Mastering the court

The Tennis Masters Cup wrapped up last week in Shanghai, with number three seed Novak Djokovic winning the prestigious title. The last tournament in the ATP season, the Tennis Masters Cup featured a unique round-robin format not employed in any other tournament. The top eight seeded players are invited with the top two seeds placed in opposite groups. Roger Federer, the top seed in the tournament, was placed in the red group, whereas Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s second seed, was placed in the gold group. The remaining six players are randomly assigned to one of the two groups. The top two players from each group qualify for the semi-finals, and the subsequent winners play for the title.

The tournament featured new young talent with Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and the gifted French player Gilles Simon—all of whom made their first appearance at the Tennis Masters Cup.

Roger Federer left the tournament in the round-robin matches with a 1-2 record. After losing to Gilles Simon, Federer had to defeat Andy Murray in his final match to qualify for the elimination round. Hampered by fatigue and a back injury, Federer lost to Murray.

Federer’s early exit marks the first time he’s failed to qualify for the tournament’s semi-finals, adding to a disappointing year compared to his previous results. Despite his poor results this season with only one grand slam win, Federer appeared pleased in his post-match press conference.

“It was a good season. I was happy I could win the U.S. Open for the fifth straight [time],” Federer said. “I’m looking forward to next year, to go for six. It was an incredible match at Wimbledon. [I had] very emotional victories in Basel, my hometown […] and winning the Olympic gold for Switzerland was a big moment for me. [It was] tough to start off with [and] tough to end.”

Gilles Simon, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Nikolay Davydenko qualified for the semi-finals. Djokovic defeated Simon in a tight three-set match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, and Davydenko upset Murray 7-5, 6-2.

Last Sunday’s final was one-sided as Djokovic rolled past Davydenko 6-1, 7-5. Djokovic outplayed his opponent in every aspect, having converted more break points, winning the majority of the points with more winners and fewer unforced errors.

“I would put [the Tennis Masters Cup] in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here,” said Djokovic. “I feel very happy. Ended the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event. So it’s a great boost up for the upcoming season.”

Gracious in defeat, Davydenko acknowledged Djokovic’s fine play. “Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, you must also play very fast, and be very good. That’s what he did, and I didn’t.”

Ironically, the last tournament of the year had no effect on the rankings. Rafael Nadal, having secured the number one ranking prior to the tournament, subsequently withdrew from the competition, citing fatigue and a nagging knee injury. Despite his poor results, Federer remained at the number two spot, and Djokovic remained at number three.

In the doubles tournament, Canada’s Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic won a dramatic winner-take-all final to overtake the number one ranking from Mike and Bob Bryan.

‘Food was used as a weapon’

Kalyna Kardash’s grandmother survived the Holodomor. The Ukrainian word for “murder by hunger” refers to the famine of 1932-33, where up to 10 million people starved as a result of Soviet policies.

Growing up with stories of the hunger, like when her grandmother traded a pair of gold earrings for a single apple, Kardash wanted to commemorate the tragedy. Over the weekend, the Ukrainian Students Club held a 24-hour famine to mark the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian famine. The overnight event was the culmination of a week of activities, including photo exhibitions in Robarts Library and Sidney Smith Hall.

At the time, Ukraine was part of the U.S.S.R. (It became independent after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.) Dictator Joseph Stalin imposed agricultural collectivization in the Ukraine, referred to as the “breadbasket of the U.S.S.R.”

Stalin began to enforce large quotas of grain exportation, sometimes up to 50 per cent of the national supply. When quotas weren’t met, individual homes were raided and emptied of all food and produce. By August 1932, a law banned the sale of bread to peasants, who made up the majority of the population. As the nation grew hungrier and food became virtually unobtainable, police units were dispatched into the farmlands to control rebellions and forbid locals from leaving villages in search of food.

The result was mass starvation. Bodies lined roads, while mothers buried their own children. Desperation even led to cases of cannibalism. The tragedy remains little-known: international media remained silent while official Soviet censuses and documents hid population drops.

Historians say that Stalin, weary of nationalist and independence movements, started the famine intentionally to force peasants onto collective farms. In 2006, Ukraine’s parliament voted to declare the famine as an act of genocide and is lobbying the UN to bestow that recognition. Russia has denied that the famine was deliberate.

Canada officially recognized the famine as attempted genocide earlier this year.

“Food was used as a weapon,” said Kardash as participants prepared for a candlelit vigil. “It was a genocide because we [Ukrainians] were resisting Soviet policies such as collectivization.”

