The Portfolio of Sara Howie

Pop Culture Halloween - Sara and Company

 

 

Windsor Youth Find Voice in Film

 

The storefront of the Windsor Youth Centre looks unassuming, nestled next to an all-you-can-eat sushi joint and a sportswear shop on Wyandotte Street. But the WYC is an important resource for at-risk young people in Windsor-Essex. 

This is something that Svjetlana Oppen seems to be acutely aware of as she has recently completed a documentary about the centre.
The Windsor Youth Centre, opened in 2011, is a drop-in centre for young people who don’t have a reliable place to call home. It is unique in that it is the only centre of its kind in the whole of Windsor-Essex, an absurd fact considering an online research for youth drop-in centres in London or Toronto will yield dozens of hits. 

The WYC provides a hot meal six days of the week, basic toiletries for those in need, access to the Internet, homework help and a myriad of other resources that other centres can’t offer, particularly because the WYC does not require youths to present an ID.
“[The film is] not just about raising awareness but making the problem of youth homelessness more personal. As long as it’s not personal, people feel like it has nothing to do with them, but it does,” said Tamara Kowalska, one of the founders of the centre that assists over 100 homeless youth a month. What is Home is a minimal, 40-minute documentary shot in black and white. 

“We decided not to shoot with a lot of equipment. It wasn’t a set-up shooting. It wasn’t bringing lights and set up. It was just bring the camera and when something would happen, we would ask if it was okay to turn the camera on,” said Oppen. 
The film, produced by Oppen, asks a simple question, “What is home?” The question, posed to the young people at the WYC, leads to emotional and heartbreaking answers. Stories of tumultuous and abusive lives are shared, which is particularly powerful as some of the youth in the documentary are as young as 16. 

“It was difficult for me to shoot … when you talk to somebody that opens up fully, at that point my hands were shaking,” Oppen said of a particular interview with Ayan Holland, a young woman featured predominantly in the film. “You will see at times in the film, there is no cutting and saying, ‘Let’s redo this.’ You cannot ask somebody to repeat traumatic experiences just because you think the shot wasn’t good. You will see in some shots my hand shakes because I just cannot fathom what she’s been through.” 

No stranger to a troubled youth, Oppen came to Canada as a war refugee from Bosnia. “I was maybe around their age, maybe a little bit older, when this happened. I had everything and then I had nothing. I stood in line for food in refugee centres. I know how that is,” said Oppen. She speaks eloquently about her experiences and with an accent. 

Oppen said her experiences as a refugee still influence her work. “I always go back to [those experiences]. Through these years, I was busy with school and a career and everything else, but you help out in ways where someone is doing a fundraiser and you help out and give money. I always found emptiness and I wanted to get more involved.” 

What is Home is the first major projects of many to come from Oppen’s not-for-profit corporation, Stagehouse Multimedia. Stagehouse aims to assist other NPOs in sharing their stories. 

The documentary will follow a book release with the same title. It’s a compilation of stories and poems written by the youth of the centre, accompanied by photos. Particularly haunting is a photograph of the arms of one of the youth, covered in wide self-injury scars. 

Both the book and documentary show youth in struggle, but also depicts an empowered group of resilient young people. The interview with Kowalska is interrupted by a teenage girl waltzing into the kitchen. Nothing about her would hint at homelessness if one were to encounter her on the street. Many of the youth have been able to complete high school or want to become social workers since getting assistance at the centre. 

Although fresh and non-perishable food donations are always welcome, the centre just doesn’t have the storage to accommodate clothing donations and is not currently in need of toiletries. They do, however, need monetary donations as the centre will run out of funding come January. 

“If anybody even has $5, I mean if students at the [university] instead of having five beers at night just had four and donated the money from that fifth beer to the centre, we’d probably have enough money to survive January,” said Kowalska. “The key for me is staying accessible and keeping the doors open, that’s my main focus,” said Kowalska. 

Sean Connery Supergroup, Harbingers of the Apocalypse

 

There exists in every major metropolis ridiculous niche bands that can’t really be described on paper, such as Toronto’s Sheezer, the all female Weezer cover band (Blue Album and Pinkerton only). Windsor has its own Sean Connery Supergroup. 

The Sean Connery Supergroup is not a band that can be described without being seen live. Every member of SCS has a persona they play on stage, only to be topped by equally ridiculous costumes, ranging from 80s glam rock band to cavemen. SCS blends emo-core with dance pop, often playing one song after another that has no real musical connection to the first. The band doesn’t really have recordings of their music, certainly not professional quality ones, and lacks a cohesive album. 

The band doesn’t play many shows, and each one is often said to be their last, including the one they’ll play this Friday at The Dominion House. Two members are band are leaving Windsor, but they might try playing shows via Skype. 

To quote Kyle “The Cush” Lefaive who plays vocals and guitar (and soul, according to their website), “Everyone is from a different band and they combined like Voltron to make Sean Connery Supergroup. Or, we’re sort of like the Power Rangers.” 

SCS came together during the faculty strike at the University of Windsor four years ago. A bunch of friends went to Niagara Falls, got really drunk and formed a band. 

