April 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
My documentary film was shown at The Fritz two nights ago. Raffi Cavoukian and his Centre for Child Honouring hosted the event as a fundraiser for the non-profit.
Taxi Casablanca, as the film is called, had its world premier at the same small theatre on Salt Spring Island, to a sold-out house of friends and family, exactly three years ago. At the time, I was so bewildered by the project, that had spanned three years of tireless work leaving me utterly exhausted, even broken and damaged from within, that I couldn’t face the crowd who had come out in droves to support me. I couldn’t receive their love and warmth. I sat in the back row and during the movie chugged back straight vodka — can you believe that! I don’t even drink. I just needed to escape how overwhelmed I was inside.
At the end of that first show, a group of women gathered around me. They were so touched by the film that we — all five of us– broke out into tears.
Tears for what? For the story of Zakia Mezzour, for her courage, for her beauty, for her honesty, for her willingness to live.
Tears for what? For the unlived freedom inside of ourselves? For the stories of women that unite us across the world? For the stories that point to our common humanity, our common need to be ourselves and live with freedom, safety, dignity and self-respect? Or maybe tears for our opening hearts — the ways that we come to love people who have nothing to do with us, who live on the other side of the world, whose paths with ours may never intersect.
Were we crying perhaps because “whether we say it out loud or not, or to ourselves or not, or to each other or not, we all know, we all understand in our hearts that women are the soul of the world,” as Sharon Butala wrote in her exquisite memoir Perfection of the Morning. Or because we know on some basic gut level which is often not even conscious or able to be expressed in words, that this, this soul of the world, has not expressed its full potential, is in so many ways, in so many countries, in so many families, in so many governments, not allowed its freedom, or worse yet, is deeply damaged. Flashes of dire poverty, sex-trafficking, violent pornography, forced marriages, domestic violence, rape… We try to force these images and feelings from our minds as we feel helpless to change what has, in our world, become all too commonplace.
We cry because a woman who drives a taxi is a woman who can leave when she wants to, and go where she pleases. In the film, she drives to the sea to escape the noise and pollution of the city. Just this simple choice alone, the decision to go where she must go, to experience what she must experience, means she is a woman with autonomy, in touch with her own needs and values, in a relationship with her own life.
For me, the tears were for all of these reasons, and for even deeper reasons: I missed my friend, Zakia Mezzour, a woman who drives a taxi six thousand miles away from me who I loved and who changed my life.
At the end of the film screening two nights ago there was a Q&A session with the audience. Unlike three years ago, I had the courage to face the supportive and loving audience.
After some time, I was pleased that Raffi (famous children’s song writer and advocate for children’s rights) stood up on stage and said:
“For me this film is a work of poetry.”
To hear him say this in front of the entire audience made me feel that what I had been trying to accomplish over all those years of work and struggle had finally been recognized. Perhaps the only way we can change the world is through poetry, through seeing and feeling the things that can’t be verbalized, categorized, or compartmentalized. Poetry allows for complexity and conversation and paradox, it allow for feelings to emerge inside our hearts; it allows for inner transformation — the only thing that has ever changed the world.
Earlier that day, another person had said something to me equally meaningful.
I have often questioned what the impact of this film was on Zakia’s life. I know it wasn’t necessarily a positive experience for her. And at the end of it all I hadn’t succeeded in saving her life, that is, I hadn’t bought her a new home to live in, I hadn’t lifted her out of her poverty, I hadn’t secured her an old age pension. Perhaps our friendship had for all of these reasons been a disappointment to her.
It wasn’t until yesterday when my mom said, “Through this film you let her know that she is important” that I realised this was the gift I had hoped to give to Zakia all along. This was the goal of my three years of hard work. And this, in fact, is all that we can ever give to anyone.
The “work of poetry” that is Taxi Casablanca is my meagre offering to Zakia Mezzour. It seeks to tell the world that there is a person you have never heard of, who you will probably never meet, who is extremely important and valuable and precious.
She is Zakia Mezzour, and she is also all of us.
Finally, this month I am moving into a new cabin. I found out a few days ago that this cabin, which is on a gorgeous pastoral farm, used to be a Turkey shed (perhaps more on this later). It was the home of one well-fed and happy turkey, the place where she lived out her life in the sun and the rain.
Next month there will be a new turkey moving in, her name is Mary Flowers and she is looking forward to more poetry.
March 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
Check out this film! Explores the exact topic of Taxi Casablanca, only set in Beijing.
