I sat down with local artist Pax North on a very chilly November evening. Before meeting, I had taken a peek at the collection of paintings displayed on his website titled “Art for the Human Condition”. The abstract portraits, painted on both canvas and cardstock, were intensely immersive, and I came to the interview eager to know more about how they came to be. North’s show (curated by Shallom Johnson) opens on Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight Gallery. After our conversation, I am convinced it will be a rare artistic experience.

What initially drew you to the practice of painting?

Wonder. Awe. I can remember as a child in preschool, discovering the whole idea of colour in the form of either yellow or green tempura paints using vegetable prints (you know, where you cut up apples or vegetables for kids and dip them in paint and then press them onto paper). It seemed so astonishing that there could be ‘pure’ colour, divorced from an object other than the colour itself, and that one could use this to create.

Over the years I have practiced in many mediums, but painting seems to bring the most joy to people and to help them feel less alone. I try to show the vast cinema which plays across the human face, to collapse and conflate moments in life. We do this all the time, both via media imagery, which map for us an idea of what a person is supposed to be like based on their appearance, and in relationships when we commune with others.

There is also a longevity factor. We live in both a golden age and a nightmare. There are a million acts of kindness, courage, sacrifice, and horror that will be unrecorded; as Roy Batty, in Bladerunner, states, they “will be lost like tears in the rain.” I am aiming to give some record of this period in human history. A painting might be a document of such kind.


And so do you feel that painting is the best medium through which to express the spectrum of human emotion and connectivity?

Actually, I feel that crown goes to music, and to television. Right now, television is at a cultural peak: Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, Better Call Saul, Enlightened (a highly underrated show), The Comeback (also highly underrated), and Deadwood. Even Vancouver’s own Battlestar Galactica—they really are great art.

I often use screen grabs from TV and movies as models or inspiration. I also obsessively study people’s faces, both strangers and friends. I’m sure I’ve creeped a few people out, but each human face is such a testament to some kind of profound struggle. Wendy Mass said it best: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

I get a very mixed media or collage effect from your work. Do those elements factor in organically during the painting process?

I’ve always had this desire to have a formulaic approach to my process, but it is idiosyncratic. [My process] is purely based on what my piece demands.

I find that interesting, considering your work is consistent not only in theme but in presentation. I see your specific painting style in all of the works.

I have wanted to make a coherent body of work for a long time. That’s why I’ve taken so long to start showing the work, because I wanted a coherent style.

Who inspires you?

The whole canon of modernism and postmodernism. It’s an endless catalogue.


You mention in your artist statement that you use several cartography techniques in your work. Can you elaborate on that?

Well, I’ve done an amateur study of cartography and cartographic theory. I think that [cartography] is a very significant, cognitive, rather analytical tool that we employ while viewing the world. That fascinates me, how you have this very specialized knowledge, so much of which is cartographic or diagrammatic in nature. I also tend to think cartographically, imagining people moving through the city; I find it to be a very powerful technique for visualizing the world.

I also see references to photography, specifically time-lapse photography, in your work. Is that an influence at all?

Totally. I do think about that idea a lot, a time-lapse. Who is this person, over time and space? You walk down the street and you see so much drama on people’s faces. There’s this whole film, a micro-drama, based on all of these expressions. And it shifts so rapidly.

How does abstraction manifest in your process?

Well of course, you know, modernism. You’re competing so often against a camera for visual mimesis, and the camera wins every time, right? Jack Shadbolt had a quote about how you need to let the viewer ‘fill in’ parts of a work. At times I try and stretch it. How far can I abstract while still [portraying] a ‘face’, and one that conveys some feeling or meaning?


Do you see your works as a continuing series, or simply a collection of works functioning under one thematic umbrella?

I’m going to say both. There isn’t necessarily a defined series. I’d like to start to do more of that. But right now I would say they are more a collection of idiosyncratic works in a family. [They] riff off of each other, or are influenced by each other.

Would you consider your paintings to be optimistic about the human condition? Pessimistic? Indifferent and observational?

Fundamentally, for me, they’re optimistic. I think that no matter how dark things get, there is this light that shines, that never goes out. You don’t necessarily have to be theistic to have this view. You see it in people, in the million acts of courage that occur everyday. So maybe I’m depicting what could be seen as a dark aesthetic, but within myself, I have an optimism.

What do you find most interesting about your own work?

Well, this exhibition will only present one part of my practice. I mean, I am kind of a cliché, an artist who has been working on their practice for about twenty years in relative seclusion. Painting is a serious thing. You’re dealing with a conversation that has been going on for at least fifty thousand years. So, I wanted to take my time before I started promoting it in any kind of serious fashion. I wanted to be on solid ground. Certainly I want “success,” but for me it has always been more important to find success in making work that I feel might still be relevant two hundred years from now–wherever people are in two hundred years.


We are excited to present this show in collaboration with Hayo Magazine. Origin Stories: A Solo Exhibition by Pax North opens Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight GalleryRead more about it here and RSVP here

Photo courtesy of Access Gallery
Photo courtesy of Access Gallery

On the overcast afternoon of October 31, I met about ten other curious people at Access Gallery for artist Alana Bartol’s Water Witching Workshop. What better way, I thought, to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve than by learning some practical magic?

Bartol’s artistic practice involves, among many other things, dowsing for water. She discovered that the women in her family were known for their ability to find groundwater, and had been helping people find well sites for generations. Curious about her own abilities, Bartol began going on “dowsing walks” and incorporating dowsing into her art as a creative method for connecting to nature and the non-human world.