The push for UN recognition isn’t the only purpose behind the club’s 24-hour famine. “People need to know about genocide,” said Kardash, pointing out that comparable atrocities continue to happen today, and like the Holodomor in its time, they continue to be ignored.

Master of the Epic: David Lean remembered

Brief Encounter (1945)

The housewife who engages in an affair to alleviate the monotony of domestic life is a central character in countless films. In Brief Encounter, David Lean revisits her again: Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) comfortably conforms to the role of a 1930s homemaker until she falls uncontrollably in love with Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), a doctor whom she met at a train station while heading into town to do her weekly shopping. It’s a familiar premise, but the film retains its originality as Lean refuses to let his characters become archetypes. Laura’s husband is kind and doting, not the bully that would justify her need to escape to the arms of another man. Nor can Laura be condemned as a conniving seductress—she refuses to consummate the affair, oscillating between excitement and guilt over her newfound love. Tension mounts as Laura struggles to resist her love for Alec, and she is forced to face the zest for life that he awoke within her.

—Brigit Katz

Rating: VVVVV

Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean’s classic adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel is a compelling drama that contrasts social mobility and suffering in 19th-century English society. The movie chronicles the life of the orphan Pip, who at the age of 20 receives a large monetary sum from a mysterious benefactor designed to make him a refined gentleman. The story follows Pip’s life from his early days as a young working boy (Anthony Wagner), his playdates with shut-in Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), and his encounter with the object of his desire, Estella, through his rise as a society gentleman. While the cinematography and Lean’s direction make this an enduring classic, the screenplay would have benefited from adhering to Dickens’ original ending. In altering the resolution, much of the story’s meaning is lost. The “happily ever after” ending doesn’t fit the tone of the film, leaving viewers wanting more.

—Daphne Vrantsidis

Rating: VVVv

Oliver Twist (1948)

Oliver Twist wonderfully adapts the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, about the young boy who suffers hardships and misery in an orphanage, only to run away to the large, scary metropolis of London. There, he meets the Artful Dodger and Fagin (played by Lean’s great friend and enemy Alec Guinness), and an assortment of other devious characters, well played but sadly undeveloped beyond superficial caricature. Lean’s film clearly understands a setting’s importance in Dickens’ story: from the cold, uninviting, and savage orphanage, to Fagin’s dirty yet welcoming lair, to the bright open spaces of the grandfather’s mansion. Oliver Twist is carried by the weight of the innocent and sympathetic face of our young hero, but the film would have benefitted had Lean paid more attention to the supporting characters, the true heart of any Dickensian story.

—Alexandra Heeney

Rating: VVVv

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

War cinema has changed a great deal since 1957. Modern films like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan depict the grisly nature of battle, exposing the irrationality of bloodshed on a large scale. The audience is obligated to sympathize with each soldier’s sacrifice. David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai does the opposite, focusing on the pride and dignity instilled in soldiers as a consequence of their training and military life. At the onset, British POWs, captured by Japanese troops in WWII, are forced to build a bridge across a river. When the British Colonel (Alec Guinness) defiantly refuses to have his officers partake in manual labour, they are imprisoned. The Japanese Colonel eventually gives in, realizing the lack of manpower in the construction of the bridge. Unbeknownst to the prisoners or their captors, the British army devises a plan to destroy the very bridge they are building. It demonstrates a different type of heroic behaviour—not born out of intense, bloody struggle, but instead from a honourable sense of military duty.

—Justin Beaubien

Rating: VVVVv

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The definition of a sweeping epic, Lawrence of Arabia chronicles the World War I exploits of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a British lieutenant in the Middle East. As the war effort rages on, Lawrence closely identifies with the Arab tribes that he wishes to unite, as the film suggests an inner confusion of where his heart lies. While the film has been criticized for taking liberties with historical events, the masterful performances by O’Toole and Omar Sharif (as Sherif Ali) are powerful enough to alter history in the mind of the viewer. The film is most famous for its expansive scale. In Lean’s Arabian desert, the sky seems endless, and the horizon unreachable. The stunning cinematography is a perfect complement to Lawrence’s idealistic vision. With Lawrence of Arabia, Lean realized his most lofty ambitions, making it his most famous film, and deservedly so—it’s also his best.