Directed by Miao Wang
Here’s a clip from the film’s website: http://www.beijingtaxithefilm.com
BEIJING TAXI is a feature-length documentary that vividly portrays the ancient capital of China undergoing a profound transformation. The intimate lives of three taxi drivers are seen through a humanistic lens as they navigate a quickly morphing city, confronting modern issues and changing values. The three protagonists radiate a warm sense of humanity despite the struggles that each faces in adapting to new realities of life in the modern city. With stunning imagery of Beijing and a contemporary score rich in atmosphere, BEIJING TAXI communicates a visceral sense of the common citizens’ persistent attempts to grasp the elusive. The 2008 Summer Olympic Games serve as the backdrop for BEIJING TAXI’s story, a coming out party for a rising nation and a metaphor for Chinese society and its struggles to reconcile enormous contradictions while adjusting to a new capitalist system that can seem foreign to some in the Communist-ruled and educated society. Candid and perceptive in its filming approach and highly cinematic and moody in style, BEIJING TAXI takes us on a lyrical journey through fragments of a society riding the bumpy roads to modernization. Though its destination unknown, the drivers continue to forge ahead.
June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
Senegal’s Taxi Sisters
In Senegal, a woman’s place is now behind the wheel of a cab. Pass the screening and all she needs is a little martial arts training and a bright yellow car.
And the male taxi drivers? Well, one hopes they’ll come round to the idea, as Canadian journalist Amanda Fortier discovers while shadowing these Taxi Sisters from the start of their day.
February 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
I love stories of women taking back our public spaces, taking back the night… check out this story of the first female taxi drive in Fes, Morocco’s third largest city. Bravo Bella!
In anticipation of the upcoming International Women’s Day on 8 March, we bring you the fascinating story of the first-ever woman taxi-driver in Fez.
October 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
“For Zakia, driving the taxi affirms her identity as a free woman.”
Morocco is said to be one of the most progressive Middle Eastern countries, so far as women’s rights are concerned. In 2004, King Mohammed VI passed the family law code which officially recognized women, as of age 18, as legal entities for the first time. The law granted women greater rights during divorce, changed the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, placed restrictions on polygamy and gave women the right to marry without the consent of a male guardian. However, societal expectations around marriage and family, the stigma that accompanies divorce, issues of poverty and lack of education make taking advantage of these legal rights challenging for many women.
Sharing the taxi with her ex-husband, Zakia has spent upwards of five hours a day behind the wheel for more than eight years. Opinions toward her chosen career range from surprise, to support, to staunch disapproval. By the encouragement of her supporters, and determined to prove her detractors wrong, Zakia goes about her day. She seems to take genuine pleasure in driving, even if it’s at someone else’s behest.
In the face of religious and societal traditions, Zakia takes a powerful stand against Morocco’s approved cultural norms. Her courage has proven to be an inspiration for other women in the city. “When I see this woman driving, it’s as if I’m driving,” says one female passenger. “I would love to have that opportunity. To get to that place, you had to show men there’s nothing women can’t do. And it’s true!”
The film covers several broad themes in one fell swoop – women’s rights, poverty, education, domestic abuse and employment. Along with the varied applications in academia – women studies, cultural studies, and economic studies – the film is an intelligent and interesting choice for casual observers.
You can catch Taxi Casablanca, part of the Beyond Borders series, at 2pm on Wednesday, September 29th at the EMMEDIA Gallery.
March 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Taxi Casablanca will be screened at the Duncan Garage Showroom this Sunday March 14th 6:30pm
The Duncan Garage Showroom is situated upstairs in the historic Duncan Garage building in Duncan, BC. What a beautiful venue to show this film!
#201-330 Duncan Street
Duncan, BC, Canada
March 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
One of the most frustrating aspects of working in the industry of creative pursuits – ie. being an “artist” – is the “in-between” stage that comes to haunt the completion of a project and the start of something new. I’ve had to experience this state of being in-between quite intensely over the last few months since I finished Taxi Casablanca, a documentary film project that occupied my life in the most beautiful and challenging of ways since 2007. It is true, as the memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert so wisely says, that in our culture, people primarily want to know “What are you going to do next?” before you’ve barely recovered from the years of energy and effort it took to complete your most recent work. It seems that however much we create, the most important piece of art is always the one that isn’t finished yet, the work that is yet-to-be, the embryo in the process of coming to life.
Sometimes life is generous with us, and one project moves swiftly into the next equally satisfying and inspiring endeavour. But most of the time, often beyond our control or desires, I’ve found that life takes its sweet time to breath. Life usually operates on its own schedule and sometimes we find ourselves “stuck” in the middle of the past that has been neatly packaged and completed, and the future that is yet to unfold.
This marvellous yet terrifying place of being in-between also has its advantages. It’s been particularly gentle here on Salt Spring Island, where being in-between has allowed me to go inside myself, to rest for the first time in years, to write, to take long walks in nature, to cultivate patience with my usually ambitious self. I’ve also been staying with my 93-year-old granny, cooking her dinners, watching the sea from her kitchen window, remembering the past.
The incredible beauty of this place has helped a lot. I haven’t been here in the Spring since I was a teenager. I’m enjoying the blooming daffodils, buttercups, plum blossoms and snow drops that all came early this year. It’s been a mild and gentle winter; the air has been soft on us. The sun is shining today and Ganges (the village) is bustling with smiling people.
This is a great opportunity to use a million dollar word that I’ve been pondering since my university days: Liminality.
Here’s a great definition: “Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.”
