Varsity Blues defeat Queen’s, remain kings

The Varsity Blues men’s basketball team is aware of its environment. In their final home game of the season, a 63-48 victory over the Queen’s Golden Gaels, homecourt advantage was key.

The team trounced Ryerson in their final regular season game, reaching triple digits in scoring, a rarity in OUA competition. As the Blues had already clinched third place going into the Ryerson game, their match against the pesky Gaels was greatly anticipated. Most of the Blues players shaved their hair into fauxhawks, or “Bluehawks” of various lengths, in a spirit of team unity. Their shorn locks stood in contrast to the Gaels players, most of whom sported flowing blond hair.

While the Blues were dressed to impress, they started the game slightly frantic. The visitors brought a physical game with an up-tempo style that the Blues seemed anxious to copy. Blues head coach, Mike Katz, who was generous in his praise for Queen’s, was disappointed with his team’s first-half effort. The Gaels didn’t possess the talent of the Blues, but were exceptional at moving the ball around, even though they did not always convert their opportunities. Queen’s also featured a deep bench, and a constant rotation, while the Blues mainly stuck to their top seven players.

The first half was something of a stalemate, as both teams put up a very low number of points, astonishing for a Blues team that scored at will against Ryerson. More amazing is that Queen’s held a slight edge in rebounding, which is one of the Blues greatest strengths.

An expected strength worked against the Blues: a large crowd showed up to support the home team, but remained fairly quiet. This was despite the presence of the cheerleading squad, an engineer band that blasted wacky songs throughout the Athletic Centre, and the general misuse of a loudspeaker.

The mood was soured by the U of T women’s basketball team, which had just gone down to a stunning defeat, despite a valiant effort. The gym smelled like tears and deodorant. The men’s team seemed anxious to get the crowd into the game early, but in doing so, they compromised their style, appearing listless at times, especially in the second quarter. It didn’t help that players from the women’s team would occasionally wander into the stands, revealing long faces and sad eyes.

The men’s team, who had watched the end of the earlier game from the sidelines, seemed intent to wash away the memories of the bitter defeat. Once forward Ahmed Nazmi knocked down a critical three-pointer at the start of the second half, the sense of momentum clearly shifted. Nazmi waved his hands in a motion that suggested “on your feet,” and the crowd responded, many actually standing up. Shockwaves erupted throughout the stands. “I was just praying it would go in, so I could turn to the crowd and give them something,” said Nazmi of the shot. “The crowd just gave us what we needed, and we went on from there for a couple of baskets”.

Nazmi had knocked down his only three shots of the first half, lay-ups from in close. Nazmi admitted that he prefers outside shots, and had the bold idea to launch a three-pointer. “I really try and keep an eye out for the crowd. The crowd is, I think, after the five players on the court, the most important factor. This is why home advantage is so big for us,” he revealed.

On the next trip down the floor, Nazmi attempted a behind-the-back shot that just glanced off the rim. The crowd gasped with excitement as the team managed to score on a putback. “[I try] anything that can get the crowd revved up and get them involved […] They are a beautiful crowd, they come right back with that enthusiasm, and that gets us going. This is why I love playing at U of T,” concluded Nazmi.

From that moment on, the game was transformed, and the Blues started to maneuver the court with a newfound sense of confidence. They held the lead for the rest of the game. “I thought we did a good job in the second half, rebounding and catching the ball, and pretty much ran our offence,” said head coach Katz. “Our guys have been good all year enough to win.”

Two Blues players reached double digits in both points and rebounds against the Gaels. One was sharpshooter Ahmed Nazmi, who while battling a cold all day, quietly and efficiently added 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points.

The other player to score a double-double was Nick Snow, earning the Blues player of the game title with a whopping 15 rebounds, to go along with his 11 points. After the game, Snow was drenched with sweat from his effort, but beamed from ear to ear, elated from the victory. Though the always humble Snow was quick to praise his guards for their clutch shots, often it was Snow’s battle for the rebound that led to his teammates’ second chance points. Snow talked about the difficulty of putting shots up from inside, and battling hard for rebounds. He clearly had the advantage of extra practice time during reading week, when the coach stressed the value of fundamentals. “It has been a point of emphasis we’ve had the last couple of weeks—rebounding, especially offensive boards, second chances, easy points,” said Snow.