—Rob Duffy

Rating: VVVVV

A Passage to India (1984)

Based on the E.M. Forster novel, A Passage to India capped off Lean’s career with a vivid and emotional take on colonialism and culture shock. On their first trip abroad, Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, the mother and fiancée of a racist British magistrate, object to the segregation imposed upon Indians by the British Raj. In their effort to take in “the real India,” the friendly Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) offers to take the women to the nearby Marabar Caves. While the harmony in India is already tenuous at best, an unseen incident during the expedition puts Dr. Aziz on trial, throwing the city of Chandrapore into racially-charged turmoil. While the British dismiss failing efforts in India as “a muddle,” Lean’s ornate depiction of India from the British point of view exposes the hypocrisy of colonialism. As the distrust heightens, the struggle to understand and accept one another becomes an obstacle too great to overcome. —RD

Rating: VVVV

Queen’s rez get ‘dialogue facilitators’

Queen’s university has hired six students as “dialogue facilitators” in an attempt to improve sensitivity and embrace diversity.

The program, introduced last week, has the facilitators living and working on campus residences. Their job is to prevent offensive language, like racial slurs or homophobic and misogynist remarks. For example, facilitators would stop students from using phrases like “that’s so gay” and “retard” in conversations that are loud enough for a third party to overhear. They will also hold movie nights and book readings on a range of social issues on campus.

Reactions vary. “Having a program like this in place could stifle public discussion if people are worried their private conversations are being monitored,” Angela Hickman, managing editor of the campus newspaper Queen’s Journal, told the Globe and Mail. The Journal published an editorial criticizing the program, calling it a lackluster effort.

Jason Laker, dean of student affairs at Queen’s, disagreed. “If people are having a conversation with offensive content and they’re doing it loud enough for a third person to hear it […] it’s not private,” he said.

Laker said the new “intergroup dialogue program” focuses on respectful, non-confrontational discussions that don’t impede freedoms. “This is difficult work, it needs to be done respectfully.” Laker said. “There really is no interference. “

The introduction of intergroup programs and facilitators is not new. Universities in the U.S. have also put them into practice, but those have included credit courses taught by faculty members in addition to training the intergroup facilitators.

Queen’s facilitators went through an 11-day training course briefing them on a number of social issues and possible scenarios.

Daniel Hayward is a student facilitator who started working in August. He said he’s already had success discussing a variety of social issues with students.

He also said that much of the work that is done by the facilitators is more subtle than intervening in conversations. “It’s helping to create an atmosphere of inclusivity,” said Hayward.

Night Lights takes flight

For the record, there are only two things higher than the CN Tower: the Burj Dubai, and the unwavering spirits of Newmindspace.

“We’ve got hot chocolate, we’ve got some music to keep people dancing and moving a little bit,” remarked Lori Kufner, co-founder of the local interactive art team. “That’s all you need.”

Despite the wind chill falling to -15 degrees Celsius on Saturday night, dozens braved the cold to watch a string of colourful LED lights unfurl into the sky. Carried off by a cluster of white helium balloons, the goal of the installation was for the lights to rise above the CN Tower.

“Well, I don’t know if they’re actually measuring anything,” noted Newmindspace volunteer Ben. “So we won’t know when it [reaches] the CN Tower, right?” He was echoed by six-year-old participant Jonah: “Mm, hopefully, it won’t go higher than the CN Tower, so probably. But maybe it might not. But it will probably go high!”

Exact measurements aside, Night Lights: Higher than the CN Tower is Newmindspace’s fourth event designed to carry colourful lights into the night sky. The last of these exhibitions, String of Diamonds, created for Nuit Blanche 2007, was plagued by theft of materials. Handicapped by LED-loving bandits, String of Diamonds never quite took off. This time around, the lights began successfully hovering around 8:15 p.m., rising to 900 feet before balloons broke off and drifted away.

Apart from the beauty of the glittering sky, Newmindspace had lofty ambitions for the impact of Night Lights: “It’s kind of a commentary on light pollution in the city,” explained Kufner, “and how you can’t really see the stars very well. So we’re kind of creating our own stars.” Admittedly, it’s hard to remember the last time real constellations were visible on campus. But did the message come across clearly to the crowd?

“I see it as reclaiming public space,” expressed fourth-year U of T student Angela. “That’s why I always love what [Newmindspace] does. They use the space in a different way, and it’s cool because there’s always some sort of meaning behind it.”

Added York undergraduate Kerry, “I find inspiration in people having such creative minds, and not only being able to think of it but to put it into action. To be people who thought, ‘Hey! Why don’t we attach lights to balloons and put them up in the sky and have all these people be a part of it?’”

“I was picturing something completely different,” admitted Ryerson alum Jessie. “An actual structure, maybe made of plastic toys, not a string of lights.” But overall, the successful launch was met by cheers—with none louder than the Newmindspace volunteers.

