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.
1. Study mushroom photographs that others have taken. The Flickr photogroup has thousands of images online.
2. Consider various points-of-view and choose the ones that best represent the mushroom or the ones that best represent how you want to capture it.
3. Set the camera’s mode on close-up. Use a macro lens, extension tubes or close-up filters on a dSLR.
4. Use aperture priority to better control depth-of-field. Use an aperture that best separates the mushroom from its background.
5. Use centre-weighted metering or spot metering so the camera’s meter is not fooled by the surrounding light or shadow.
6. Use a tripod or, when shooting at ground level, a bean bag to support your camera. Use a shutter release cable or the camera’s self-timer with the shutter lockup option to eliminate blur from camera shake.
7. Clear away some of the leaf litter, branches or grass that might distract the eye.
8. Use natural light, but be prepared for long exposures. Use reflectors (something white like an index card or card stock covered in foil) to add light, or use a diffused flash to fill shaded areas.
9. Revisit the mushroom every day to photograph its ever-changing appearance.
10. Keep your head down. Mushrooms can be very small and are often hidden behind rocks and logs. Miss one today and it may not be there tomorrow or even for the next couple of years.
When we put the call out for "Gull on a Rock" photos, we had no idea the amazing response we'd get! And although they aren't all seated on rocks, one thing's for sure, they're all in a beautiful setting - Newfoundland and Labrador. See the August issue for a special display of seagull photos. Here are some honourable mentions.
Click on any photo listed in this article to see a large version of the photo and admire the talented submissions of some of our readers.
A Speckled Seagull
This gull sat peacefully on the cliffs of Tapper's Cove, Torbay. Gord Waterman
These seagulls cooled off by perching on an iceberg in St. Lewis Sound last year. Calvin Poole
St. Lewis, Labrador
"It looked so peaceful, I just had to take a picture!" writes the submitter. Natasha Mouland
"While taking a stroll along Harbour Drive in Conche, the gulls were all about on the rocks, on bergs. Two were on this particular rock but one decided to go just as I took the picture, leaving the other to wonder, 'Should I stay or should I go?'" writes the submitter. Patricia
This tired seagull covered up under its wing to take a rest beside the road in Sweet Bay. Fay Simms
Gull on a Roof
This proud seagull perched upon the roof of a shed in Lower Lance Cove to survey the goings on below. Linda Stone
These seagulls, both old and young, sat peacefully together at the ocean's edge in Old Perlican. Vicky Martin
Grates Cove, NL
In the span of a couple of months, Downhome received letters from two different readers, both inquiring about nearly identical antique items that they own - a brass image of a fisherman's face. Struck by the coincidence, but unsure what the item was or where it came from, the editors put the call out to readers to identify the mystery object (pictured right). As usual, you came through for us! Here are some of the messages left on Downhome's Submission Phone Line (1-866-640-1999).