Archive | March, 2011

TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan

15 Mar

Lunch with Mary 051

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The company:
Noah Cowan is the artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the incredible new facility at King and John in downtown Toronto. He drives the curatorial vision for the year-round programming. Noah has been a part of TIFF for a long time with his first venture being curator of the Midnight Madness program at the festival in 1989 – a program I know has always been popular with my friends. Noah also had some incredible ventures outside of TIFF, including launching Cowboy Pictures, a pioneering distributor devoted to the art of cinema, in 1993 and founding, in 2002, the Global Film Initiative in New York City, a not-for-profit organization devoted to worldwide understanding through film. He returned to TIFF in 2003 as the co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival until January 2008, when he took over his current role.

The food:
We ate at Le Saint Tropez on King Street West. It’s a very cute French bistro and since we ate at 1:30 we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Noah had the Quiche Lorraine with side salad and frites. I had the Ratatouille Provençal. My meal was really tasty and had a lot of cheese, which I loved! Noah had a ginger ale and I drank water. After our meal, Noah had a tea and I had a coffee. Total bill was $33 with tax.

Usually when I describe a meal, I end with the price. But this meal had a very traumatic end for me. I forgot my wallet?!?!? It was terrible (and extremely unusual for me). I had taken out my wallet at work to contact my bank and forgot to put it back in my purse. When I realized, I think my face went white. I thought I might cry and I felt very sick to my stomach. I invited someone out for lunch and then couldn’t cover the bill. Awful. Noah was incredibly gracious about it and covered the cost of the lunch. My blog is all about free lunches and open minds – it’s what I do. So I have put a check in the mail to pay him back.

The lunch lesson:
Noah talked about some of the programs they have at TIFF Bell Lightbox aimed at young people – high school and college/university students. Noah wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be a comfortable place for young people to come, learn and appreciate art and culture. We talked about how museums are really appealing to kids and then an interest that is picked back up later, perhaps in late-twenties, early thirties. But there is a good 10-15 year chunk of time when young people aren’t particularly interested in going to a museum. TIFF Bell Lightbox is the perfect solution. It’s ever evolving and has art from the past and present. It’s a great place to be absorbed in culture. Noah told me that when Tim Burton was in town for his exhibition, he took time to meet with young people and even asked them to bring in their animation projects, which he viewed and provided feedback. Can you imagine being a teenager who is passionate about animation and filmmaking and get advice from Tim Burton? It’s so incredible. And Noah said that Tim Burton was really in his element with the young people and this type of experience is exactly what he wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be.

The lunch:
The TIFF Bell Lightbox is so new, I haven’t had the chance to discover everything that it entails so it was great to get the chance to hear from the artistic director himself.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a five-storey complex with a public atrium, five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios, a centre for students and scholars, the O&B Canteen, Luma Restaurant and a lounge. And there really is something for everyone and I think that’s what I really liked the most when Noah was explaining it all to me. One program that I didn’t know about and now I am really excited to take advantage of is the “Back to the ‘80’s” film series. It started February 5 and continues until April 2 and shows ‘80s favorites on the big screen, like Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Goonies and The Princess Bride. Amazing!

Given that I just took a paleontologist out to lunch, who was basically living out his childhood dream, I had to ask Noah if it was the same for him. He said he has always loved movies and if his childhood self saw him now, he would think it was pretty cool. Noah, it seems, has always worked in the film industry somehow, even being a movie critic for Eye Weekly. So I had to find out his favourite movie. He named two. He said that he can judge people based on their thoughts on these two films so it was very embarrassing for me to have not seen either of them. Well, I am definitely going to check them out now. They are The Towering Inferno and The Palm Beach Story. My favourite movie is Rushmore and I totally judge people by whether they think it’s funny or not. (Noah thinks it’s very funny.)

We also chatted on what, or more precisely who, drives people to check out movies. Is it still the movie star? Or is it more the director? Noah spoke of the “big five” – writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer – as the people that really shape a movie. The actors come in later in the process. He also said how actors are unlikely to always consistently be in stellar movies, whereas if there is a director you really enjoy, it’s likely you will enjoy all of their films. Something to think about when you’re trying to decide what movie to check out this weekend.

It’s hard not to get excited about movies when you talk to Noah and, something I really appreciate, is the excitement about Canadian cinema that he has. At the end of the lunch, Noah brought me to check out the Mary Pickford exhibit, Canada’s own movie star. It’s the inaugural exhibition of TIFF’s new Canadian Film Gallery. It has over 1,900 items from photographs to posters to pillowcases and Mary Pickford make up compacts, all original and incredibly, all part of one man, Rob Brooks’, private collection. This was my first exploration into the TIFF Bell Lightbox space and it was so cool – so much history and so HUGE – and everything is open to the public.