“I do it gratefully and without pay. I don’t need pay at all!” exclaimed volunteer Enso while tugging on errant balloons. The event crew stayed admirably jubliant as balloons popped, strings tangled, and hot chocolate turned lukewarm. After all, volunteers are crucial to the success of Newmindspace, funded solely though PayPal donations and T-shirt sales. Any proceeds from the clothing sold at Night Lights will go towards a “surprise art installation” next month and a proposed holiday subway party.

This may be the last we see of Newmindspace for a while, as co-founder Kevin Bracken plans to move back home to New York following his upcoming graduation from U of T. But this is far from the end of playful urban renewal for Toronto: Bracken plans to return for certain events, while international “fun organizers” Improv Everywhere continues to build up a local following. In the end, it’s less about Newmindspace as an organization, and more about the effect they’ve had on Toronto’s urban culture.

Onlooker Kerry summed it up best: “If you get people interacting and building something together, well, I like that. And that’s what inspires me.” In that case, Night Lights was as inspirational as it gets.

Minorities targeted for academic misconduct charges: report

The colour of a student’s skin may increase their chances of academic misconduct charges, according to a recent report by the University of Ottawa’s Student Appeals Centre. The student-run centre provides consultation and support to students who have been accused of misconduct such as plagiarism.

According to the report, minorities made up 45 per cent of the 388 students who sought consultation in the past year. Of the 48 students who sought help regarding academic fraud (for violations like plagiarism), 71 per cent were visible minorities.

The centre’s report casts much of U of O’s appeals process into question, arguing that a student’s intent is not considered in determining their guilt, and that leeway is rarely given for honest mistakes.

In one case study, a student known as “Wendi” got a zero on an exam because she left her notes under her desk while writing it. Wendi claims she never looked at her notes and only the blank side of the paper was visible. Neither the testimony of the student sitting next to her nor that of the TA who accused her were considered in determining her guilt. “At the U of O, whether or not a student has fraudulent intentions is irrelevant in determining if there is academic fraud,” reads the report.

Student advocates close to the case cite differences in plagiarism standards between countries (which international students may not be clear on), a lack of awareness among students about what constitutes plagiarism, and plain old racial discrimination as causes of the disproportionate number of minority students facing charges. “It shows that there is systemic racism at the University of Ottawa,” said Seamus Wolfe, VP university at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. The report recommended sensitivity training for university personnel.

The administration has not issued an official response, and is still considering the report’s recommendations. “We’re moving as fast as we can,” U of O spokesperson Andrée Dumulon told the Ottawa Citizen.

At U of T, when a student is under suspicion of academic misconduct, they are allowed to explain their case at a hearing with their professor and a representative of their dean, explained Adam Awad, VP university affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union. The student may request their registrar to be present, and registrars often advise students on the appeal process, but they are not always able to attend the hearing. Students may bring their own legal counsel, but they must pay for it themselves.

Downtown Legal Services, provided by the Faculty of Law, is available to advise students on their options. They can also contact their ombudsperson for assistance, though Awad pointed out that most students are unaware of these options when they are accused. There is no office comparable to U of O’s Student Appeals Centre at U of T.

“I think something like that would be very useful at U of T, particularly because it’s so big,” said Awad.

Talking modern art

Glenn Lowry is the former Director of the AGO, and current Director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The Varsity caught up with him during his quick visit to Toronto to deliver a lecture at the ROM.

The Varsity: Your official title is the Director of the Museum of Modern Art. What does that entail?

Glenn Lowry: A lot of travelling. I do a lot of lecturing and talking. I mostly work with the staff and the trustees to work on exhibitions and acquisitions. There is also strategic planning, and overseeing general operations of the museum. The MoMA staffs over 800 employees, and has 2.5 to 2.6 million visitors a year. I am, at least I hope I am, the catalyst in the middle of all this.

TV: Are there any important acquisitions that the MoMA is currently engaged in?

GL: There is always an important acquisition in process. I can’t tell you the specifics for fear of jinxing it, but the MoMA is a major collecting institution, and we are shaped through the modern and contemporary art objects that we acquire.

TV: Is there a need for the museum to balance its base of classic Modernism with constant developments in contemporary art?

GL: This is a central issue we struggle with—how to deal with the immediate past, the present, and the transitional future towards which art is moving. We are, you could almost call it isomorphs, half lives; and this reflects the ongoing tension between the well-known and the defined, which are at the core of our collection, and the progressive, new, and experimental in process of unfolding. The tension between those two animates what we do.

