Geraldine Carr’s room service delivery

Filmmaker Geraldine Carr (left) and playwright Conni Massing collaborate on XX.

Filmmaker Geraldine Carr (left) and playwright Conni Massing collaborate on Voila!. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

The short film Voila! was directed by Geraldine Carr and written by Conni Massing, who were Filmmakers In Residence here this past February. The film is about 11-year-old Patty and her trip to The Big City in 1969. Brought along to babysit her cousin while her aunt and uncle attend an awards ceremony at a hotel, she explores the hotel suite while the baby’s sleeping. She’s wide-eyed at her first time out of her small town and her first stay in a hotel, and she discovers the room service menu and orders the only thing she can afford.

Based on Massing’s own experience growing up in Saskatchewan, the film is based on an experience she had accompanying her oldest brother, his wife, and their baby, on a trip to Saskatoon and staying at the fancy Bessborough Hotel. Massing explains that when the waiter arrived with her room service, she was treated professionally, and that when she wrote the script, she pictured Patty thinking of the waiter as her dream date.

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E.R. Brown and the case of the unexpected nomination

Wired Writing Studio alum E.R. Brown’s first novel, Almost Criminal, was recently nominated for an Edgar Award, which honours the best in true crime, mystery novels and TV mysteries each year. A huge coup for a first-time writer, Brown was shortlisted in the category of best paperback original (along with Stephen King for Joyland). Brown finished the first draft of Almost Criminal in a prose fiction session of Wired with faculty Lawrence Hill.

ER Brown.Mix

What stands out to you from your time at The Banff Centre? I’ve participated in the Wired Writing Studio twice. The first day of my first visit, I met Craig Power (from Newfoundland, who was working on what became the novel Blood Relatives) on the way to picking up our IDs and room keys. I’d just driven 12 hours or so from Vancouver and he was off a long series of cross-Canada plane connections. We were equally groggy, and I was completely intimidated at the thought of all the writers who’d been there before me. I remember holding that ID card, with my photo and the word ARTIST in enormous capital letters. Next thing, we walked to the dining room where a classically waist-coated waiter checked those IDs and seated us. Craig said, “They don’t treat artists like this where I come from.”

Were you surprised to be nominated for the Edgar? Has your life changed at all since? I was gobsmacked. There’s been nothing more unexpected. It was a first novel from a smaller publisher. It’s received some good reviews but has not set the publishing world on fire. It’s not widely available in the US. Yet somehow it floated to the top in this prestigious competition. Every other nominee is an international bestseller. Stephen King, for cryin’ out loud.

What are you curious about right now? Selfishly, I wonder whether the award nomination will help me sell my second novel! In the larger sense, I’m as curious as ever about the writing process, where stories come from, and why people read fiction.

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Jim Moginie and the Very Subversive Orchestra

Guitarist Jim Moginie with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, in the Club. Photo: Don Lee.

Jim Moginie has never been to Banff before. “We came over these Rocky Mountains many times,” he says, “but they never let us off the bus.” For 25 years, Moginie was lead guitarist and one of the principal songwriters in Midnight Oil. Their late-1980s single, “Beds Are Burning” sent them into the music industry stratosphere, playing arenas and stadiums around the world.  One of the most politically-outspoken groups on the planet, they disbanded when lead singer Peter Garrett became an Australian Labor Party MP.

Moginie was at The Banff Centre with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), part of a Music residency. The ACO played concerts all over Banff, from Cascade Shops to the Maclab Bistro, to a late night Club show that featured compositions by Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, which is where a rock and roll guitar player comes in.

“I was honoured to be asked (to join ACO). We are a very subversive little orchestra. Playing Kurt Cobain or Trent Reznor creates a certain disorientation, which leads to tension. And that’s where it gets interesting.  We work in a kind of magpie fashion, picking at different things,” says Moginie, and then with a laugh, “and it’s certainly improved my sight-reading.”

We finished our conversation talking about Midnight Oil’s part in the Clayoquot Sound protests (1993) which at the time was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. That summer Midnight Oil went into a Calgary studio with Daniel Lanois, Hothouse Flowers, and the Tragically Hip. Moginie remembers, “Dan [Lanois] gave me his guitar and amp, and when I set into my part [guitar solo] and I looked up at the booth I saw Dan with this absolutely huge smile on his face, and I thought yeah, that’s what a producer should do.”

All photos by Don Lee.

