las Vegas to attend the mindbending stoner rock festival Psycho Fest, being held at the Hard Rock Casino.

We watched four days of doom-y and psych-y rock, executed a few Vegas lifehacks and took in the following bands:

Thursday, August 25
Mothership @ Paradise Pool
Mac Sabbath @ Paradise Pool
Mudhoney @ Paradise Pool

Friday, August 26
Black Heart Procession @ The Joint
Yob @ The Joint
Wovenhand @ The Joint
Down @ The Joint
Beelzefuzz @ Vinyl
Drive Like Jehu @ The Joint
Brian Posehn @ The Joint
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown @ The Joint

Saturday, August 27
Has A Shadow @ Vinyl
The Budos Band @ The Joint
A Place To Bury Strangers @ The Joint
Beezlebong @ Vinyl
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats @ The Joint
Blue Oyster Cult @ The Joint

Sunday, August 28
Oresund Space Collective @ Vinyl
Truth And Janey @ The Joint
Danava @ The Joint
Hornss @ Vinyl
Fu Manchu @ The Joint
Candlemass @ The Joint
Fireball Ministry @ Paradise Pool
Tales Of Murder & Dust @ Paradise Pool
Alice Cooper @ The Joint

I wrote about our travels for AUX TV. To read about all the best and/or weirdest bits (Mac Sabbath, the Black Sabbath McDonald’s-themed parody band!) in handy itemized list form, click here.

Arthur Brown performs “Fire”

#ArthurBrown #fire #burn

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Japan Hires Ninjas To Boost Tourism

Ninjas!

Ninjas!

In what must have made for one of the best want ads ever, the Aichi prefecture, located in Japan’s central Honshu Island recently looked to hire six ninjas to work in their developing “warrior tourism” industry.

It’s unclear if these ninjas ever got hired, because if they were doing their job right you’d never see them and would therefore never know.

To read Sarah’s story about it for Asian World Of Martial Arts go here.

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‘Pride In Travel’: Chasing Manchester City Football Club Supporters Around The World

Darryl Webster, Manchester City Football Club supporter

Darryl Webster, Manchester City Football Club supporter

The 2013-14 season was one of the greatest ever for longtime fans of the Manchester City Football Club. The team, fully revitalized after more than three decades of ineptitude, won both the Football League Cup and the Premier League Championship. For the “blues,” the dog-loyal supporters of MCFC, it’s been a dizzying thrill to watch their team rise from English football third division sad-sacks into a world-recognized powerhouse.

One of those excitable blues is Toronto, Ontario’s Darryl Webster. A City loyalist ever since his sister gave him a MCFC jersey for Christmas some years ago, Webster used the season to pursue a quest nearly unique in the sports universe: he decided to tour around the world not to follow his beloved team, but to instead meet up with City fans.

Among the places Webster’s journeys would take him included New York, Dallas, Hong Kong, London, Gibraltar, Reykjavik and Abu Dhabi. His goals in each of these places were simple: meet up with local City supporters to watch a match, sample the local food and drink, and maybe, just maybe, figure out what makes a person a blue.

The result of this trip? Pride In Travel: A Title-Winning Season Exploring The World Of Manchester City, Webster’s diary-like book cataloging the people he met and the adventures (and misadventures) he had along the way.

Here’s what he had to say about Pride In Travel:

What’s your book about?

On the surface it’s about one City fan trying to get to as many supporter clubs as he can get to in one season to see what they’re like in the different countries. Are they the same? Are they different? How did they end up being a Man City club, and not just one guy on a barstool, in Washington, DC or Hong Kong? How did that happen? And what is it like? And beneath that is also my sort of journey as well and what it’s like to travel the world by yourself and introspection and what kind of thoughts you come up with when you’re alone on a plane for a long time or eating alone in a restaurant. All these things that you’re not really accustomed to doing alone. So it was a journey of self-discovery, introspection, but the backdrop was going to as many City clubs as I could and seeing a match.

How many official City supporter clubs are there around the world?

When I was doing the book there were 154. A lot of far flung locations. Of course the majority are in Great Britain because the main thing about being official is you can apply for away tickets when the club’s traveling. I think it’s up to 165 now, and that’s 15,000 members. Last year it was 13,000 and change. Those are paid members.

The normal sports fan experience is: go to the home stadium, maybe an away game, maybe a playoff game, and if you’re in a legacy player’s hometown maybe tweet about it or something… you did something completely different, you traveled to other fans.