Dowsing traditionally involves the use of a Y shaped rod, made from a found willow branch, or two L shaped rods, usually made from copper. These days, dowsing rods of both shapes can be made from any material, from the bespoke ceramic Y rods Bartol makes herself, to the L rods made from wire hangers that we were given for the workshop.

The premise is simple, though as I learned, the practice is difficult. One holds their wand of choice lightly in their hands and asks it yes or no questions; the wand will respond with subtle movements directing the “water witch” towards water (or, as Bartol, informed us, toward anything one might be looking for). The L rods’ movements are more obvious, while the Y rod’s answers are much more elusive. Craving the challenge, I chose a spindly willow Y rod and headed down the street to Crab Park with the others.

We walked though Saturday shoppers, garnering strange looks as we held our dowsing tools in front of us unselfconsciously. When we reached Carb Park, we walked down the grassy slope to the beach, my willow branch bouncing wildly. In my skepticism I giggled and disregarded the branch’s warning. Then my foot sunk half an inch into the ground and I found myself hopping through the hidden marshland trying to stop the water from seeping into my leaky boots. Once we reached the beach, Bartol let us loose to explore using our rods. She suggested we ask the rods “Is there something on this beach I need to find?” and let them guide us freely from there.

It’s nearly impossible to be still enough for the rod to move completely on its own: even the slightest slip of my fingers caused the thing to quiver. That’s when I realized that there was no separating the magic from my body; if divination was going to happen, my body would be the conduit. The exercise grounded me, allowing me to notice things I probably would not have if I was taking a walk in the park on any other day. And so the rod became a kind of conductor, a radio tower between myself and the earth, which helped me dial in to the frequency of my surroundings.

Dowsing is extremely meditative. It made my thoughts less erratic and forced me to focus on being present with my own body. I had to pay attention to the way my legs reacted to the changing grade of the ground, on how I was holding my hands out in front of me despite sore elbows and finger joints, numb from the air’s damp chill. I found my way around the park with my whole body and not just my eyes.

Our dowsing revealed things that had been purposefully hidden, or that typically go unnoticed. Among the things I found were a shotgun shell and a shrine covered in flowers and dream catchers. One participant had asked her rods to help her find a stone with a white ring around it and a stone with black and white speckles. She opened her palm and showed us both stones. Another had found a drainage pipe, and someone else had discovered a tree full of fruit that she had never seen before.

We joked about taking a pair of glow sticks and dowsing for a Halloween party that night. But according to Bartol, we had all already been dowsing for those things: we can think of our phones as wands, too, that guide us through the dark streets towards places, events, things we need to find, and even each other. Really, we are witching all the time, it’s only a matter of becoming aware of it. And that was the most powerful part of the workshop: the feeling that the magic is already there if you take the time to practise it.


High School, our 20th issue, is on the way! To celebrate, we’re publishing a series of poetry and illustration that celebrate those teenage times for what they were–glorious, hopeless, funny, moving, or just plain embarrassing.

How Art Would Save Us by Amelia Garvin
How Art Would Save Us by Amelia Garvin


By Esther McPhee

Ten years out of high school, I watch six seasons
of Glee in three months. It’s embarrassing to admit this

but when they burst into song I got that shining
feeling again. You know, that cocktail of conviction

and desperation that insists something inside of you
is important enough to become a poem.

If graduation was when I wedded myself to real life
(rent, grocery bills, the kind of heartbreak that makes you sober

and cautious), then I’m on my tin anniversary,
year of brittle metal. I remember high school pretty well

and I’m sure it was neither as cruel nor as gay as it is on TV.
I’m sure I spent whole semesters dreaming of a kiss

that would shock my fist open the way Kurt’s hand uncurls
when Blaine falls onto his mouth that first time, like water finally

after a long thirst. I cried after that scene the way I cried
when I found out a senior had killed himself

over spring break. I knew he was gay even though
I’d only talked to him twice in the hallway. We all knew

he was perfect. In a building made of pretending
no one else existed, he met your eyes

whenever he walked past. There was no song
for how immediately he disappeared. Just static.

Everything is pain and magic when your dreams
are as big as stadiums. Once in a while I want to remember

how completely I believed art could save anything
—anyone—when I was sixteen.


Esther McPhee is a genderqueer writer, magic-maker and organizer who lives in a cozy collective house and reads a lot of kids books. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and co-organize a queer reading series called REVERB. Find out more about Esther here. “REMEMBER HOW WE FELT ABOUT ART AT SIXTEEN” will also appear in SAD Mag‘s upcoming issue: High School. 

Amelia Garvin is a painter and illustrator who has exhibited her work in group shows across Vancouver. She has a BFA from Emily Carr. See more work by Amelia here and here. 


Look out for High School Poetry on Tuesdays on sadmag.ca.

Due to a design error, the version of this poem that appears in SAD‘s print issue is centered rather than flush left as the poet intended. To Esther McPhee, to the poetry community, to our dear readers, we extend an embarrassed, heartfelt, left-aligned apology. 

On October 13, Pi Theatre’s Artistic Associates Pippa Mackie and Jeff Gladstone and actors Tom Pickett and Barbara Ellen Pollard presented the program for the evening to an eager audience. The crowd listened while marvelling at the party favours in their hands: packets of condoms for both men and women. Each actor was costumed in a simple white top and black bottoms, with a few shirt buttons left open suggestively. Mackie had purposefully put on ripped, black pantyhose.

