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.
Monday September 20th was a little busier than usual. Southern and Eastern sections of Newfoundland were battening down the hatches for Hurricane Igor.
With my husband away at work in St. John’s, I was left to weather the storm with my two children at home in Harbour Mille. That night I settled my eldest in his room and tucked my two-year-old into bed with me.
Igor struck with a vengeance about 4 a.m. The rain fell hard and the wind blew with such a force it seemed the house rose before falling back again on its foundation. The water was coming in through the foundation of the basement, but a quick check showed the pump was doing what it was designed to do.
Others in the area weren’t faring quite so well, I later found out.
The barasway in St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine had flooded. At least seven homes in an area known as “The Gut” were nearly submerged. Devon Brushett, with the help of some neighbours, rescued his grandparents from the second floor of their home. The water was so high he needed a boat to reach them.
Stewart Scott, another area resident, lost everything on the main level of his home, but still made it to work on time as the maintenance man for the town. He said he wanted to prevent the water from damaging other homes the way it had his own.
Still another man by the name of George Sheppard helped organize evacuations and assisted in getting his friends and neighbours to safety.
I tried to offer assistance, but it was quickly clear I wouldn’t make it very far. Our own roads were flooded, in some areas as high as the windows on a truck. No one would be getting in or out of Harbour Mille just yet.
When the power went, my first thought was the sump pump. I grabbed a flashlight and ran down to check. To my horror, the hole was filled with water.
This is a short video of me bailing water from my basement. It's pretty dark, because the power was out at the time.
Shortly after 8 p.m. the power came back on. Within minutes the water was draining out of the basement. I had some minor cleanup to do, but nothing was damaged. We were lucky.
The roads leading to the Trans Canada Highway near Swift Current and Route 210 into Marystown at Rattle Brook Bridge were closed and we were cut off from the Trans Canada Highway and the rest of the Burin Peninsula near Boat Harbour.
But lack of transportation wasn’t a huge concern, not when so many of our friends had lost their homes and everything in them.
The week that followed Igor was filled with amazing tales of survival, cooperation, and a general attitude of “we‘ll make do.”
Volunteers throughout the peninsula, myself included, worked with the Red Cross to get goods (especially fresh milk, fruit and potatoes and other items some families and seniors had been without for a considerable period of time) delivered. Those with gas to spare travelled to Long Pond Bridge to help carry donations over to our side of the peninsula.
The donated food items were sometimes accepted with hugs, sometimes with tears, but they were always received with words of gratitude.
By the 27th we were free to travel – if we had the gas to get us anywhere, that is. On the 28th, a week after Igor struck, we finally had gas delivered to local stations. School reopened, and for all intents and purposes, we were back to normal. Well, most of us were, anyway.
Some in our region are still living with friends and family members. They have months, maybe years, of rebuilding ahead of them.
But help has already been pouring in. Besides food, clothing, bedding and other household items (furnishings included), have been donated. Things for them will eventually get back to normal as well.
The thing that sticks in my head the most? These four words posted as one young girl’s Facebook status the day after the storm;
“I miss my house.”
Do you have an "Igor Experience" to share? Click here to submit your story.
Over the years we've heard from several readers who have shared stories of being healed by people who are sometimes referred to as "charmers." In particular, we are often regaled with tales of seemingly ordinary people who are said to have the ability to "charm away" warts. We recently revisited this topic in Downhome ("Their Mysterious Ways," October 2012 issue) inspiring reader Austin Elliott of Mount Pearl to call us with his own story of being healed. Click the play button on the audio file below to listen to what Austin had to say on our toll-free submission phone line.
The following are similar stories told to us by readers over the years:
“Around the late 40s I guess, or early 50s, both of my hands were covered with warts. I would have been 10 or 11. We had tried all the old-fashioned remedies, like rub some pork on the warts and throw it over your left shoulder and bury it in the ground. Beans was another method: You’d count the number of warts on your hands and take the beans and put them in a matchbox and bury the matchbox and the warts would go away. Anyway, nothing worked. So my mother knew about Mr. MacDonald, the healing hands of Mr. MacDonald. So one day she said to me, ‘My son when Mr. MacDonald comes to our house again, I’m going to get him to cure your warts.’ So lo and behold, one day Mr. MacDonald came to the house and she was telling him about my warts and of course he could see them just by looking – they were everywhere, I mean everywhere, lots of them – they were as plentiful as raspberries. So he said, ‘Ok come with me my son.'...I remember going out on the back step and he said, ‘Let me see your hands,’ and he had like this white powder and he rubbed the white powder over both of my hands and then he said, ‘I want you to forget about the warts.’ And I forgot about the warts and perhaps 10 or 12 days later I looked at my hands and they were just like they are today.” – Greg White, St. John's, N.L.