For this book the players on the pitch are, not irrelevant, but an afterthought. It’s the supporters I’m interested in. And their story. Because the players come and go and they are what they are, but the supporters are the ones with the lifelong history.

How big an influence does the band Oasis — Noel and Liam Gallagher — have on someone becoming a City fan?

Excepting bloodlines, like if you’d go with your mum, or your dad supported them, or if they were originally from there, for me I would say any supporter not from Manchester that’s between 30-45 years old, someone like myself who was born and raised over here, it’s the number one link. I thought I was going to meet a lot of people who if they were new to City that it would either be because their parents were from there or just because City has started getting good and they’d be new fans. But I was meeting people in L.A. and Texas who it was almost across the board Oasis. There was no family link to England.

And so I was meeting City supporters in Texas who had supported City longer than I had because of Oasis. So I would put bloodline, where you’re from, first, being an ex-pat or having an ex-pat parent second, and I would put Oasis third. And then I would put the new club, [striker Sergio] Aguero and all their success, fourth. That’s going to pass the Oasis thing if it hasn’t already, but Oasis is right up there.

Who’s your favourite City player?

I think it’s almost impossible for it to not be Aguero. It used to be Yaya Tourre because my mom spent some time in the Ivory Coast when she was young, she always talks about it and she loves Yaya Tourre. It’s between Yaya and Aguero.

What’s it like to see a live City home game at Etihad Stadium?

If you’re not from there, if you’re from a North America, just the singing strikes you. A lot of people are starting to think City is becoming a bit quiet now because they’ve had some success and the money’s coming in and there’s more corporate seats. But coming from someone who goes to the Air Canada Centre, you sit there and go “Wow!”

There are two things that strike you: 1) the singing, and 2) the segregation of supporters. Away supporters have been on the bus for a few hours, they’re getting wasted, it’s unbelievable. And it’s not because it’s any one particular club. It’s just when your day is all about traveling to see your team and drinking before the game it’s always 2-3,000 people crammed into this tiny section going mental. So that’s fun to see. And there’s shouting back and forth between each other… and that’s what really strikes you. And you just go, “I have to do this all the time.”

Are there any common traits among all the supporters clubs no matter the location?

Yeah, I always laugh when I meet and speak with the chairman. Because every club has a tiny bit of gossip and each club was its own tiny soap opera in a nice way. But on the back of that, it was just like how much of a family they all were. If they had a problem with one another it was like having a problem with your brother or sister. Just the family dynamic. That was the recurring theme. Just how tight every club was.

What type of person becomes a City supporter?

The constants were that City attracts people with a self-deprecating sense of humour, which really appealed to me, because there was such a culture of losing for so long that you kind of had to have it.

What about that losing culture? What kind of shadow does that cast over the City supporter experience? Please explain some of that.

In the 1960s they were kind of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a way. They were winning everything. Well, not everything, but in the late-’60s they had this really terrific team, won the league, won the FA Cup, and then around about the mid-’70s it all started to fall apart, a series of bad owners, money trouble. By the mid-to-late-’90s they were in the third division of English football. So they had to win that division to get up to the next and win that division to get up to where you were. And so you had people, if they were my age, they had never seen any championship ever. They had never seen any trophy, nothing. They just seemed like a disaster. While that was going on your main rival Manchester United was becoming the biggest club in the world and winning everything. So the year that City finally got out of the third division, in ’99 when they got back to the second division, that’s the year that United won the treble, they won the league, the FA Cup and Champions League.

You grow up with that. There’s no religious divide, you’re living and working with people who cheer for your greatest rival. So you’re going to work for 30 years and the guy who sat next to him, every week that guy’s ribbing him. So you need to become increasingly clever to respond, “What can I fire back with? ‘Cause I got nothing.”

How do supporters clubs around the world treat the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United?

You’ve got two sets of blues. You’ve got folks where it’s us versus them and we’ve got to bash them at every turn. I know there are blues who follow all the social media of United just to troll. And they do it to us, too, of course. Then there’s the other thinking that’s like, “We are not concerned with what they’re doing. We’re for the Manchester City Football Club. We don’t pay attention to them.” I think the truth lies in the middle. I think everybody knows what United’s doing and hopes they don’t win and I think everybody trolls a little bit.

What are the lengths a City supporter will go to in order to watch a game?

There were no shortage of divorced men. I’ve met a person who, I won’t name them because they’re well-known, they said no to being the best man at their best friend’s wedding because there was a City match. It was on match day. I know someone who changed their wedding date because it was going to conflict with a match day.