Welcome to the Sex Edition, the first performance of the daring series Lost Words. That night, the troupe would perform three “very sexy…and twisted” plays which had been banned during the late 19th to 20th century. Lost Words, Mackie and Gladstone explained, would feature cheeky, redacted plays and all the sensitive topics that come along with them. They closed the introduction with a simple question: “What’s more destructive to a society than…a bunch of artists?” The audience clapped and laughed, and the show began.

The performers had selected scenes from Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, Michael McClure’s The Beard, and Thomas Bradshaw’s Intimacy. Orgasms took place on stage, and storylines touched intrepidly on pedophilia, incest, and pornography, yet everything was performed poetically. In between each play, they performed songs which had also once been censored. Renditions of “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” and “Colt 45” (during which my friend said to me, “This song is a masterpiece!”) lightened the mood of an otherwise intense performance.

The audience that night were observably respectful, open-minded, and so ready to have fun. Some of us, admittedly, made uncomfortable noises at moments during the scenes with explicit content—but these were honest, uninhibited reactions, not signs of disapproval. I don’t think the provocative theatre acts I saw that evening would have had the same impact or appeal at a different venue, with a less appreciative and accepting audience—a pleasant assurance for our “no fun” city.

Luckily, there is more to come from Lost Words: on December 1, the cast will tackle another cringe-worthy subject: Religion.


Lost Words: Religion Edition takes place at The Emerald on December 1 at 8:30 pm. Tickets will be available on the Pi Theatre website and at the door.


I have only visited Vancouver once, and I recall it as one does a nightmarish dream. Two years ago to the day, I had set out to attend a conference on the declining state of the national dairy council, hosted in the beautiful town of Princeton, BC. However, due to an unforeseen clerical error, my transportation from the ferry was waylaid, and I had to spend a night in Vancouver. Skeptical of the city’s woeful standard of accommodation, I decided it would be better to take to the streets and “club it,” as it is known in the local parlance. As a result, I was afforded the opportunity to see Vancouverites in their native habitat: pale-skinned delinquents leering at me from dark alleyways, mustachioed hipsters wearing vintage sportswear, inebriated teenagers vomiting against shopfronts to the gleeful cheers of drunken hordes. They moved in packs, spittle flecking their lips as they jeered at me, screeching in an unintelligible cacophony from which I could discern little meaning. Nearby, a woman lifted her skirt, exposing her buttocks as a passerby hooted and hollered like a demented orangutan; two guffawing twenty?somethings stood snapping pictures, presumably for the pages of a perverted personal scrapbook.

As dawn extended her rosy fingers across the sky, I found myself carefully stepping over the syringe strewn streets, striding briskly to the nearest coach station to escape the stale, rancid city air. I boarded the next bus out of town with relief, resolutely establishing to myself that I would never return.















Look out for BurnAfterShooting’s monthly photo series on SADMAG, or fol­low BAS on Insta­gram.

Matt Muldoon is the owner of Knuckles Industries: a rapidly ascending design company that just released (to much publicity) their new 60/61 furniture series.

Based on vintage Americana and old-school airplanes – the pieces were built with 6061 aircraft grade aluminum – the collection marries craftsmanship and not-quite-functionalism. Does a shoe rack really require speed holes? Of course not, but then, it doesn’t not need them.

Things are going well so far at Knuckles Industries: the 60/61 series was recently featured at Vancouver’s IDS West show, and has been lauded in publications from The Globe and Mail to Montecristo Magazine.

But back to Matt – what kind of person is it that comes up with this stuff?


A Total Hick

Matt was born in Nanton, Alberta, and describes himself as a hillbilly. He grew up going to scrap yards and buying materials on the Bargain Finder, and at fourteen, he built his first piece: a go-kart repurposed from a smashed-up motorcycle.

As an adult, Matt divides his time between Alberta and B.C., and runs his business a bit like a farmer coming to market. He works mostly out of his shop in Calgary, but wheels and deals in Vancouver. While on the west coast, he lives in an enviable loft space on Main and 2nd, but still misses Alberta’s Wild West vibes.

“The part that was hard for me in Vancouver was it sort of separated me from being a hillbilly,” he says.

“It’s a very different scene in Vancouver. Even if I could build a go-kart out of a motorcycle in Van, someone’s going to arrest me if I drive it down 2nd the way that I drive it at home.”


A Serial Killer

Not really, of course. But Matt admits that he looks like one – a little bit – when he’s staying up all night in his shop, alternately listening to classical music and Nine Inch Nails.

“I just fall back to Trent Reznor at eleven or twelve o’clock at night,” he says.

And then there’s his love of machining and clean lines.

“I prefer that surgical look.”


An Awesome Boyfriend

Recently, Matt’s girlfriend needed a new countertop. So Matt built her one, out of some 90-year-old barn wood that was presumably lying around her apartment.

I think there was very little planning that went into it,” he says.

Sounds like a fun date!


A Real Straight Shooter

More than anything else, Matt deals in authenticity. He describes himself as a half-designer, half-fabricator, and is capable of building any piece that he comes up with. He takes pride in his work; loves quality, well-built materials; and believes in completing a project in its entirety.