Nazmi and Snow were especially needed because the Blues’ leading scorers, dynamic duo and potent one-two punch Rob Paris and Nick Magelas, did not have their typical shooting games. Both aggressive players dictated the flow of the offence. They managed to find open looks for their teammates, and clearly outclassed their opponents while the Blues played on. As the Blues started to make their shots, and even for the shots that they missed, they grabbed the offensive rebounds. They would often rip the ball right out of the hands of Queen’s defenders, and go to the net without hesitation.

The Blues changed their style in the second half, using their talented guards to distribute the ball, rather than trying to put up long-range shots. The Blues started to execute their set plays to great effect, and stopped trying to keep pace with Queen’s running game. Reserve point guard Anthony DeGiorgio overcame a rough start, shooting some clutch-free throws in the third quarter, essentially putting the game to bed.

The Blues are a team that clearly plays with a sense of purpose. The coach stresses fundamentals, keeping the game simple, focusing on rebounding, execution, and defensive intensity. The squad is resilient. They stick to their plan, and if that is not working, they find a new way to attack their opponents, and exploit their weaknesses. They show great tenacity, and revel in their roles as hard workers and crowd pleasers. Though they lost the quarter-final to the Gee-Gees on Saturday in Ottawa (96-81), the Blues are always in it to win it, and greatly appreciate the support of their fans.

Blues bounced from playoffs

They were the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference of women’s OUA basketball, riding a 14-game win streak that dated back to Nov. 29, 2008. They were a confident and experienced group, strengthened by their leadership and emboldened by their talent.

That confidence was dashed on Feb. 25, when the Blues hosted the Ottawa Gee-Gees at the Athletic Centre Sports Gym in a single-elimination playoff battle for OUA Eastern Conference supremacy. But far from playing like a top-seeded team, the Blues played what was perhaps their worst game of the year in their most important match as they were steamrolled 68-55, losing for the first time 2009 in what became their last game of the season.

“Ottawa came in and basically beat us up on our home court,” said head coach Michele Belanger, her voice tinged with the disappointment of a lost opportunity.

It was an uphill battle from the beginning. Struggling with their shots and consistency, they opened the game with a terrible first quarter. Costly turnovers in both zones and poor decision-making by the Blues allowed the Lady Gees to scorch them to a 17-9 lead in the first. It was the first time an opponent has succeeded in limiting the Blues offence to only single-digit points in a quarter this season. The Lady Gees employed a strangling zone defence and a swift transition game that left the Blues running around offensively and defensively.

Only after the Lady Gees extended their lead by as many as 15 points in the second did the Blues slowly wake from their stupor. Sparked by fourth-year guard Jessica Hiew’s three-pointer at the eight-minute mark of the second, the game opened up as they roared with a 12-4 run to finish the first half down 28-21.

A back-and-forth affair in the third quarter saw the Blues play tougher in the paint and smarter in team positioning. This cut the Lady Gees lead to 42-37 and within five points to start the fourth quarter. The game was still in hand and a victory still possible.

But whether it was the nerves of having to battle from behind, or the aggressiveness of the Lady Gees, the Blues fell apart at the seams in the final quarter. They first lost the on-court battles before losing their on-court composure.

“We fell apart,” explained Belanger. “They just fell apart. We didn’t close out well, put them on the foul line and they started making their foul shots. And they got a lot of shots in the second half.”

Of the 27 free-throw attempts made by the Lady Gees, who have been brilliant from the line with a free-throw percentage of 88.9 per cent, 23 of them came in the second half. The Blues by contrast shot only 58.3 per cent or 14-for-24 from the free-throw line, a costly statistic that proved to be the Blues undoing.

“They shot the ball well from the foul line,” said Belanger. “We didn’t shoot the ball well from the foul line. We didn’t shoot the ball well, period. Not sure what that’s from, it’s certainly more a personal thing than a mental thing. We were offensively out-of-synch.”