One of the recurring themes of your adventure was booze. How many drinks do you think you had over the course of your journey?

We’re counting not just at the supporters clubs, right? Like if I had a beer on the plane… oh man, 300 or 400 maybe. I don’t know. I can probably get it to within 20-30 drinks. Off the top of my head I’d say 300. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? And it’s probably more because if you think about it, 15 cities, and that’s maybe 20 drinks a trip. But some places, I was in Abu Dhabi for a week… so I’m going to go with 300 and not feel too good about that.

What were the best cities to get drunken pizza?

In Manchester you can not get good drunk pizza. It’s something they’ve not got their heads around. For them it’s kebobs, takeaway curries, England hasn’t figured out pizza. New York? Brilliant. North America, we’re all about the drunken pizza. That’s great. I do think it’s a North American thing. In Hong Kong it sounds disappointing, but we had fish and rice and it was Moroccan food but it was brilliant. Gibraltar, because it was so close to Morocco, it was Moroccan food there as well. England was definitely Middle Eastern takeaway. Reykjavik was too expensive for me to even worry about getting something afterwards.

I think each culture had their unique bar-letting-out junk food. I think North America’s the only one that’s figured out pizza. My sister complains about it all the time. She’s just like, “They don’t get it.” They haven’t got their heads around pizza by the slice. And the Mancs might read this and go, “I know a great pizza shop.” You don’t.

What was the weirdest food you encountered on your travels? Did you try fermented shark meat in Iceland or anything like that?

Oh man. I tried to get outside of my comfort zone. I grew up a finicky eater and I’ve been pushing that over the years and gotten better.

In Iceland I opted for the fish that was a little more familiar. I just didn’t go for [shark]. At this one buffet they took me to I knew there was stuff that was pretty adventurous.

In Hong Kong I must have walked around for ages trying to find something to eat. Couldn’t read anything. And I’ll never forgive myself, but it was early, early in the morning and I love an Egg McMuffin. So I got an Egg McMuffin. And I ate it and then said to myself, “What are you doing?!” So I said the next meal is going to be totally out there… and I still don’t know what it was to this day. There was shrimp in it for sure. The noodles tasted like there was a bit of curry in it maybe. And it was the best meal I had on the trip bar none, and I don’t know what it was called or what it was. I just kind of pointed to something, I tried it, I used the chopsticks and all that. No forks, nothing… we’re doing this.

I kid you not, I actually managed to make it to 36, 37 years old always hiding the secret that I can’t use chopsticks. So I was so angry with myself after that Egg McMuffin I said “You going to go out there and just point to something” and I had my phone and I youtubed how to properly use chopsticks. I’m like, “Oh, I kind of see it.” And then because there were a lot of noodles and everyone was slurping I was like, “You kind of just have to slurp.”

But yeah, I was by myself and I was trying to hide it because I was like, “All these Hong Kongers are going to go, ‘Oh my god, this guy learning chopsticks…'” And then I thought, “They’re never going to see me again.” And I just thought, “This is embarrassing and I can’t write about what an Egg McMuffin’s like in Hong Kong.” It’s exactly the same, by the way.

Do you have a favourite moment from your adventures?

I’ve got a couple. The end of the book in Abu Dhabi is probably my favourite. But then also I’ve always wanted to go to Reykjavik. I’m an unapologetic Sigur Ros nut. And I just went out to the rocks by the sea and I sat there and I put my headphones on, bundled up in a sweater, toque, scarf, and just watched a couple of seagulls, I think they were seagulls, they might have been Icelandic falcons. They were birds. And I sat there and just listened to these Sigur Ros tunes I’ve spent 10, 12, 15 years imagining “Where would someone write a song like this?” And so many times things don’t live up to expectations like this, but it so far exceeded expectation. And I’d wanted to do that since high school, I wanted to go to Iceland. So those would be the two that instantly came to mind.

———–

Pride In Travel: A Title-Winning Season Exploring The World Of Manchester City is currently available via Pitch Publishing. For more information, go here.

Pride In Travel

Pride In Travel

 

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Weird Niagara Falls: Spaceship Restaurants, Giant Frankensteins And More

Weird Niagara

Weird Niagara

For a tourist destination overflowing with natural beauty, immaculately cultivated gardens and classy, upstanding attractions like an aviary and a butterfly conservatory, Niagara Falls doesn’t exactly have the most pristine reputation.

It’s not entirely undeserved.