“I have an obsession with the 1930s and the 1940s, and everything that was made then. Sort of that Americana manufacturing days, when people went to work and made what they did and they were proud of it, and it turned out really well,” he says.

“I have this thing with the work pride of days gone by.”

Wade Comer presents “Time Passages”, a continuing series of long-exposure photos split into two series: “Mountains” and “Cities”. Taken from the decks of passenger ferries in motion as they pass along their routes, Comer essentially paints with the camera. “Mountains” is a series compiled from over two years of travelling aboard the various BC Ferries; contrastingly, “Cities” is a series that includes images from Istanbul, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. I caught up with Comer to discuss his photographic practise and how he was able to express the emotive quality in his works.

Cities by Wade Comer
Cities by Wade Comer

How did you get involved with photography?

Finding my ‘definitive’ creative outlet was a long process, and one that I don’t think I was actually looking for until my early twenties. I went to broadcasting school, and had been an announcer, copywriter, and producer at a radio station called ‘Coast 1040’ from 1990 to 1993. I spent a lot of that time working with music, making huge tape loop experiments in the production suite after hours. Somewhere in there, I realised that my preferred way of expressing myself was via photography. I never considered myself a musician – even though I spent a decade in the music industry – but from that point of recognition onward, I have always considered myself a photographer. I owe a debt of gratitude to an old friend, Steve, who upon hearing about my desire to take up photography, loaned me his dad’s Nikon ‘F’ until I could buy my own camera. Soon afterward, I purchased a Canon ‘Ftb’, and then taught myself how to process my own film, and within a couple of months I was off trying to get a gig as a photographer’s assistant. I managed to get a job working for John Douglas Kenney, a commercial and portrait photographer, who had worked with Irving Penn, in New York. Working for John I learned a lot, and had the luxury of lots of time to myself in the studio and darkroom, which was invaluable.

What inspired “Time Passages” and using long-exposure?

I had been working with the technique of long-exposure photography for about a year, trying different scenes and landscapes, even taking workshops to see if there was something more I could get out of the technique. For all of its spontaneity, photography involves a lot of planning, and I wanted to add the element of chance into the equation. Ultimately, I found my interest in the long-exposure technique waning, as I felt that there were several good photographers out there using the process, and the subject matter seemed limited (there are only so many old docks to shoot). It was on a ferry ride to Galiano Island that I realised I could use the long-exposure technique to both ‘capture time’, and insert the chance element I was looking for. By focusing on the actions of the boat – moving, changing course, speeding up and slowing down – I could capture an image of the feeling of being in these places. From then on I was a walk-on passenger on BC Ferries for over two years, Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay, Duke Point to Tsawwassen, Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, Bowen Island, Nanaimo… then New York ‘Circle Line’ tours, and Istanbul commuter ferries, and London water taxis.

“Light and colour,
like memory,
are details often fuzzy”

The effects of long-exposure create a painterly feel, it is interesting how photography and painting then become mixed in your works. Was this your intention?

I wanted to create a painterly feel in the images – to use the camera as a paintbrush. I do not personally have the patience for painting, but I found I could create the simulacra of a painting using the camera and photography, but would never have to spend all that time cleaning brushes.

Thinking of a single image as film, can you expand on this concept?

Film – a movie – is a series of thousands of frames of stills, hundreds of feet and minutes long,that are then played back to give the clear impression of movement, or transition… and time. “An image as film”, is the opposite effect: a single frame that captures the movement of a thousand frames of stills. Not by superimposition, but supercompression. All that time in one frame.

In this sense, your works make time a tangible entity that the audience can see. Do you think this quality enhances the theme of loss and/or death in photography? Why?

I don’t see it as about loss or death, for me, it’s more about memory. The images in ‘Time Passages’ are literal – they are of a place, or location – but it is that feeling of being there that I think is most evocative. You don’t have to know exactly where an image was taken, but it brings you to that place in your mind… especially if you have been there before. The blurring and softening reduces the place down to its basics: Light and colour, like memory, are details often fuzzy.

What is the importance of water in your works? The majority of your works contain bodies of water, you are also  travelling across bodies of water in order to document your work.

Growing up on Vancouver, water is just an integral part of the city, whether it’s the view of Burrard Inlet I had from my home in Burnaby Heights, or torrential rain. My apartment looks at Lost Lagoon, and my office looks out at Burrard Inlet and all the ships, moored and moving. I have been working on another project over the summer, photographing Vancouver’s parks, and you‘d be hard pressed not to find water nearby, or a stream, or pond. Water in Vancouver is omnipresent. Our commerce and much of our food and culture come from our relationship with the Pacific Ocean and the Fraser River. I grew up on the coast, and it has just become a part of who I am. I mean, I really love the desert too, but a desert near the ocean is even better.

Mountains by Wade Comer
Mountains by Wade Comer

What has been the your most memorable experience aboard a BC Ferry?

As dry as it sounds, I think it has been the interest people have in my camera. Using a 4×5 camera is not something most people are familiar with these days, so I get a lot of questions like, “Is that a video camera?”, or “Seen any whales?” I’ve shown people how the camera works, and described what I’m trying to do with the photos, and it has been interesting engaging with people ranging from island locals to tourists from around the world. I usually let them, or their child, look through the back of the camera to get an idea of how the camera works and how its just like your eye… except your brain does a lot of processing to turn the image back right side up. And no, I didn’t see one whale the whole time I was out there.

How does the theme of human impact on the environment and the contrast of urban existence with nature underlie the works in the series?

