A Cuban filmmaker finds home sweet home right here By Grant Loveys
Imagine for a moment that you’re officially from nowhere. Everyone’s from somewhere, of course – everyone’s born in a town or village or city. But say you were born in a foreign country – Cuba, perhaps – and you came to Canada in search of a different life. Say you apply for political asylum. Say it takes a year or two for the application to be considered. In that year, you’re neither Cuban nor Canadian. You’re officially from nowhere. Tamara Segura was, for a time, from nowhere.
Tamara is an award-winning filmmaker, born and raised in Cuba, who came to Canada as part of a film-school exchange program.
“When I applied for political asylum, I wasn’t Cuban anymore, but I wasn’t Canadian either,” she says. “I was in the middle. You have this weird status where you don’t belong to anywhere. It’s something you really have to get used to.”
Tamara was born in Holguín, Cuba, a communist country with state-controlled media and restrictions on speech and the expression of ideas – a very challenging place for artists. But she did well, even in that limited sphere. She graduated with honours from the Higher Arts Institute, then went on to complete a screenwriting program at the International Film and Television School in San Antonio de los Baños. Tamara began racking up accolades for her short films and documentaries, winning international film prizes in Spain, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico.
In 2010, Tamara was chosen to participate in an exchange program between Cuba’s International Film and Television School and the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal. She jumped at the chance. “My country has a communist system where freedom of speech is very limited and access to information is very limited. I’m not a unique case – many young artists are forced to leave the island in order to express themselves and create freely. I’m one of them.”
So she came to Canada and settled in Montreal. While there, however, she got in touch with a friend of hers, an actress who had worked in Cuba but now lived in St. John’s. Tamara’s friend was working on a film here and extended an invitation: come to St. John’s and help out. Tamara arrived in July 2012.
Newfoundland and Labrador turned out to be a perfect fit. “This is an island and I come from an island. There are so many connections,” she says. “They appear very different, but when you go deeper, you can see the similarities in the way people are. It feels very familiar, very welcoming. People are much more down to earth. In the Caribbean, we are all used to interacting and talking to each other. I feel that here. To me, that’s priceless. In Cuba you don’t get a chance to experiment. But when I got here there were so many things going on, so many possibilities and opportunities. I really enjoy that. It gave me a chance to discover myself and explore.” She applied for political asylum when she arrived.
Tamara began working on a new screenplay, “Before the War,” based, in part, on her own childhood experiences. “My father went to war when I was a child. After (he came back), I couldn’t have a normal relationship with him. It isn’t autobiographical, but the inspiration came from that.”
But something else also inspired her to write “Before the War”: Newfoundland and Labrador itself. “It could be set anywhere, but it was inspired by Newfoundland. Newfoundland is so beautiful. Every time I go out I discover a new place and say to myself, ‘This is my new favourite place. I really love going to Middle Cove – one time, when I was learning to write, I went there and saw a little girl watching the sea. She was like a model. There were more children running around and playing, but she was just staring at the sea. It was so expressive. That image appears in my film, and it’s something I do all the time now, just look out at the sea.”
Because Tamara had lived in St. John’s for a year, she was eligible to apply for the 2013 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award, a part of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, which took place last month. Curiously, the deadline for applications was July 2013, which happened to be the one-year anniversary of her arrival in St. John’s. Maybe it was fate, or maybe it was a product of all that inspiration, but, in any case, “Before the War” won. Tamara received $10,000 in cash and services she’ll use to bring her winning script to the big screen.
Her victory, however, is slightly bittersweet. Though Tamara told her parents when she was informed she had won, it’s difficult to regularly contact them and the rest of her family in Cuba. When the film is complete, she’ll find a way to show her family, but there is very little chance the film will ever be shown to the Cuban public. “I’d love to show (the film) in Cuba,” she says. “It’s my background, those are my roots. And that story, even though it’s set here, its roots are in Cuba, so I’d really like to share that with them. I think it’s very necessary that young artists who are no longer living in Cuba start to go there and share their visions and what they have learned from being outside. It’s not a matter of ego or look what I did, it’s a matter of sharing another vision of the world and letting people know it’s possible to live different things.”
And there’s one more thing she’s found in Newfoundland and Labrador: a different type of family. “When I’m directing (a film) I really need to connect with my team and make them see all the images that are in my head. To me, that’s the most beautiful thing. It’s very important to connect with each person on the team and make them understand what the film is about. I’m very passionate about that because I really like to connect with people. I’m a very collaborative person. It makes me feel stronger.”