The better team won the game. Ottawa outplayed, outsmarted, and outlasted Toronto, superior to the Blues in nearly every major category and aspect of the game. They succeeded in containing Toronto’s OUA All-Stars in fourth-year Alaine Hutton and third-year Nicki Schutz, as they struggled against their shots. They combined for only 15 points in the game, a number well below their regular season average and arguably their worst performance of the year, a bitter and crushing ending to a solid year of women’s basketball at U of T.

“Overall, I’m pretty pleased [with the season],” said Belanger with a last smile. “They amounted to a lot. We just ended up falling apart and it’s just unfortunate it had to happen in this game.”

Dry Ice

Inconsistency for the Blues is like a bad penny, it keeps turning up.

In the first and third period, Toronto matched McGill in intensity, speed, and physical play. The middle stanza was their undoing in a season that ended too soon for the Blues.

The Redmen took full advantage of Toronto’s lack of focus as they scored three second-period goals en route to a 6-3 series-clinching win at Varsity Arena on Saturday night.

“We held the play for a good portion of the game but silly mistakes got the best of us,” said Blues forward Joel Lenius. “I thought we played a good 40 minutes but it’s the other 20 minutes, where we didn’t play our best, that kind of caught up to us.”

McGill had the upper hand in the battle of special teams. In game one, of the best of three, the Redmen scored three power-play goals in a 3-2 win last Wednesday night.

On Saturday, the visitors converted on two of five power plays while the Blues went scoreless in seven opportunities.

“We had a really good year as far as penalty-killing went,” said Toronto head coach Darren Lowe. “When you get to this part of the season, it’s special teams that win and lose games for you and unfortunately, we didn’t do as good a job on our penalty-killing or our power play […] and that’s the difference in the hockey game.”

The winning goal came on the power play at 6:50 of the second period when Eric L’Italien jammed a rebound through the legs of Blues goalie Russ Brownell.

The Redmen opened the scoring at 3:41 of the first period when Andrew Wright beat Brownell with a wrist shot that hit the right post and went in.

Blues rookie Byron Elliot had a chance to tie the game three minutes later. He intercepted a McGill pass in the slot but couldn’t finish.

The Redmen made it 2-0 at 12:43 when Guillaume Doucet found himself alone in the goal crease. A pass squeaked between Brownell’s legs and the right post as Doucet tapped the puck into the empty net.

Toronto responded with desperation, as Elliot scored a much-needed goal at 14:32 to cut the lead to 2-1.

Andre Picard-Hooper and Marko Kovacevic also scored for the Redmen in the middle stanza.

Brownell allowed three goals on nine shots, as Lowe yanked him at the end of the second in favour of Andrew Martin.

“I’m sure [Brownell] might have been a little tense coming home down a game,” Lowe said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way […] I can’t say enough about the way he played for us this year. He was fabulous.”

Goals by Sean Fontyn, in the last minute of the second and Claudio Cowdrey, early in the third made the score 5-3.

The Blues thought they narrowed the game to 5-4 with 15 minutes remaining when the puck appeared to cross the line, but the referee waived it off.

“For sure the puck was in the net,” Lenius said. “The puck bounced off the goalie’s glove and I pushed it in over the line.”

The Blues pressed the issue, but McGill goalie Kevin Desfosses made some big saves, including a right leg stop on a breakaway for Toronto forward Joe Rand with 1:40 left in the third.

“[Desfosses] joined us at Christmas time and he has given us some stability in the net,” said McGill head coach Martin Raymond. “Having him down the stretch has helped as we keep going [to the next round].” Desfosses stopped 23 for the win.

The Blues pulled their goalie with 1:29 remaining, but it was too little too late.

Vincent Lambert iced the game with an empty netter.

“The guys really battled hard in the third period,” Brownell said. “Our guys never quit. That’s one thing that characterizes our team: the guys never give up.”

Prof drops pants

Few profs do a better job than Doug Richards at disproving the old line “those who can’t do, teach.” A doctor specializing in sports medicine, Richards’s patients have included the Toronto Raptors and other national teams. But he is also a distinguished researcher, a much-loved lecturer, and the medical director of U of T’s David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic. And he’s good at it.