Many of my previous projects speak to the relationship between nature and humanity and our use of it. Projects like ‘Pyres’, where piles of flotsam from the Fraser River – remnants of BC’s logging resource industry – are piled up to await the wood chipper, represent a conversation about how we treat and interact with our world. ‘Carnage/Garages’ examines, in an abstract and literal way, our love of the car and how that has physically shaped and scarred our environment. ‘Time Passages’ is about the application of a technique, or process, and the insertion of chance. The concepts of memory and time compression came from within the work itself. If anything, “Time Passages” negates the effects we have made on our environment by blurring, or obscuring the clearcuts and highway overpasses, and by softening the hard shapes of buildings and cities. Ultimately, I have this Mark Rothko affinity, I like striations. I just wanted to create something visually appealing.

What’s your favourite “secret” spot in Vancouver?

It’s not really secret, but my living room window. I like the view. There are a couple of secret spots in Stanley Park… soon after the big wind storm in 2006, the Parks Board commissioned artists to make works out of the windfall in Stanley Park. There is a piece, now decomposed, that was off the South Creek Trail where an artist had created a ‘healing blanket’, out of medallions of a cedar tree limb, and sewed them together using cedar bark. It was placed over top of a stump of a very old tree; a beautiful piece. The other is on Squirrel Trail, where an artist has cut the fallen tree into sections, including a sphere out of cedar. The tree/void is a neat impression as you approach it from the top of the trail. On a more urban note, I like going to Iona Island and Sea Island, or roaming around Railtown and along the waterfront, underneath the Shaw tower and convention centre – lots of good urban waste and curious corners down there.

What’s next for Wade? Would you ever dabble in filmmaking? Painting?

I have several filmmaker friends and a few painter friends, and I think I’ll leave it all to them. I have dabbled, as many creative people do, but I keep coming back to photography. I have a few multimedia pieces and a large sculpture or two in my ideas book, but my next projects are kind of long-term, involving homage to Hokusai, and a series on Vancouver parks that has been a precursor to a larger project. I would also love to spend my days making money recycling beer cans I collect off the bottom of the ocean while living on a small Greek island.


For more by Comer, check out his website or visit his exhibition opening for “Time Passages” at Make Gallery on November 5th.

When Helena Marie’s masterful short film CRAZY LOVE (2013) debuted last February at the VISFF it took the festival by storm. Marie’s tense, unflinching dramatization of domestic abuse and revenge stunned audiences and wowed judges, winning every major award, including Best Film, Best Performance, Best Writing, and Best Technical. Since sweeping the VISFF, CRAZY LOVE has been touring other festivals in Canada and even won the Best Short award at the 2015 ACTRA festival in Montreal. VISFF recently caught up with Helena Marie in her current hometown of Vancouver and talked to the actor­/writer­/producer about domestic violence, friendship, filmmaking, and the importance of dreams in her creative life.


SAD Mag: You started your artis­tic career as an actress. How did you tran­si­tion to filmmaking?

Helena Marie: About three years ago I started audi­tion­ing and get­ting lit­tle parts here and there and hav­ing fun with that. But I real­ized that even though it was really excit­ing to get a part on a TV show, sometimes my part would only be for a few minutes or even sec­onds and that I wasn’t getting enough storytelling time. I wanted to tell sto­ries and actually con­tribute to these projects. When you’re an actor you don’t always get to choose what you get to tell and what part of it you get to be. So I decided it was time to make my own film.

SM: What inspired you to write the script?

HM: I hap­haz­ardly have been a writer for the last six or seven years. Never publishing anything. It was sort of an out­let for me, mostly a result of crazy dreams. I wake up and remem­ber these epic dreams and if I’m dili­gent enough, I take a pen and paper near me and write it all out. But I’d never go back to it as a story; these are just things I need to let out right at that moment not to for­get about them. I have pages and pages of half­written sto­ries, half­written dreams—

SM: Are they dark?

HM: No, they are epic.

SM: Did you base your CRAZY LOVE story on one of these dreams?

HM: No, but it was a story that I as an actor always wanted to tell. The main con­cept of the film is spousal abuse. When you’re an actor, peo­ple always ask you “why?” “Why choose this ridicu­lously hard, drain­ing career path?” And the con­cept that always came to me was, if I could tell a story, for exam­ple of an abused woman who decides to fight back, and if there’s one per­son up there who is in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, sees that and gets encour­aged to fight back and get out of it—then that’s the ideal out­come. You’ve touched some­one, affected them. I watch movies and TV, I lis­ten to music because I want to be affected, I want it to make me think and feel some­thing. So when I started this jour­ney mak­ing my own project, there were a few ideas float­ing around. I’m a big sci­fi fan, so I started with that, but real­ized it was quickly turning into a feature, and I wanted to start with a short film for my first time, so I decided to scale back and focus on an inti­mate story. So I chose to write about spousal abuse, because it was always some­thing I wanted to do as an actor.

SM: Do you have any expe­ri­ence with that issue?