TV: You have been praised, and at times faulted, for bringing a certain entrepreneurial sensibility to the museum. On your watch, the MoMA underwent an $858-million expansion. What has this development meant for the museum?

GL: We did have a capital campaign of $858 million. But only half went to construction of [the actual] architecture. The other half went to endowments, and other programs and initiatives. The amount always gets lumped together, and I am hardly entrepreneurial! I come from an academic background, in the esoteric field of Islamic art, although [I have] always had an abiding interest in contemporary art.

For the last 15 years, I have tried to address the number of architectural issues that have precluded displaying the collections in the way we wanted to. When I was hired, I was not particularly interested in architectural projects. My focus was on generating major acquisitions, holding important exhibitions, and rethinking the way the collection needed to be displayed. So we talked to trustees, curators, friends of the community, and found that a more synthetic and nuanced reading of the modern art was needed.

Part of the intellectual goal of the institution is to be experimental. Once you embark on the [architectural] project, some are exhilarated, others are threatened. Some feel alienated and upset when they do not find their favourite artwork in its place. Others find the new [construction] utterly transfixing. After four years, criticism from those who were not pleased has abated. I welcome any kind of critical discourse. One of the things you learn is that criticism is essential to generating intelligent ideas. Part of our hope is that the MoMA remains a central [venue] for critical discourse.

TV: Art critics frown upon the close relationship certain artists share with auction houses, such as British artist Damien Hirst teaming up with Sotheby’s. What are your thoughts on this intersection of art and commerce?

GL: Art and commerce have been intertwined for hundreds of years. What has happened is that the money that has been thrown into art has increased dramatically. Artists are, in effect, making art for a clientele expecting a certain kind of spectacular object to satisfy their needs. The current economic [crisis] is going to [alter] some of these conditions fairly substantially.

TV: Is there a special role for art in times of recession?

GL: I don’t think art is shouldered with playing a special role during such times. But cultural institutions like museums and symphonies provide an opportunity to think differently. You are able to slow down, and perhaps for a moment, forget about your problems, and concentrate on thinking about how we express ourselves as a culture. I find that looking at works of art can be both meditative and informative. Seeing artworks that think through difficult situations—because that is what artists do, they pose complicated problems that require deep soul searching, and propose answers—can be helpful.

TV: Do you have a favourite piece at the museum?

GL: Working at the MoMA, you’re surrounded by some of the most important works of art—trying to pick a favourite is like trying to pick your favourite child. But if you have a lot of children, I suppose I do prefer one over the other. I always oscillate between Cezanne’s Bather to [his] Turning Road at Montgroult, to Pollock’s great No. 31, to Warhol’s Thirty-Two Soup Cans, to Kentridge’s films. For me, the greatest pleasure is walking through the galleries, and seeing the work of art that I know we own, not having paid attention to it before, and being pleasantly surprised. In essence, my favourites are changing all the time.

TV: You were the Director of the Art Gallery of Ontario from 1990 to 1995. What are your thoughts on the AGO’s recent renovation?

GL: The AGO was absolutely exhilarating. One of the great things about Toronto is that change is always taking place. What Frank [Gehry] has achieved is a significant clarification of the circulation system. [The AGO] was cut up before, but now the Dundas Strezet facade is utterly wonderful—it brings the street into the museum and the museum onto the street. The timber walkway presents a majestic moment in which one can pause and think about the art and culture of the city. It has really created a nexus of architecture in Toronto. Also, the Walker Court creates this wonderful way of moving around the building that was not there before.

TV: If you could offer one piece of advice for aspiring art historians and curators, what would it be?

GL: Follow your passion. The most interesting people I have met are all driven by deep passion. It does not make rational or logical sense. They feel committed, dependent, [and they have] the desire to learn, to think, to enjoy, and to pursue it, regardless of whether or not it makes rational sense. If you are really determined, ultimately, it leads somewhere. I think the hardest thing to deal with is that we live in a world that demands we matriculate, leave university, go to graduate school, get your first job, whatever, and we are pushed into paths. But actually, the most successful and interesting [people] are those who followed their passion and were brave enough to get off the grid.

U of T marks Transgender Day of Remembrance

Students and community members gathered to commemorate victims of anti-transgender hatred on Thursday, Nov. 20, marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The day of remembrance was first marked in 1999, in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Boston.

The Centre for Women and Trans People set up at Sidney Smith to discuss trans issues and violence, and afterwards decamped to the Centre’s headquarters on Spadina Avenue for a more intimate gathering.