Nominated by his students for TVO’s Best Lecturer award, Richards is “extremely competent—it’s always impressive having him as a lecturer,” says Marko Balan, a student of his. “He does a good job of presenting topics from different perspectives, so students can understand them, using different methods of explaining.”

In one class, Richards jumped up on a table and dropped his pants, revealing biking tights. He then proceeded to chalk out a diagram, on the tights.

“I’m pretty informal,” Richards said. “I don’t stand still behind a podium, that’s for sure.”

One of Richards’ greatest strengths is his ability to contextualize concepts, which is helped by his incredible range of knowledge and interests. He went to medical school in 1975 for neurosurgeory, but discovered that it wasn’t physical enough for him.

“I was a bit of an oddball, in terms of my interests, because although I was interested in biological sciences I was very physical in my nature. Aptitude tests in high school always said I should be an engineer,” said Richards. After he finished medical school, he went back to study math and computer science. It was while he was working at U of T Health Services that he treated Varsity Blues athletes, and became interested in sports medicine. He said it appealed to his “suppressed engineer,” because it’s “very physical, three-dimensional, spatial stuff.”

Now Richards is considered one of the grandfathers of the discipline. He’s been a team doctor to the Varsity Blues since 1984, and to multiple Canadian teams since 1987.

Richards said his greatest challenges are “some of the subjects I teach, which in and of themselves can seem somewhat esoteric and specialized, like who cares, whatever.” This is where his broad background comes in handy. “Because I’ve studied math, and physical sciences, and biological sciences, and I’m in sports, I can take something like elasticity and viscosity—which sounds boring, and it is, unless you’re an engineer, but it’s relevant to how people behave when they stretch.”

Richards genuinely loves teaching, and is passionate about his subjects. “I’m teaching about how to be physically active and healthy,” says Richards, “I’m pumped about it, I come to work pumped.”

Child Stars

That Night Follows Day is the quietly impressive import at the Fleck Dance Theatre (World Stage) that finished its limited run on Saturday night. Created by British theatre-maker Tim Etchells for the Belgian theatre company Campo, the 70-minute piece features a group of Flemish children aged 8-12. The most interesting aspect of That Night Follows Day is the opportunity to see children onstage without the physical presence of adults. This unique performance holds a mirror up to the ways in which kids are initiated (whether they want to or not) into the educated, “adult” world, and the different ways they absorb the information doled out by grown-ups.

Structured mostly as a choral piece with interspersed monologues, the kids mark out all the things “we” (be it parents or any controlling authority figures) have foisted onto them. Some of it is expressed in a bemused or disaffected way, other times with bitterness and irony. Just as often, the statements are weighted with love, or the simple ingenuousness that children possess so easily.

The stage design is modeled after a school gymnasium, with coloured lines on the floors and a wooden climbing apparatus near the back, upon which characters climb to watch the action downstage.

Etchells’ text is at its most amusingly self-reflexive when one of the littlest of the kids exclaims, “You’re partisan with your affections.” It’s in instances like these—where the performance draws attention to itself—that the subtext shifts. If speaking directly to the audience is a statement of the children’s power or agency, what does it mean to consider that the dialogue has been written by an adult theatre artist? To produce the precision required for this type of performance, these kids must have gone through hours of rehearsal to prepare for public viewing.

As critical as the text is, there’s another less didactic message under the surface, which suggests that the regulation and instruction by parents is a necessary evil within the complicated process of growing up. The conflict between content and execution is what makes That Night Follows Day so rewarding to think about, even if it drags during the longer, unbroken sections of speech.

Additionally, it’s a challenge for the viewer to pick up every nuance of statement with eyes drifting back and forth between the children speaking and the English subtitles projected above the stage. In some cases, it’s difficult to register the tones of voice, and in trying to read the English, many of the physical cues are overlooked. But perhaps that’s another way of defamiliarizing the adult audience—putting us in the position where we don’t completely know what the children are saying makes us further aware of our own limitations of understanding. The show’s quieter moments offer respite, as well as an opportunity to watch the kids in a more uninhibited state.