HM: Not per­son­ally. I’ve never been in that sort of rela­tion­ship. But I have friends who have. In the first few min­utes of the movie, there’s this girls’ poker night scene. It was really impor­tant to me to show the dynamic of dif­fer­ent kinds of friend­ship that can exist around some­body in that sit­u­a­tion. One of the girls is totally aloof and has no con­cept of what’s going on. Another one hints that she kind of has an aware­ness, but when there are ques­tions being asked about Sam’s injured foot, she doesn’t want to rock the boat and get into talk­ing about it. And the third one is “that” friend who’s like “What is going on? What are you going to do about it?” I came at it from the posi­tion of some­body who’s seen friends in these kinds of sit­u­a­tions and I’ve felt like all three kinds of char­ac­ters at some point. I’ve felt like the friend who is clue­less and when I find out I’m in total shock. I’ve felt like the one who knows but doesn’t know how to talk about it, and I’ve felt like that per­son who is like “I’m tak­ing you out of this right now.”

SM: Is this how you’ve pro­gressed as a per­son or did it reflect the dif­fer­ent kind of rela­tion­ships you’ve had with people?

HM: I’d say it’s a com­bi­na­tion of both. My first reac­tion would be to say that’s my pro­gres­sion as I grow up and become more aware of what’s going around me, but the truth is that I don’t. I like to think I do, but I don’t always know what is hap­pen­ing with some­body else. And at the end of the day, it’s not always my busi­ness. Not to say that when some­one is in a bad sit­u­a­tion it is not my place to try to help them, but we don’t always know the whole story and what kind of help they need. I might assume that I need to get them out of that sit­u­a­tion and be there for them emotionally, but maybe what they actu­ally need is finan­cial support. And I might not be the best person to help them. They may need someone else and me getting involved isn’t what they want. You can’t always be a mind reader unfortunately.

SM: What do you think Sam (your char­ac­ter) wants from her friends? What is her perspective?

HM: I think she has gone totally numb after what hap­pened ear­lier that day. She’s out of it and doesn’t know what she’s done. They’re lit­er­ally play­ing this poker game as her boyfriend is lying in the back­yard and she thinks he’s dead. When she finds out he’s not, it’s a big shock to her.

SM: There must have been years of ten­sion build­ing up in the rela­tion­ship. What do you imag­ine your character’s back­ground is?

HM: I think the abuse started off sub­tly and it got to a point for her where it was eas­ier to pre­tend. If she had broken the teacup two years ago, there would have been a fight with yelling and hit­ting, but at this point, it’s eas­ier for her to turn around and do what he says. Then it’s done and she can carry on with her day. It’s really creepy when you think about it.

SM: So she’s not look­ing for help or some­one to get involved?

HM: It’s scary. You might have to look up the exact num­bers, but sta­tis­ti­cally, if there’s going to be a mur­der com­mit­ted in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, the major­ity of the time it’s going to hap­pen on the abused part­ner after the abused part­ner leaves. That’s ter­ri­fy­ing. When you’ve got­ten to that point when stay­ing seems more fea­si­ble. I wouldn’t know what to do. You can call the cops, you ask your friends and fam­ily, every­one is going to help you…but it’s still scary. What do you do? There’s not one answer for any­body. Everyone’s dif­fer­ent, every­one needs a dif­fer­ent fix. And with abu­sive peo­ple, you never know how far they’re going to go. I’m sure she does want help – but at this point she’s so far into the abuse she has no clue how to escape – it all seems so impossible.

SM: How did the char­ac­ters develop over the time of writ­ing the script and shooting?

HM: The script went through so many revi­sions. At one point, the char­ac­ter of Alan had a much bigger part. There was even a reverse tor­ture scene where she holds him cap­tive and repeats all the violent acts onto him that he has done to her. There were a lot of rea­sons we didn’t go that way, but mostly because we didn’t want the focus to be on him. I didn’t want the abuser to get much screen time. Even if he was por­trayed as a hor­ri­ble per­son, I felt that the more time he’d get, the more glo­ri­fied the char­ac­ter would be.

SM: Funny that the char­ac­ter of the abu­sive part­ner is played by your real life fiancé. Did that have any impact on your relationship?

HM: Not at all! It’s funny. I needed some­body who could go through a whole range of emo­tions, espe­cially in the orig­i­nal script where there was a stronger focus on his character. And Jason is just really tal­ented and could do that. I also needed some­one who could be charm­ing and not come across as an aggres­sor. Some­one you’d see walk­ing down the street or hang­ing out with friends and say, oh, there’s a dude, he’s hot, he seems nice. We didn’t want a mus­cu­lar mean face with a shaved head or what­ever the typ­i­cal image of an abu­sive per­son is. And Jason did a great job, but it didn’t affect our rela­tion­ship at all, in fact it made it stronger. I once said at a party that Jason was per­fect for the role, and every­body went “Um, what do you mean?” I meant that he killed it!

SM: You said you “aim to cre­ate films which address mature sub­ject mat­ters and ask [audi­ences] to ques­tion their stance on the def­i­n­i­tions of right and wrong.” Wouldn’t almost killing a per­son be con­sid­ered wrong?