I recall the liminal stages of life are the most important. I remind myself that all of nature experiences a period of liminality, the only way change is possible.
Maybe this is the only time we get to know how deeply we are held by life. Even when creation, action and agency are put on hold, we are still here, we are still OK despite our lack of production. This is a beautiful lesson for people (like me) who usually define themselves by what we are accomplishing. We get the rare opportunity to feel exactly where we are; stuck or not, this is where we are meant to be. Then sometimes, that uncomfortable state of “in-between” miraculously transforms into a state of “being there” – the only place that ever existed all along.
With all this time on my hands, I’ve started to read through some of my grandfather’s (Jack Scott) old columns, which were published in a book titled Great Scott! One of his stories, titled “His Finest Hour” really made me laugh. I know my grandfather, a writer, was often tortured by that “in between” state, as was his friend and contemporary, the great Canadian writer Pierre Berton. Here’s a little story about one of their adventures together.
His Finest Hour
Our book page editor, assigning me to review the new Pierre Berton epic, The National Dream, the story of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, volunteered that he’d already read it, that it was first rate and that he envied Berton the glow of satisfaction that follows publication of such a work.
“What a thrill it must be for a writer to see his years of lonely toil come to fruition,” he observed. Book page editors talk like that. There is nothing that can be done about it.
The remark sent my mind reeling back to the week that follwed publictaion of Pierre’s Klondike, a genuinely fine work that consumed untold hours of time and energies.
Pierre had travelled across the country in the interests of launching the book. He was a weary man when he reached Vancouver. But it was more than just that. There’s a profound reaction, a kind of vacuum of anti-climax, it seems when a book that’s been a long time in the works finally materializes between hard covers.
“One might expect that the completion of a work would bring a feeling of relief,” he noted, “but what the writer actually experiences is a dreadful let-down. The great days of creation are over. You wander disconsolately about, trying, not very successfully, to read or look at television. You look back nostalgically on the long period during which the book possessed you and you long to relive those days. This is the most frustrating period of any writer’s existence, the limbo between books.”
Well, one thing led to another on that visit to Vancouver and we decided to take a brief holiday, foisting ourselves upon convivial friends on Vancouver Island. We took a mid-morning ferry to Nanaimo, drove down to Ladysmith for a splendid, liquid, giggley lunch with Mamie Maloney and, in mid afternoon, headed south to see our friends in Victoria.
As we drove down the Island Highway I tried to lift Pierre our of his mood of melancholy. Klondike had been unanimously acclaimed by the critics, I pointed out. It would surely make a bundle of money – as, in fact, it did. He ought to be sitting on top of the world.
“I know, I know,” Berton agreed. “It’s just that whenever I finish a book, or any other piece of writing, for that matter, I wonder if I shouldn’t be in some other line. It’s not simply that there are so many things in it I’d like to change or improve on. It’s that writing is such an inexact thing! Dammit, you never write a single sentence that you can look at and say, ‘That’s exactly as it ought to be.’ or ‘That’s perfect’.”
“Perhaps you’re too much the perfectionist,” I ventured.
“Perhaps so,” Pierre agreed morosely, “but I’ve always had this craving to do something – anything!- that would be absolutely flawless, something that I could look at and say, ‘Nobody in the world, nobody in the whole history of the world, will ever do that better.’ No writer can ever achieve that for the reason that nothing written, in the writer’s eyes, is beyond improving. I mean there’s simply no total, absolute satisfaction.”
So we walked on, spinning down the highway until we’d gone through Duncan. A long line of cars and trucks had come to a halt there just north of the Cowichan River bridge. We joined the line-up, wondering what had caused the delay. far ahead we could see men rushing about and hear their agitated shouts.
Suddenly, from my driver’s side of the car, I saw that they were all chasing a small, pink, terrified pig which, presumably, had escaped from the truck at the head of the line. The pig was making a magnificent run under and between the cars ahead. Several times the chasers had it in their grasp, but the pig spurted free and was off again.
What happened then has a kind of dream-like quality as if it were all done in slow, fluid motion. The pig came charging down the road on my side of the car. At the same moment Pierre opened the door on his side and stepped out. The pig made a scrambling U-turn behind the car, came careening back and with a single cry of “Oink!” leaped into Pierre’s outstretched arms. It was like a child leaping into its mother’s embrace. The whole performance took, at the most, 20 astonishing seconds. Pierre handed the pig to one of the chasers, got back into the car and we were off south again.
For several miles, Berton said not a word. I glanced over at him and beheld a look of such stunned serenity, such wonder and joy that one might have thought he had been recently embalmed.
“That was exactly it,” he said at last. “No body in the world, nobody in the whole history of the world, will ever catch a pig better than that.”
February 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
Taxi Casablanca will be screened at the Salt Spring Film Festival, this Saturday, February 27th at 10:00 am! The screening will be held at GISS 232 Rainbow Road. Please find all the details here: http://www.saltspringfilmfestival.com
Come out and enjoy the Salt Spring Film Festival. There are many great films to be seen this year!