"I grew up in Deer Lake and I remember around the early '50s, when I would have been nine or 10, both my hands were covered in warts. One evening a friend of my dad (his name I can't remember) came to visit. Dad happened to mention to him my problem with warts. This gentleman told me to count the warts and then forget about them. A week or so later the warts had completely disappeared and never returned." – Karl Janes, Newmarket, O.N.
And in this instance, it seems, a reader stumbled upon a "cure" himself!
"Many years ago, when I was 17, I had warts on both my hands and tried everything. At this particular time I was pumping gas at the old Fort Motel gas bar on the TCH just outside St. John's to help pay for my first year at MUN. While sitting idle at the desk inside, I had a pen in my hand and drew a circle around every wart I had. As I drew each circle around the warts, I also drew a circle on a sheet of paper towel. Since I was a smoker, I also had a lighter on the desk, so I set fire to the paper towel and let it burn in the ashtray. A few days later, lo and behold, every wart was gone! Neat eh? Anyone with warts might like to try it. It sure worked for me." – Glenn Curtis, Clifton Royal, N.B.
Have you had a similar experience? Leave a comment on this article or share your story on our toll-free submission phone line by calling 1-866-640-1999.
Unusual sightings and hair-raising experiences are common throughout the Atlantic provinces, where legends, folklore and a long, rich history combine to create the perfect setting for stories of strange happenings and unexplained phenomena. Here is a sampling of some of the creepy tales from this region that might just keep you up nights.
• Viking Ghost Vessel • This ghostly tale spans three centuries, with reports that reach from Newfoundland to Iceland. According to archaeological data, Vikings inhabited L'Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland, for a short time around A.D. 1000. Now the only signs that the Vikings ever inhabited L'Anse aux Meadows are the archaeological remnants they left behind. But spine-tingling reports suggest the spirits of the Vikings have been travelling the seas towards Newfoundland for centuries. In years when these sightings occur, it is always in early June that a ghostly Viking vessel has been reportedly seen sailing by the southwest coast of Iceland. Approximately 20 days later, Newfoundlanders are reported to have seen the eerie vessel and heard its horn blowing late at night off the coast of L'Anse aux Meadows. Could it be that these early inhabitants are returning to claim what they've left behind?
• Hag of Bell Island • A "banshee" is believed to wander the Dobbin's Garden area and the surrounding marshland on Bell Island. According to Irish folklore, "banshees" are messengers of impending death; folk belief holds that their cries signal that a loved one will soon die. They are reported to appear in two forms, as a beautiful woman dressed in white - or as a frightening old hag. In most accounts, the banshee that inhabits Bell Island is of the latter variety. Local legend holds that men who have gone near the area have mysteriously gone missing for days at a time. When they finally emerge from the marshland, they are completely unaware of the time that has lapsed. In fact, their only memory of the event is of a foul odour and, most often, a deformed old woman forcing them to the ground.
• Dungarvon Whooper • The woods surrounding the Central New Brunswick Woodsmen's Museum in Boiestown, New Brunswick are said to be haunted by the "Dungarvon Whooper," which is believed to be the spirit of a logging-camp cook murdered in the 19th century. Locals and visitors to the area report hearing awful screams and cries coming from the forest where legend holds the young man was buried.
• Victoria Street Visitors • Think you'll be heading to Victoria Street for an evening of trick-or-treating with the kids this Halloween? According to Dale Jarvis, Newfoundland's much-loved storyteller and explorer of the paranormal, Victoria Street in St. John's has the great esteem of being Newfoundland's most haunted street. One of the oldest streets in the city, it is the location of the historic LSPU Hall - the longtime hub of theatre and music in the city. In recent years, a phantom has been spotted at the building, sometimes taking in a show at the theatre. In his book Haunted Shores: True Ghost Stories of Newfoundland and Labrador, Jarvis writes that another, harmless, spirit haunts 23 Victoria Street, and still other, more frightening spirits, have been reported at a house near the corner of Victoria and Bond Streets. At this location, during the winter of 1907-1908, a woman awoke to a horrific scene: a ghostly female figure dragging another female spirit along the floor by her hair.
• Newfoundland's own "Loch Ness Monster" • According to residents of Robert's Arm, Newfoundland, a monster lives in Crescent Lake. Named "Cressie," locals have been sighting the beast - reportedly as long as 40 feet - since the turn of the century. In the early 1980s, a huge hole appeared in the ice covering the lake. With no reasonable explanation for this phenomenon, residents believed that Cressie was the most likely culprit.
• Flaming Phantom Ship. In 1786, the crew aboard a burning pirate ship is said to have made a deal with the devil just offshore from West Point Lighthouse, Prince Edward Island to ensure their pirate's treasure would be hidden and never found. The pact came at a high price, however. Legend holds the souls of the crewmembers were then doomed to sail in their burning vessel for eternity. In the two centuries since then, witnesses have reported seeing a burning ship at sea in this location.