HM: Going back to the con­cept of the friends—it could be any­thing triv­ial or any­thing seri­ous a per­son could be talk­ing about, but some peo­ple would go: “Oh, I’d kill him, let’s find him and do it.” And I think, “Okay, but really? You’d really do it? Because that’s pretty seri­ous.” Just hear­ing stuff on the news, you go “I’d do this, or I wouldn’t do this.” It’s so easy to say. I wanted to see at what point the audi­ence is still okay with what’s hap­pen­ing. First, we see this woman, and her boyfriend is an abusive jerk. He’s mak­ing her walk on a bro­ken teacup. And there’s a his­tory, there’s gotta be a rea­son why she’s doing that. Peo­ple don’t like what they’re see­ing but they are not at the point where they’d say “kill him.” But by the time we get to the end of the movie, the guy is a veg­etable. Now, where’s that line? Where do you still say, “Okay I’m sup­port­ing this, or maybe this is get­ting a lit­tle weird, and now it’s too much.” I want to have peo­ple to go through the tran­si­tion and think about it afterwards. And most importantly we wanted the audiences to actually talk about spousal abuse, have it enter into our everyday conversations so they can understand a tiny amount of the difficulty that these people are going through and not be afraid to address it if they think there’s something going on with their friends or loved ones.

SM: Is there room for wor­ry­ing about Sam not as the vic­tim but as the aggres­sor who will have to face the con­se­quences of her vio­lent action?

HM: Who knows? Obvi­ously, the law is there to try to pro­tect peo­ple. But it doesn’t always. Peo­ple get hurt, mur­dered, raped, kidnapped…The law doesn’t always help. My point isn’t to tell peo­ple to go out and take a base­ball bat to the per­son who’s hurt­ing them. That’s more of a metaphor for stand­ing up for your­self. But the way our lives work now we don’t know what’s going on with people. It used to be that when some­body was an ass­hole in the community, they just took him out. Now we have all these nice lit­tle homes and nice lit­tle cars, we all do our thing and don’t know our neigh­bours’ names. We hear yelling some­times out­side the win­dow and think, “Is it just a little fight or…?” We don’t know our com­mu­nity, and the peo­ple around us anymore. It would be nice to think that the law would be on her side, but again, that’s up to the audience to see how difficult the verdict would be to make in that situation.

SM: When did you real­ize you had pas­sion for acting?

HM: I went to the­atre school after high school. I was very shy; pub­lic speak­ing was the worst. But in the­atre, I was able to express myself, because it wasn’t Helena—it was a char­ac­ter. These char­ac­ters can say things in front of peo­ple and not be embarrassed.

SM: What is the most impor­tant part of prepar­ing to get into a char­ac­ter?

HM: It took me a long time—and I’m still kinda learn­ing it—to real­ize that even if you have a nat­ural abil­ity and you’re com­fort­able doing cer­tain things, that it’s all about prac­tice and being prepared.

SM: Did you always know you want to fol­low this career path?

HM: I had a real life after I left the­atre school—a typ­i­cal nine-­to-­five life for a cou­ple of years and I stopped act­ing, danc­ing and singing. I had a great time, but at some point I real­ized I wasn’t dream­ing any­more. Lit­er­ally; I wasn’t wak­ing up with any mem­ory of hav­ing dreamt, which for me is not nor­mal. I often wake up remem­ber­ing two or three very vivid, very long and detailed dreams from that night. So that made me real­ize I was sti­fling my cre­ativ­ity; a part of me, that cre­ative per­son, had gone dor­mant. So within a few years I was back to act­ing and being cre­ative. Also, before I dis­cov­ered act­ing, I wanted to be a psy­chi­a­trist. I was inter­ested in how the brain works in terms of emo­tions and how it makes us feel things. And around the same time I was decid­ing to pur­sue act­ing, I real­ized that being an actor was a study of human behav­ior. It wasn’t just show, it’s express­ing of how we all feel. We have been sto­ry­tellers since the begin­ning of time. We relate to peo­ple through sto­ries; we want to con­nect and know what they feel, and under­stand why dif­fer­ent peo­ple feel dif­fer­ent things, and know that we are not alone.

SM: How do you treat a char­ac­ter that requires a more emo­tional background?

HM: I’m pretty open in terms of emo­tional avail­abil­ity. I cry at radio com­mer­cials if they put the right music with it. I’m a total sucker. So I iden­tity with sen­si­tive char­ac­ters eas­ily. When the char­ac­ter is tough, and doesn’t show a lot of emo­tions, that’s been a challenge for me. But I like a good challenge!

SM: What advice would you give to aspir­ing filmmakers?

HM: Work with peo­ple you want to work with. Don’t work with jerks just because they’re the “best” at what they do. If they’re mean and belit­tle other peo­ple on set, don’t give them another chance. As you get into big­ger and big­ger pro­duc­tions, there are a lot of peo­ple that are always get­ting rehired just because they were part of a suc­cess­ful film, but maybe on set they’re sex­ist or rude. You can still make a film with­out them. You’re going to be able to find other great peo­ple. Because at the end of the day, work­ing on set is really stress­ful and there’s a lot of money in the pro­duc­tion, so you should sur­round your­self with peo­ple who are pro­fes­sional and team players.

SM: How did you come to work with Math­ieu Charest (direc­tor of CRAZY LOVE)?

HM: I was introduced to Mathieu by our cinematographer Benoit Charest. Mathieu had already read the script and was so so excited that he started right in explaining their relationship (Alan and Sam) and just got absolutely everything I was going for. It was like he was in my brain. He also has decades of experience behind the camera. So it was a no brainer to work with him. I think he and I share a love of the weird and dark. Like, for me, there’s that part of CRAZY LOVE where, after she hits him, she tears up a stack of porn mag­a­zines and uri­nates on them as a sym­bol of her mark­ing her ter­ri­tory and dom­i­nat­ing him. And I per­son­ally enjoyed the fact that I got to pretend to uri­nate on a porno and people gave me an award for it (laughs).