In a country where nature and its wonders are generally regarded with respect, reverence and stereotypical Canadian politeness, the response to Niagara’s thundering falls has always seemed a bit garish. For over a hundred years, people have been throwing themselves over those falls in various contraptions, or traipsing across them on tightropes. And for over 60 of those years, entrepreneurs have been building wax museums, haunted houses and arcades right next to the water in a less than subtle attempt to capitalize on the bustling tourist trade that the Falls — and its daredevils — inspired.

But anyone who outright dismisses modern day Niagara Falls as a tacky tourist trap is missing the point, and a lot of fun. The Clifton Hill area of town, ground zero for strange and ridiculous amusements, has developed its own charm over the years and a number of its most notorious attractions have proven themselves to be genuinely cool despite — or maybe even because of — their kitsch factor.

Here are five of the best:

House of Frankenstein

House of Frankenstein

5. The House of Frankenstein

Perched at the top of Clifton Hill, this haunted house provides a mix of modern and old-timey scares.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s one of five haunted houses within screaming distance of the Falls, and one of three right on Clifton Hill. The large stature of Frankenstein eating a cheeseburger that straddles the attraction’s roof and the neighbouring Burger King, a rather bizarre but inspired example of corporate synergy, has become a favourite symbol of the city’s tackiness among travel and food writers.

Why it’s actually cool:

It has the most genuine old school carnie atmosphere in town. There are many venues on The Hill that pipe audio tracks onto the street and promise cheap thrills and frights to passersby, but while others merely list their spooky offerings or devolve into music, Frankenstein’s spiel sounds genuinely scary and enticing. With lines like, “When you climb the 13 haunted steps, you are on your own” and “finish this journey of terror… or be lost in the clutching darkness forever!” blasting from its gargoyle-laden facade, this house does the carny tradition of barking or “outside talking” proud. And the inside, which is renovated every February to keep repeat chill-seekers on their toes, almost lives up to the hype.

The Skywheel

The SkyWheel

4. The SkyWheel

Located in the heart of Clifton Hill, this 175 foot tall ferris wheel with climate-controlled gondolas offers a unique sight-seeing experience year-round.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s a giant ferris wheel in the middle of town.

Even among its over-the-top surroundings The SkyWheel seems a little out of place. In context of the unassuming residential parts of the city, it looks particularly odd.

Why it’s actually cool:

The view! At the very top of the wheel, there’s a little something for everyone. The spectacle of Clifton Hill, the glam Fallsview area, the normal city beyond tourist town and, of course, the Falls themselves all get their due on this short-but-sweet ride. Clocking in at about a dollar per minute, The SkyWheel isn’t the most cost-effective deal on the strip in terms of actual time, but that view really is worth every penny. And, when it’s gussied up in glimmering lights at night, the wheel itself isn’t too shabby-looking, either.

Great Canadian Midway

Great Canadian Midway

3. The Great Canadian Midway

Right next to The SkyWheel, this arcade is the all-ages answer to Casino Niagara and Fallsview Casino.

Why it’s notorious:

Loud, gaudy and chock full of silly games and rides, the Midway is quite possibly the most absurd attraction in Niagara Falls, which would put it high in the running for most absurd worldwide.

Why it’s actually cool:

The people behind The Great Canadian Midway have crafted an atmosphere that’s undeniably fun and contagious. And while that might seem like a simple task, the other arcades on The Hill (the arcade formerly known as Dave & Buster’s and Adventure City) suggest otherwise. All of three places boast many of the exact same games and amusements, but Busters and Adventure City come off as crowded and almost maudlin affairs, sprinkled with intermittent people having perfunctory fun.

Something about the GCM’s high ceilings, neon lights, sounds, staff and the unparalleled collection of old school Skee-Ball machines makes it stand out. It’s a favourite among kids, tourists, people who want the gambling rush without the risk and anyone who wants to feel like a kid again and, when you’re amongst them, it’s hard not to get caught up in the unabashed and unironic fun.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not at Niagara Falls

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not at Niagara Falls

2. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

A Clifton Hill mainstay sine 1963, this wacky museum features a constantly changing and expanding collection of strange and, well, unbelievable objects and information.

Why It’s Notorious:

It’s a large collection of gimmicky and bizarre minutiae in a building that’s been renovated to look like a toppled skyscraper mounted by King Kong. It also seems to derive a disproportionate amount of its fame from being “that place with the two-headed calf.”