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Anna Maria Tremonti: “I get vertigo”

Popular CBC host Anna Maria Tremonti was here recently to host a talk with Jennifer Koshan and the YWCA of Banff on women’s and girl’s rights. While she was here, she answered our mountain-themed Banff questionnaire, talking about getting close to the edge, dreams of falling, and changing course to head back to radio.

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Ezra Pound vs. Baudelaire: Who wins?

University of Victoria grad Owain Nicholson is the most recent winner of the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award, after placing second in the 2012 competition. I spoke to him about writers, writing, and whiskey.

Where are you from? Winnipeg. The great, open prairies. And I miss the winter.

How did you get started writing? I’ve always been surrounded by books and writing. My stepfather introduced me to poetry (Jabberwocky, amongst others) quite early but I didn’t really find poetry, and writing, until high school. I used to imagine stories when I was going to bed, probably as a way to fend off the darkness when I was little. And once I actually began to write I don’t think I’ve gone a day without writing.

Poet, and Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award winner Owain Nicholson.

Poet, and Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award winner Owain Nicholson.

What’s the relationship between your work as an archaeologist and your work as a writer? Archaeology informs writing a great deal, and my summer field seasons pay off my student loans. But archaeology is a field steeped in history, ancestry, nature, and people. The people most of us have never seen, don’t know about, and never will. It’s a privilege. But it’s also a huge source of inspiration and, particularly with poetry, a powerful and concrete place to leap into metaphor and imagery.

What fascinates you right now? People, always. Mostly our great adaptability and ingenuity fettered by our inhibitions and fears. I think I just don’t really understand people very well, so I’m always looking for something there and never sure what I’ve found.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had? I used to work for a friend on their property mostly moving stuff or chopping firewood. But in the late spring and early summer she’d give me a shovel and I’d literally dig up every thistle and prickly weed on the property.

What do you drink when you’re writing? Mostly coffee. I don’t usually work at home but when I find I must, I drink Talisker or Laphroaig or Lagavulin (when I can afford to buy a bottle of scotch, usually at Christmas).

Favourite book and author? Tough one. In Fantasy, the Malazan books. However, I really loved Into That Darkness by Steven Price and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In poetry right now I’m being blown away by Jorge Luis Borges and César Vallejo. Patrick Lane and Seamus Heaney are definitely mentors I keep turning back to.

If you could hang out with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Probably the first Anglo-Saxon poets, the old stories that I always return to.

If poetry and fiction got in a fight, which would win? I see this kind of fight as one between an older man and a younger ruffian. It may be better to structure it as a set of duels. Who wouldn’t want to see Ezra Pound take Baudelaire to the mat?

The Bliss Carman Poetry Award was established in 1956 by Edith and Lorne Pierce in memory of Edith’s father, Canadian poet William Bliss Carman. Originally given to recognize the best poem by a student at the Banff School of Fine Arts or at one of the University of Alberta Extension writing classes, the contest was discontinued in 1991. Canadian literary journal Prairie Fire revived the award in 1997, with the contest open to the public and The Banff Centre providing prize money and a jeweler-cast replica of Bliss Carman’s ring.

Read an excerpt of Owain Nicholson’s award-winning poem, “Hunter II” here. The full poem will be printed in Prairie Fire’s summer issue. 

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Remembering Neil Armstrong

The Banff Centre lost an old friend last week when Neil Armstrong, the former head of arts programs during the 1970’s and 1980’s, passed away in Canmore.

Neil Armstrong came to Banff in 1972, on the invitation of then-president David Leighton, from the University of Western Ontario where he had managed the School of Business Administration.  As head of arts programs, he oversaw the Centre’s transition from a summer school with part-time staff and a reputation as a ‘holiday arts camp’, to Canada’s outstanding professional school of the arts.

Neil recruited key arts faculty, artistic directors and management staff, and expanded arts programming into a dizzying array of new fields including chamber music, orchestra, jazz, music composition, audio recording, electronic media, music theatre, theatre design, professional dance, advanced writing, publishing, the playwrights colony, the inter-arts program and the Leighton Artist’s Colony. He and his wife Marjorie attended and hosted receptions for almost all the arts events on campus.  Neil also travelled as an ambassador for the Banff Centre, and established connections around the world to increase the number of international participants. He was founding director of the Canadian Association of Youth Orchestra’s and their festival, held annually at The Banff Centre.

Neil received the Order of Canada in 1989 for his contributions to education and the cultural development of the country. He retired from The Banff Centre in 1991 but continued to support the Centre by attending events and through the Marjorie and Neil Armstrong Endowment fund.

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