SM: What expe­ri­ence from VISFF are you tak­ing to the next festival?

HM: If it’s a fes­ti­val where there are are awards—and I rec­om­mend this to everyone—always know what you want to say if you do the speech. Mine was the worst; I went up there and was, like, “Hey! Let’s party!” I’m not good under pres­sure (laughs). Be pre­pared, because you have every right to be proud.


You can sub­mit a film to VISFF until Novem­ber 1st, and the fes­ti­val will be held in Feb­ru­ary of 2016. Visit their web­site for more details, and their socials for updates: @visff.

POBECole Nowicki is, among other things, just some random guy standing in line with you at a coffee shop. What makes Nowicki different than all the other people waiting for their medium drip is that, supposing he sees you do something ridiculous or weird, he will write about you, and definitely publish it on the Internet.

Nowicki began creating his Portraits of Brief Encounters as a writing exercise, eventually making small drawings to accompany them. Along with his personal Instagram, which is the original site of POBE, SAD Mag has been featuring his work online since February of 2014. “They are all based in fact,” says Nowicki of his micro-nonfiction portraits,“they all have to have some sort of jump-off point: whether it’s an interaction with someone, or just an idea I’ve had. The story comes first and then [I create] the visual.”

In the portraits, Nowicki combines his love of writing with his comedic sensibility. The portraits can be simultaneously emotionally provocative and laugh-out-loud funny. His humourous, quotidian take on the human condition attracted the attention of Yashar Nijati, founder of thisopenspace. “[Nijati] commented on one of my Instagram portraits a couple years back, asking if I wanted to be friends,” recalls Nowicki. “Eventually we met up, and we talked about doing a show based on POBE.” The two developed a kind of gallery game in which a few local artists would take each of Nowicki’s stories and create an image based on one of them. Visitors to the gallery would have to match each image to the story it was inspired by, with the chance to win a discount on any of the pieces in the show.

The first show was a success, and so was Nowicki’s practice of creating the portraits. This lead thisopenspace to show his written portraits once again at the gallery, in game format, but this time paired with visuals created by eleven different Vancouver artists. “I like the collaborative aspect, I like seeing what pieces [the artists] pick out of the story and deem worthy to put their creative energy [into],” says Nowicki, who chose the artists (some of whom are friends) by scouring Instagram and artist listings he found in the online archives of Hot Art Wet City.

“If you come to the show,” says Nowicki, “it will be the most fun you have ever had in your life. And if you’re not already in love with someone, you will find someone that you will fall in love with…You’re not going to get your money back if it doesn’t happen, because it’s gonna happen.”

While Nowicki can’t guarantee that your newfound love will be requited, the show promises to be a great way to see a bunch of talented Vancouver under one roof. At the very least, it might make a good story.


The second annual Portraits of Brief Encounters Exhibition and Gallery Game takes place on Thursday, October 22 at thisopenspace (434 Columbia Street) at 6 pm. Learn more about Portraits of Brief Encounters on the official website.

Albert Maysles, famed documentarian and beloved cinematic friend to all, passed away earlier this year at the ripened age of eighty-eight. He, along with his brother David (1931 – 1987), sought out uncommon character and strange circumstance within their work, developing a myriad of delightful and rare documentaries that are still treasured today. I remember watching Grey Gardens for the first time and gazing up at the theatre screen in awe of the life I was witnessing, in all of its honest nonsense. Albert Maysles was the one to capture those moments, and since then I have been equally in awe of his sincerity with the camera.

Albert Maysles

This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival had the pleasure of screening one of Maysles’ last films, a work on which he collaborated with several other filmmakers (Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui and Ben Wu). The film finds its subject in the Empire Builder, America’s most frequented long-distance train route, stretching from Chicago to Portland and Seattle, a journey which takes approximately three days. The camera’s role is observational, typical of a Maysles production, and it captures intimate conversation and solitude alike. Passengers on the train pour their hearts out into the lens, and we become witness to all manner of departure and arrival.

David and Albert Maysles. Photo: John Sotomayor

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this film as much as I had wanted to. Though I found the train as subject to be fascinating, it was generally difficult to immerse myself in the stories of the people on board. The vision of the film was supposedly objective, but the moments captured by the camera were often cheesy and clichéd, which seems like a very cynical thing to say about actual lived experience, but I could not make myself feel differently. One woman revealed her struggle with being a single mom, another explained that the train was her break from an ex-husband, and a mother and daughter exchanged words about their dreams of arrival and feeling that the destination would be a new start.

Sometimes I felt as though these testimonies and exchanges were written especially for the camera and that their candid nature had been erased. If it had all been scripted, I would have cringed in my seat. What I would have liked to have experienced further was the thematic presence of the train as destination in itself, a kind of temporary space in which to ponder what came before and what will come next. Cinematic representations of trains are usually limited to the symbolic. They are used as devices to signify a character or narrative’s transformation, the start of something new or the leaving behind of old. With In Transit, the train became the definite location. Yes, it did symbolize coming and going, and held transformative qualities for some of its riders, but more so than that it became a real place. A self-contained habitat for all manner of folk passing through. I guessed that perhaps the characters aboard the train were intended to be the humanity of the film, but I wanted to explore that of the train instead. I was intrigued by its omniscient personality and acceptance of those who travelled along its route, and by the pattern of existence which only the train could produce. Oh, well. I may have been underwhelmed, but Albert still holds an honoured place in my heart.