Why it’s actually cool:

The collection is actually pretty fascinating. And, with over 700 artifacts, including tramp art, shrunken heads, human hair wreaths, and interactive exhibits, it’s a steal at just $13.99 per person. In a city filled with not-so-cheap thrills, Ripley’s is the kind of place where you can spend a whole afternoon and still discover something new. It’s also chock full of local lore, including video, facts about some of the most infamous falls daredevils, and a haunting display about the hermit who lived on Goat Island.

The Flying Saucer Restaurant in Niagara

The Flying Saucer Restaurant in Niagara

1. The Flying Saucer

Located just up the road from Clifton Hill, at 6768 Lundy’s Lane, The Flying Saucer is a classic ‘70s diner with a not so classic theme.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s a diner shaped like two giant UFOs.

Why It’s Actually Cool:

It’s a diner shaped like two giant UFOs! How could that not be cool? The thing that really elevates The Flying Saucer to the next level, though, and makes it the king of cool kitsch in Niagara Falls is the complete dedication to its theme. Sitting inside the diner, with its USS Enterprise-meets-disco decor and its menus designed like tabloids, it’s clear that the place was not the work of someone who halfheartedly slapped a space theme on the place to attract more tourists. It is a sparkling silver monument to geekery at its finest. The food and prices aren’t half bad, either.

This story was originally published Feb. 15, 2012 on AOL Travel (RIP).

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Niagara Integrated Film Festival Spotlights The Niagara Region’s Burgeoning Arts Culture

1297575315987_ORIGINAL
I try to avoid cliche in my writing and my life, but when it comes to my hometown of Welland, and the Niagara Region as a whole, absence really has made the heart grow fonder.

After a lifetime of escape plots and fantasies, I felt my first pangs of homesickness on the very first day of my big city internship at the Space station when I was 18 years old. My first task of the day was to sort through a pile of press clippings when I found a snippet from the Welland Tribune. I picked up the flimsy piece of newsprint and actually sighed. Over the Tribune. A paper that I’d been not-so-lovingly calling “The Turbine” in tribute to its rampant typos and awkward headlines since I first learned what those things were.

After that, my detached fondness for the area became far less ridiculous. Welland and St. Catharines started to develop cultures, and, from a distance, I was finally able to appreciate them. I was also able to look at more established and well-known cities like Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake in a new light. Once I stopped hating the region for not being Toronto, I was finally able to appreciate all the good ways in which it wasn’t quite like my beloved but imperfect new home. I was also able to get excited about them. I even, occasionally, got to write about everything from music videos being shot on Welland’s retired drawbridge to a travel story on the area’s best kitsch to a surprisingly controversial article about Deadmau5’s feelings on the plethora of haunted houses in Niagara Falls.

As both a Niagara Region expat and a culture writer of sorts, I was very excited about the inaugural Niagara Integrated Film Festival, a celebration of local wine, food, and a mix of local and international film, that took place in St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake from Thursday, June 19 to Sunday, June 22. The idea of drinking moderate to copious amounts of the region’s most famous industry while watches the offerings from the region’s up-and-coming film industry sounded right up my alley.

Unfortunately, NXNE and family obligations (watching Pizza Underground on a streetcar and attending a lovely garden party in Welland) kept me from enjoying the first batch of screenings and an impressive-looking kick-off party at St. Catharines’ Market Square (home of all my favourite SCENE Fest memories) that featured a bevy of local food and drink offerings. And being a freelance writer for a living kept me from attending the lavish, $150 a head Film Feast events that included dinner, drinks, and an outdoor screenings at some of the area’s finest wineries like Trius and Peller. I did talk to a couple of people who went to one of the Trius events, though, and they said that it was downright incredible. They would have gone to more if their budget had permitted it.

I was able to attend one of the fest’s daily cocktail events and a couple of screenings, though, and rather enjoyed my integrated indulgences. The cabernet shiraz, in particular, was delicious. The films were also a little intoxicating in their own way.

With a limited amount of time and a seemingly limitless amount of latent home region pride, I decided to focus on films from the Niagara Rises program, which included short and feature-length films that had been produced, written, animated, or directed by people from the Niagara Region.

I started with Cas & Dylan, an award-winning film produced by Niagara native Mark Montefiore which screened at the White Oaks Amphitheatre on Saturday night. The venue itself left a little to be desired. Despite its rather grand-sounding name, it was really just a conference room in the White Oaks hotel and spa, and our seats were a mishmash of office chairs.