“It was all old friends,” said James Steinhoff, who goes by “The Chancellor” on stage and is credited online to “vocals and punishment.” 
“We made an agreement at the start that no one can take this very seriously. If there’s something you don’t like, you can raise your voice but you really can’t shut it down. Unless the whole group doesn’t want it, you just have to accept things you don’t like,” said Steinhoff. 
Steinhoff said this led to the band not exactly having a fixed genre, although they call themselves “supreme party punk rock.” “Or erotic rock,” Steinhoff added. “We like to confuse people by putting the word ‘erotic’ in there.” 

Lefaive writes tons of screamo music. Some bandmates are into classic rock and hair metal, so that gets incorporated into the mix. The band includes funk-pop numbers towards the end of each set because the audience loves to dance. 
“It’s all about having a good time at the show. All these genres we play, they all kind of coalesce into a fireball,” said bassist Martin “The Fixer” Schiller. 

Lefaive added, “A fireball comet that’s been wielding towards the planet since the beginning.” Coincidentally, their next show is the date of the presumed apocalypse, Dec. 21. 

What works about the band is that the band totally doesn’t work. The whole experience is completely ridiculous and they probably aren’t going to go platinum on their next recording. 

“We can talk philosophically about how art is corrupted off the need to make profit, and we can talk about how, in a sense, the band is pure art because we make no money,” said Steinhoff. 

It’s tradition that the door cover to see SCS is 25 cents, so oftentimes someone either steals the jar of quarters or it gets dropped, lost or forgotten. Lefaive said that sometimes the money also goes to purchasing beer pitchers for the audience. SCS wanted to give shots out to the audience for this show, but it’s apparently illegal. 

“We’re all about the spectacle, we don’t want to separate the spectacle from the content,” said Steinhoff. “I think we’re very 80s in that respect.”
Going to any SCS show is always an experience. People get really drunk (including some of the bandmates) and dance and everyone has a completely unabashed great time. “The support is really uncanny, we don’t know where it came from,” said Lefaive with a grin. 

To say that SCS shows are wild is truly an understatement. A girl once had an incident with a guitar and had to get stitches on her face, and the show did not stop. The girl came back to the next SCS show donning a hockey helmet with face guard. 

People are generally divided about the band. Some people really hate SCS, some love them, most are fairly confused. Hatred of the band actually led to SCS gaining a new member. “James [‘The Doctor”] O-L hated the band so much he started writing songs for Sean Connery Supergroup,” said Lefaive. “He vowed to destroy us from within because he hated it so much.” 

Love them or hate them, SCS isn’t about to cater to what is popular and insists people still come to their shows because they are the “true inheritors of rock and roll.” 

 

Move Over, Hollywood 

A new project led by the organizers of Windsor’s experimental film festival is poised to become the hub of the city’s media arts. “We’re trying to facilitate its existence,” said Jeremy Rigsby of a proposed media arts production collective. He and Oona Mosna are co-program directors of Media City, an international experimental film festival held every May. 
“[It’s] for artists that work with film or video in the Windsor Area to establish what we eventually hope would become a permanent co-operative media arts production company in the city.” 
The collective would rent out equipment and facilities to artists, offer workshops and training to members of the collective and the community and provide administrative jobs to run collective. This collective will be funded through a new grant offered by the Ontario Arts Council that is meant facilitate film collectives in smaller regions that would otherwise not have the means to create one. 
Although it will be kickstarted by Rigsby and Mosna, the collective itself will not be directly connected to Media City. “There’s opportunities for us to potentially partner with the collective and we’re definitely interested in helping, I mean there’s space in the Media City office, but we’re definitely looking at this being a completely autonomous, new organization,” said Mosna. 
To gauge interest in the collective, Media City is hosting a series of brainstorming sessions, including its first held this Monday.
Media arts collectives are not a new concept in the filmmaking scene. The most prominent example is perhaps the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers Toronto. 
LIFT has a store for filmmakers to purchase materials, holds workshops, offers rentals, and engages in community projects and film showcases. The collective provides a great resource in the city, especially for new filmmakers just starting to break out into the scene. 
“Creativity comes at 4 a.m., it comes on the bus downtown, and we need a creative hub to facilitate these new ideas,” said Derrick O’Toole, a communications student at the University of Windsor. 
O’Toole is a Windsor transplant from London and currently in his last year of schooling. He has been done his best to immerse himself in Windsor culture but admits it’s hard without ability to get the equipment he needs to use. “It’s currently hard to access what you need right now; you have to go out of your way to rent a camera or grab supplies. “This collective will be another avenue in which artists can utilize,” he said. 
O’Toole is still deciding whether or not to stay in Windsor post-graduation, and admits that a collective may be enough to stay in the city. “I think it’s a motivator for people to come here,” he said. There are high hopes the collective will provide vital connections to filmmakers across the city, making it easier for artists to work together and providing a direct line of contact to filmmakers. 
This is especially important to students, and may be the deciding factor in whether or not a communication student stays in Windsor post-graduation.
“We want people to have affordable access to equipment and workshops and training outside of the academic training that they may receive,” said Mosna.
This isn’t more of the same, either. “We’re not looking to duplicate the kind of services or equipment that students could access through communications or visual arts,” added Rigsby. “We want to take the opportunity to make something new that isn’t duplicated through the university or college.” 

The Lance

2012-2013
A selection of my writings for the Lance, the University of Windsor's student newspaper, in which I held the position of arts Editor during 2012-2013. I also designed graphic sections for the paper, such as the "Pop Culture Costumes" special for the Halloween edition of the paper. More writing samples can be provided upon request.