Slightly sad, but mostly contemplative in its tone, That Night Follows Day offers wonderful insight into the minds and feelings of children, not to mention the opportunity to see a group of incredibly talented kids deliver a quickly-paced performance to a foreign audience.

Rating: VVVV

Memoirs of a revolution

Xinran is no stranger to storytelling. In The Good Women of China, she gathered the lives of ordinary women she encountered in her 20 years as a reporter and radio host in China. Years after Xinran moved to London, she returned to China to interview her parents’ generation for her latest book, China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation.

Witness presents the testimony of men and women who reached their prime during the Cultural Revolution, the decade of radical reform from 1966-76 that resulted in political and social turmoil. Schools closed, university exams stopped, and Mao Zedong mobilized youth into Red Guard units that roamed the country to carry out his mandate of purging bourgeois counter-revolutionary influences. Red Guards ransacked homes and heritage sites, renamed streets, and denounced and attacked ‘class enemies.’

The Chinese Communist Party quietly laid responsibility at Mao’s door and acknowledged the failure of his policies, but open discussion is still taboo in China, and Xinran fears these stories will be lost with the older generation. She spoke with The Varsity about censorship, bridging the generation gap, and why she never spent a birthday with her mother.

The Varsity: None of your books have been published in China. If your books aren’t available to most Chinese, aren’t you missing the most important audience?

Xinran: Yes, very much so. When people ask me, “Do you think the book is for Westerners or for Chinese?” I say first of all the book is for myself, to get answers why my family gave me life, but couldn’t give me time and love.

Secondly, for Chinese children, because I am the mother of a Chinese son. Other countries have so many people to gather historical records. China only has the last generation [the youngest are now in their seventies]. They are voiceless. They are absent. If they’re gone, and we still don’t listen to them, our future could be could be cut off from our history.

And also it is for Westerners. I’ve been working in Western media—BBC, the Guardian—I can see their knowledge is very limited and very old. If people don’t understand this nation of 1.3 billion, a quarter of the people on this planet, how can we make peace between each other?

I had seven [Chinese] publishers interested, but they said it was too sensitive, too close to history. But of course I do want very much that Chinese can read it.

TV: How did the Cultural Revolution affect you?

X: This is very painful. I never get out of that part of my life.

The Cultural Revolution took place when I was seven and a half. Because my parents were highly educated and spoke foreign languages, they were arrested the first week. I became kind of a political orphan, along with my younger brother, who was two and a half years old. Fourteen of us slept in one room, on the floor.

In that six and a half years, I never ever had the chance to speak up, to have friends, to play. I was terribly lonely. During the night, Red Guards [youths who carried out Maoist principles for purging counter-revolutionary influences] picked up kids, took them next door, beat them, probably sexually abused them as well. I was so frightened. Every night I thought it was my turn.

That nightmare comes back again and again. I can’t sleep. At night, I jump up, scared, until I find out where I am. And then I confirm I’m grown up, I’m not in that childhood anymore.

TV: You dedicated this book to your mother and to mothers everywhere.

I’m over 50 years old, and I’ve never had a single birthday with my mom. I dreamed to be hugged, to be kissed, to be warmed by her. Obviously she struggled, she would say, don’t worry about birthdays, it doesn’t matter, but for me, I wanted one. So I think she always felt I couldn’t understand how difficult a life she had been through. I want my writing to show her that step by step, drop by drop, I’m reaching my dream—I just want to know her.

As a mother, I know I will have stories to tell my son and he will tell the stories to his children. I wish my mom’s generation could be comfortable with us and trust us. We’re not just living in just a material world or with Western beliefs. We are part of Chinese culture and history.
TV: You worked for a Chinese military university for 12 years, and another 8 at a radio show. Why did you leave?

X: During my radio show, we had a call-in program. So people came to me, very emotionally, and some women committed suicide after phone calls. That got to me. I felt hopeless and useless. It happened again and again. Policemen came to me and said, we found a body, that body has a letter to you. That made me so depressed. At that time, you can’t talk about freedom of religion, freedom of the press, or sexuality. But this is a very basic need of human life.
After eight years of the radio show from Monday to Friday, two hours every day, I felt so empty. I can’t tell you that feeling. So I just needed to recharge myself. I couldn’t sleep. I started taking sleeping pills, and the doctor said stop, you should go somewhere, keep a distance from your daily life.