I used to work at a restaurant across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox and at that time, it was a parking lot. Unlike a lot of other Torontonians, I am a big fan of a lot of the downtown condo builds because I like the urban density and having such a livable and lively downtown. But I did love to see that this parking lot was made into a cultural hub, a place for all of Toronto to enjoy. You should all check it out!

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Paleontologist and ROM Curator David Evans… and DINOSAURS!

5 Mar

Lunch with Mary 050

Date of lunch:
Friday, March 4, 2011

The company:
David Evans is the associate curator in vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). So basically he has the job that every single eight year old would die for. He oversees dinosaur research at the ROM, travels the globe looking for dinosaur bones – from the Arctic to Africa to Alberta – and meets with researchers at the world’s best museums. He is about to leave for a five week trip to Northern Sudan to search for dinosaur remains. So I was really glad we could find time for this lunch before he left. Oh and he took me on a behind-the-scenes tour of the dinosaur collection at the ROM and it was THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!

The food:
We ate at Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner – a café on the 3rd floor of the Gardiner Museum. It’s a great space. While we were there, a couple was getting a tour for their upcoming wedding. I can see how this venue would be awesome for special events. I had the layered vegetarian sandwich, David had the meatloaf sandwich and we split fries. The food was light and tasty and very fresh. We both drank water. Total bill was $27 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
So it turns out that Dr. Alan Grant was right. Birds are dinosaurs. David explained to me that birds share much of the same genetic make-up as dinosaurs and in fact (I am likely not explaining this in the correct scientific terms) have the ability to have tails, hands and teeth but those features have been turned off within their genomes. Then he gave me a great lesson. Picture a chicken. Now take away its feathers, put a tail on it, put teeth in its mouth and add little hands to the ends of its arms. It would totally look like a little dinosaur. Amazing. Dinochicken.

The lunch:
I usually don’t publicly talk about my upcoming lunches or tell others who I am taking out just incase it falls through. But with this lunch, I could not shut up about it. I had a countdown on Twitter. I pretty much told everyone that would listen – to the point that I think people were getting sick of me. And the lunch did not disappoint. We’ll get to the actual behind-the-scenes tour in a bit.

David talked to me about how he actually finds dinosaur bones. He said it’s not all about digging like you see on TV, it’s really about walking. For his upcoming trip, he is traveling with a German group of dino-trackers and they will be walking in the desert in Northern Sudan and just looking at the ground, at mountain sides and everywhere around them for fragments of dinosaur bones sticking out. Isn’t that insane? After 75 million years, there could still be a dinosaur bone sticking out of the ground. Anyway, they will see a tiny fragment and examine it and what may be around it. Then, if further exploration is needed, the team will arrange to do the exploration with the heavy equipment on another trip.

I did talk to David about how every kid goes through their dinosaur phase where they are just fascinated by everything to do with dinosaurs. I think it’s so awesome that he continued that interest and now works with dinosaur bones every day. He says he knew he wanted to do this for as long as he can remember. He also said that dinosaurs are a great introduction for kids to science. Even if they don’t end up pursuing a career in paleontology, it’s great that they’re interested in and loving science.

I also had to ask David what killed the dinosaurs. He said it is a matter of fierce debate within the scientific community. He did say that it seems that an asteroid did hit the Earth and this took out many of the dinosaurs. However, he doesn’t believe this was the only factor and says it was a combination of things and didn’t just happen in one big bang.

Never in a million years did I think when I started this blog that I would get to do something as cool as taking David out to lunch and holding 75 million year old dinosaur remains. I haven’t been to see the dinosaur exhibit since I was a kid and I really did feel like a kid again. It was such an amazing day and a big thanks to David for giving me so much of his time.

My exclusive tour behind-the-scenes of the ROM’s dinosaur collection:
The tour started with David taking me into the room that people don’t get to see. It houses over a million dinosaur bones and fragments.

IMG_2778 This room is the coolest room that has ever existed… EVER! Here are a few pics of what I saw:

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Me holding a 75 million year old dinosaur horn – Look how excited I am!

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David holding part of the neck bone of a dinosaur

 

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A part of a dinosaur skull. This particular dinosaur used his head as a battering ram – look how thick it is!

 

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Some duck-billed dinosaur skulls – David’s area of expertise

 

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Wouldn’t want to bump into this guy in a dark alley – Roaarrrrr!

 

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Coolest pic of all – a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth! Look at that thing! And its edge is serrated like a steak knife.

 

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Another dino tooth!

 

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Dinosaur toe!

 

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Part of a raptor’s skull. David let me know that they were A LOT smaller than they were portrayed in Jurassic Park. Raptors were only 2-3 feet high, who knew?