Ultimately, home is where you make it. “The sounds of the sea, the sounds of the city (remind me of Cuba.) St. John’s is not a big city, so I can walk around at night and close my eyes and pretend I’m in Cuba. Other than the temperature,” she says, laughing.
Tamara is no longer officially from nowhere. Now, she’s a Newfoundlander.
What do you think of Screech-Ins? We asked that question of our readers as part of a November 2013 print story, and we received phone calls, comments, and mail on the topic. We’ve collected some of the responses here.
But first, here is what Screech-In Master Keith Vokey of Christian's had to say about the tradition when asked about it by writer Linda Browne for the November 2013 issue of Downhome:
DH: Some people think Screech-Ins put Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in a bad light. What do you think about that?
KV: I know people feel that way, but I don’t. I think the Screech-In is all meant in good fun. It’s meant to introduce people to some of the customs and ideas, but it’s also meant to take a measure of the people coming in from out of the province. For me, it’s always been about having fun and I never push people beyond their comfort zone. I don’t think it’s presenting us in a negative light at all. It is a little bit of a stereotype for sure, but right at the end you take all those stereotypes and you turn them on their ear. What the people are participating in, what they’re buying into, is not what Newfoundlanders are. I try to make that clear in the presentation of what I do.
We received an unsigned hand-written letter on an index card with no return address. Here’s what the anonymous commenter had to say:
As a native born Newfoundlander I’ve never been to one, but they sound stupid and demeaning. Jamaican rum and codfish as idols! If K.V. has a good sense of humour, why waste it on that – focus on something really interesting and funny. If I as a Newfoundlander find it offensive and dumb, how gross would it be to an outsider?
Stop screec-ins and concentrate on good, wholesome, real fun that is natural to Newfoundlanders."
Others chose to call our phone line and leave a message. We’ve included two of those calls here.
Trinity Loop. There used to be people here. Lots of them. “Kids of all ages,” as the saying goes. It was a little downhome Disneyland, filled with so much laughter and so many squeals of delight you couldn’t hear yourself think. But here you didn’t have to think – you just had to be, and enjoy, and for a few hours this place was the only place in the world. Today, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Trinity Loop is a paradox, both here and gone at the same time. It exists and it doesn’t. If you make the long trek down the Bonavista Peninsula highway and make the turn toward Trinity, you can find it. You’ll probably have to cast way back into the deep pool of your memory, back to the part where the little train chugs around the pond and the whistle still whines its lonesome note, to remember where exactly it was. And more likely than not, you won’t remember, so you’ll have to pull over and ask someone. And of course they will know exactly where it is, because how could they not? It’s been there all along. It never went anywhere – you did. So they’ll probably look at you a bit strangely, silently wondering why anyone would want to go there now, but they’ll tell you. You’ll find the park road so overgrown that the bushes reach from the shoulder and whisper along the sides of your car. Then, suddenly, wonderfully, out of the woods the park will emerge.
There have been several efforts to save Trinity Loop in the years since it closed, none of which have been successful. Recently, a group of concerned citizens started “Save the Trinity Loop” – a Facebook group and associated petition asking the provincial government to restore the historic site. In 2012, the government received an application from an undisclosed party to lease the loop and surrounding area, though as of print time the land is still property of the Department of Environment and Conservation.
We've collected our favourite reader submitted images of caves and tunnels from across Newfoundland. Click on the image below to go on a virtual tour that will take you from the Great Northern Peninsula all the way to the Avalon Peninsula.
In the October issue of Downhome, and with Halloween fast approaching, we seek out the individuals behind the mysterious world of the occult. Specifically, we take a closer look at psychic ability, hypnotism and illusion. Downhome tracked down three experts to get an inside look at these fascinating topics.
See the October issue of Downhome for the complete story, featuring psychic Edna Aker, hypnotist Gary Summers and world-renowned illusionist David Copperfield.
Here are a few excerpts from our interviews with Gary and Edna.
St. John's hypnotist Gary Summers explains how hypnosis works, and how hypnotherapy can help cure phobias.
Edna Aker, a psychic living in Nova Scotia, explains the experience of tapping into her psychic ability.
To enter to win tickets to see one of David Copperfield's live performances in St. John's in November, click here.
This Christmas, Downhome is challenging you to get crafting! Here's one fun, festive (and down-right mouthwatering!) craft to get you started this holiday season. Send in a photo of you with your Christmas Candy Tree creation, for a chance to appear in an upcoming issue of Downhome!