TV: In the introduction to China Witness, you talk about “national dignity” and dignity comes up repeatedly as a topic. What does that mean to you and why is it important?
X: When we talk about dignity, democracy, society, or freedom, what does that mean? What’s important is how much we understand between each other, between generations, between history and the future. If we don’t have this capability to speak, understanding is impossible.

But in China—based on cultural reasons or systemic reasons—this new generation is the very first to open our conversation. Even if you are in America, in Canada, in U.K., you can see it’s very common: the Chinese don’t talk.
It’s not just political reasons. Political reasons are the worst, but there’s so much tact in our culture. I call it an abused culture. We have a beautiful, rich culture, but there is a dark side. Women are still under men’s control and the family tree is based on men. We say we have a different culture from others, actually I think that’s just an excuse.

TV: For the book, you interviewed people in their seventies to nineties. What about your generation? Will there be a follow-up?

X: This is part of my plan. I will follow three generations. I hope in my lifetime I could interview my generation and their children, and see how much this nation has changed.

TV: What difficulties did you have interviewing people?

X: People tell you the stories, but if you really question them, Why did you do this? What did you feel? Why didn’t you stand up? They can’t say.

People are confused how to talk, how to tell their story, even now if you tell a fact, you have to dress it into the sentence. People think you can get information very easily, from government documents. But what I want to know is something very personal, because through personal lives, you can analyze the texture of china’s past.

TV: In your book, you talk about the gap between written history and lived experience. Can we ever reconcile the two?

X: Most history is written by winners, not victims and losers. Real history is colourful and gives people enough space to talk in different ways. History isn’t made by politicians—it’s made by individuals and families. We’re giving the wrong message to our students and to ourselves. According to our culture, we have to be simplified into black-or-white.

TV: Are there any winners from the Cultural Revolution?

X: Yes, like Yao Puopuo, from the first chapter of the China Witness book. She’s the only one in my twenty years’ time who said she loved the Cultural Revolution. Anyone could travel, and they came to buy her herbs. She said, “I make huge money by Cultural Revolution.”

TV: Young people who became Red Guards also got a rare chance to exercise power.

X: In the Chinese tradition, young people never had a chance to question, to challenge, to oppose anyone higher than them. The Cultural Revolution gave young people a chance to challenge the old, to go against everything. But you need very basic respect for human beings, or for legal behaviour—you can’t take the damage or abuse of other people as your liberation. Many Red Guards told me in the past five years that they struggled quite a lot on how to see their past. But some of them still think what they did was somehow good for China.

TV: What do you think of the new generation of students? They’re often criticized for being apathetic or materialistic, for defending the Chinese government against all comers.

X: We can’t simplify this kind of situation. They come from a lost generation. Their parents were very poor and struggled all their life, so they want to give the best to their children. This happened in America, in 1930s and 40s when people used to be very poor. The new generation is brought up in such a fast-moving world. They are like plants who haven’t been given the time to go through the four seasons.

In other countries, even if the younger generation doesn’t care, one day they can go back to museums or libraries to dig out the family roots. In China, there’s not much left—their grandparents are their history. We have to urgently record that, as soon as possible. The Cultural Revolution destroyed so much. Over the last 30 years, the teaching methods in schools are very limited. Lots of teachers still don’t have very deep resources to open children’s minds. To solely blame the new generation is very difficult. It’s not their fault or their parents’—it’s just a certain period in history.

TV: Are you optimistic that dialogue is opening inside China?

With the central government, there’s control and censorship. But this government is trying to make the move smoothly—you can’t make change overnight, that’s what they tried in the Cultural Revolution. At the moment, I think they are going in the right direction. To open the conversation or freedom of the press, that could be a long march for Chinese society.

John Fraser, a former China correspondent for the Globe & Mail and the master of Massey College, will interview Xinran 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at the Hart House Debates Room.