The White Oaks Amphitheatre

The White Oaks Amphitheatre

But the content of the film, an off-kilter buddy and road trip movie featuring a terminally ill doctor (Richard Dreyfuss) and a young, slightly aimless writer (the perfect Tatiana Maslany), was the exact opposite of a letdown. It was funny, charming, and came with an ugly-cry-inducing ending that wasn’t forced or cloying in any way. It was a tear-jerk that had been earned by the film’s smart writing and natural performances.

Sunday, I started my day by heading over to another old Niagara haunt, the cineplex at St. Catharine’s Pen Centre, now called Landmark Cinema, for an afternoon screening of The Angel Inn.

sq_angel_inn

I was excited about this film in particular because it wasn’t just by a Niagara filmmaker, it was clearly set in Niagara, and proudly used local landmarks like NOTL’s beloved Angel Inn pub and hotel in its story (even if the interiors had to be shot at another bar). The film itself was… well, let’s just say that it was well-meaning. It was nice to see so many Niagara locations in a film, and particularly wonderful to see them as themselves and not disguised as American cities on film, but the actual content of the film won’t necessarily do much to temper the region’s massive inferiority complex about the quality of its own art.

After that, I headed back toward White Oaks, but a massive police investigation was blocking a significant portion of the main (and only) route to the complex, which thwarted all of my efforts to take in an evening of screenings and more wine. So I retired back to my family compound in Welland and settled in for a night of Niagara Rises screeners instead.

My mini film festival was impressive both in terms of diversity and quality. I was particularly impressed with Steak Juice, an understated but arresting short about an underground fight ring for junkies and the limits of brotherly love, and A Kind Of Wonderful Thing, a feature-length film written and directed by St. Catharines native Jason Lupish and shot in locations around his hometown. The story of a disconnected young woman who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, A Kind of Wonderful Thing has the dreamy, laconic quality of early Atom Egoyan films and its circular flashback sequences somehow manage to be both an accurate and beautiful portrayal of the obsessive and cyclical way that people look on their own pasts.

The film is a testament to how much has changed since I left Niagara to pursue my own arts career. The next generation of Niagara creative types doesn’t seem to feel the same pull to leave that I did. I grew up hearing that nothing could happen in Niagara – or even to someone from Niagara – but that no longer seems to be an issue. I first noticed this trend when I interviewed George Pettit from the dearly departed Alexisonfire for the dearly departed Chart Magazine. I asked him how it felt growing up in a region with no belief in a future for artists, or even a belief in artistic aspirations, and he genuinely had no idea what I was talking about. He told me that it had never been an issue for the band.

When I talked to filmmaker Jay Cheel about Beauty Day, his documentary about St. Catharines’ proto-Jackass Cable Ten hero Captain Video, during Hot Docs in 2011, he said that he was perfectly happy to stay in Niagara and build his career there. He could always make the two-hour drive to Toronto for meetings, and everything else he needed was at his fingertips, from talent to equipment to subject matter, was in the region.

Now that the homegrown industry is starting to establish itself, I hope that the stories it tells continue to become more Niagara-centric as well. Of the Niagara Rises films I watched, The Angel Inn was the only one that was overtly about the region. (There were two other Niagara-focused projects in the festival, a documentary on local wineries called VineLife and a short based on the fallout from the War of 1812, but I couldn’t source screeners for either of them.) I felt that some films had a certain Niagara-vibe. A Kind Of’s slightly-detached beauty, for instance, felt like the kind of perspective that could only come out of being just a couple of hours away from the biggest city in the country, just on the edges of Toronto’s shadow. And I can’t imagine that Dead Before Dawn would have tackled its zombie/demon (“zemon”) plot with nearly as much playful camp if its director and star April Mullen hadn’t grown up in Niagara Falls and shot portions of the film in her hometown. But maybe I’m reading into these things, to use a Welland colloquialism, way too much.

What I really want to see, though, are undeniably Niagara stories. The region is full of fascinating tales and inspiration and so few of those them have been told outside of the occasional historical piece on the War of 1812 and Laura Secord. It’s a region split between natural beauty and largely abandoned factory land. Its biggest industries are wineries and call centers. It is both classy and aspirational, and trashy and kitschy. And it is, under the surface, fascinatingly weird. I have, on more than one occasion, called it “Twin Peaks without the Black Lodge,” but I kind of suspect that there actually is a Niagara version of the Black Lodge and I just haven’t found it yet.

I want to see, hear, and read about all of these things, and I’m really hoping that NIFF will continue help to foster those stories and deliver them to the world.

I also want to see NIFF continue to reach out to unique Niagara venues. I can’t possibly be the only person who thinks a festival night at the Can-View Drive-In would be the best thing ever.

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