You will need:
3 cups royal frosting
2 small Styrofoam tree-shaped cones
Green food colouring
4 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp meringue powder
6 tbsp water
Combine ingredients in large, clean mixing bowl and blend for seven min. at medium-medium-high speed. (Note: Ensure that mixing bowl and beater are completely free of any grease or residue before adding ingredients, as frosting is easily spoiled.)
Make royal frosting using the recipe, above. Keep covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying out. Working from the top of one Styrofoam cone, spread a large amount of icing down the side. Stick candies to the icing (refer to photo for pattern). Repeat steps until cone is covered with candies. Work quickly, as the royal frosting dries fast and the candies will not stick. Put cone on a plastic wrap-lined plate to dry overnight.
Cut the top off the second cone and wedge the wide bottom into mug; secure with frosting. Gently push candy stick into centre of decorated cone (you could make a “drill hole” using a pencil the width of the candy stick, to lessen strain on stick). Remove stick and push into centre of cone in mug (again, you could use the pencil). Put glue in the hole in the mug. Place candy stick in glue and let dry.
Plant Some Grass
In a small bowl, mix ¼ cup of water and a few drops of green food colouring. Add ½ cup coconut and stir to distribute green colour. Spread on a piece of foil and bake at 200°F for 20-30 minutes, checking frequently until dry.
Put it all Together
Pour glue into bottom of hole you made in decorated cone and place cone over candy stick. Prop up if necessary until set. Fill mug with coloured coconut. Adorn handle of mug with ribbon.
Alternate design: You can also create this craft without using the mug, the candy stick and the second cone. Decorate one cone with frosting, green spearmint leaf candy and red licorice laces to resemble a Christmas tree. The finished cone can be placed on a foil cake plate, wrapped with basket wrap and given as a gift.
Problem Potatoes I’m emailing you for my dad. He grows all his own veggies. He has a couple of gardens, but he has a problem with one of them. The garden had red soil. He plants potatoes there but they grow only one year. The next year when he plants potatoes again they wont grow. Nothing will. He’s tried small seed but it won’t grow. Potatoes will only grow there about every second or third year. Do you know what the problem could be? – Joni Noseworthy
A: Potatoes can be grown in the same ground year after year but you do need to improve the soil. First of all, organic matter should be added every year in the form of well-rotted manure, compost and/or peat moss. This is dug into the soil before planting. You also need a source of nutrients for the potatoes. This could be in the form of commercial fertilizer. I would recommend a formula like 6 -12 -12 with magnesium. If seaweed is available, this can be used as the source of nutrients.
It is important to have seed potatoes that have been certified disease-free. They can be purchased at garden supply shops. It is a good idea to pre-sprout the seed potatoes before planting. This is done by spreading out the seed in a single layer in a tray in a well-lit area. You do this about three or four weeks before planting. The seed pieces will develop sturdy sprouts and then you are sure that you have a sprout in each piece that you plant.
After the potatoes come up and grow about 6 inches, more soil is placed around the plants. This is to prevent the new potatoes from turning green. At that time the plants are usually side dressed with additional fertilizer.
Black Knot and Damsons I have a relatively young damson tree and last year it bore fruit for the first time. The tree also had black knot, which I removed and burned. Is there any preventative treatment that might discourage this growth? – Geoff Winsor
A: The only control for black knot on damson trees is to remove the black knots to keep them from spreading to other branches. As far as I know, there are no chemical sprays that are effective. You should inspect the tree every spring and fall for any sign of black knot. Black knot occurs on the wild pin cherry, so if you can you should eradicate them.
Blueberry Bushes I have quite a few blueberries growing in my garden, maybe 10-15 gallons. I’ve noticed that every year the weeds seem to be taking over. I have thought about burning to improve the blueberry yield, but the plants are fairly close to my house and my husband is reluctant to do this. Is there any kind of weed control product I can purchase? If I don’t do something soon I will lose all these plants to weeds. I would appreciate any help or advice you can give me.
A: If you had a brush-cutter or whipper-snipper, you could cut back the blueberry bushes tight to the ground instead of burning. This will encourage new growth and in the second year you will get increased blueberry production. It will also make it easier to clear out the weeds. During the summer, the weeds can be spot sprayed with Round-up, but you must be careful because it can also kill the blueberries. If there are any evergreens, they have to be manually removed.