Psychology of zombies

Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s newest work, Pontypool, is recklessly audacious—it’s a horror film that not only accepts the drawbacks of its low budget, but practically revels in them, shamelessly flaunting its limitations.

The plot: Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a folksy morning radio host in a small Ontario town, learns of a riot taking place down the street during airtime. The riot expands over the course of the morning, growing violent, and it’s soon reported that the rioters are chanting bizarre mantras and exhibiting zombie-like behaviour.

This claustrophobic film crackles with energy, steadily building a sense of dread through panicked phone calls and hearsay. Pontypool also has the audacity to risk being uncool, jumping between irony and earnestness with a frequency that might confuse mainstream audiences. Consider Dr. Mendez, a goofy psychiatrist with a Freudian accent who enters the picture through an unbelievable contrivance at the halfway point, giving a scientific explanation so outrageous that I can’t do it justice. Mazzy then takes the justification in an even more insane direction.

Meeting McDonald for an interview, I ask if “zombie movie” is even an accurate description of the film, considering the unusual source of the plague. “It’s one of those tags that just sort of sticks to it,” says McDonald. “Because, technically, they’re not really zombies—because zombies are the undead. And in a way, it’s more like a sci-fi movie or…a dark romance, or something. Know what I mean?”

Sort of. McDonald’s fragmented explanation hints at how the film flaunts genre conventions. “Somehow in the press,” he continues, “[zombie] is a word that kinda keeps floating around, and we’re like, ‘Well… I guess.’ It’s not a Western or a space movie or a superhero movie.”

At age 49, McDonald is short and portly, perpetually outfitted with a cowboy hat and stubble-beard. With his casual mannerisms and appearance, he’s the type of guy I would expect to encounter panning for gold in an old-timey western town. In addition to his lengthy resume of TV credits as a director-for-hire, McDonald has established himself as one of Canada’s most vibrant and exciting contemporary filmmakers, with cult hits Hard Core Logo and The Tracey Fragments among his credits.

Aside from a brief scene at the beginning, the entirety of Pontypool is set within the confines of the radio studio, with apocalyptic information gradually creeping in. I tell McDonald that the atmosphere of dread and uncertainty in a media setting reminds me of 9/11, a comparison he accepts. “It’s that modern condition: you’re in a room, you’re receiving information through your telephone, computer, TV. But you’re not really experiencing what’s going on—you’re just relying on the reach of whoever is sending you the information.”

The film also bears a resemblance to Orson Welles’ seminal War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which, masquerading as a news broadcast, sent the U.S. into a panic with gradual reports of an alien apocalypse. “I remember on late-night radio hearing bits and pieces of that,” says McDonald. “It’s such a smart and cool idea—it’s an audio experience. You’re riveted, but you’re seeing nothing.”

In fact, Pontypool, based on a book by Tony Burgess, was originally commissioned as a radio drama for the CBC, and drew some of its inspiration from the Welles broadcast. “That’s why radio dramas were so popular before television. It was like sitting around the campfire hearing stories.”

I take a risk by telling McDonald that I think Pontypool straddles the line between horror and camp, pointing in particular to the outlandishly clichéd Dr. Mendez. “Yeah!” he shouts enthusiastically. “It’s quite funny, ‘cause we wanted a guy with a strange accent that wasn’t French or German but just something like, ‘Where is this guy from?’ It’s hard to always know if it’s successful or not, but we liked that he was eccentric and odd and kinda funny, and [the audience is] like, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’”

Pontypool will premiere at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Avenue) on March 2 at 7 p.m. It opens in Toronto on March 6.

Status update: Giving up FB for JC

Bask in the advent of Religion 2.0, as Christians worldwide decide to give up Facebook for Lent. The trend, popular last year among teens and university students, involves abstaining from using Facebook during the 40 days that separate Ash Wednesday from Easter Sunday. This year, adults are jumping on the bandwagon as well—presumably having only recently discovered the social networking site.

Facebook usage has increased among adults in recent years, and Christians among them are flocking to join such Facebook groups as “Fast Facebook for Lent” and “The Lent Facebook Switch-Off” (presumably if the group shows absolutely no activity, it’s working).

Supporters say giving up FB for JC helps them control their temptations and save time.