The White Crow / Directed by Ralph Fiennes / 2019
Rudolf Nureyev’s name was on everyone’s lips during my young adulthood. He was the eptiome of grace, strength, and beauty in the many roles he performed with Dame Margot Fontaine and other ballet greats of the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties. What we didn’t understand as we watched this luminous flame of dance was how his off-stage persona and behaviours were the product of a childhood scarred by deep poverty and humiliation. Developmental trauma, different from the one-off events we associate with a PTSD diagnosis, pervades the body and mind, shrinking our ability to form pro-social relationships. The contrast between Nureyev the etherial dancer and Nureyev the wounded man offers a primer in the long-term effects of unhealed early trauma.
Many critics, past and present, express disgust over Nureyev’s arrogance. Until this film’s exploration of his childhood, we could not see the shield such arrogance provided against his vulnerability to shame and criticism. His art, lovingly nurtured by his mother despite her reduced circumstances, gave him everything: strength, beauty, glory, empowerment, fame, and opportunities to forget, for a time, the bullying and deprivation he endured as a socially stigmatized, poor child. A particularly poignant scene in Fienne’s film involves Nureyev and a waiter, a man the young dancer is convinced looks down on him because he is “a peasant.” Because the shame and humiliation of his childhood were never resolved, his arrogance and cruelty became the cudgels he used to feel safe when in the grips of paranoia.
Thanks to current childhood trauma research, we understand how the early, chronic trauma of poverty, bullying, and absentee parents limit our ability to connect in loving ways with others, at least until we address our wounds with somatic interventions such as dance. One of the film’s final scenes illustrates how Nureyev’s mother’s sensitivity and love prompt her to take her son to what may be his first formal meeting with his fate. This small child, so scorned by those who despise him because of his adverse family circumstances, focuses all his attention on performing a folk dance that demonstrates his ability to transcend the limits of his early life.
In those brief moments of loving and precise physical,emotional, and spiritual expression, we see the spirit that allows the man to blossom as a world-renowned dancer. We also glimpse the hideous pain that of isolating poverty and internalized shame. In Russia, a white crow is the name given to the outsider. How apt for a boy who learns how to fly, and in flying, transform his pain into the glory we call Dance.
Our Souls at Night / Directed by Ritesh Batra / 2017
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford anchor viewers in the secret world of older adult neighbours who discover the possibility of love and deep connection despite family demands and cultural expectations. Tenderly rendered in the low-key, authentic styles of its principle actors, this film honors the aging process as something that includes joyful optimism and courage as well as the limiting beliefs and expectations of adult children. The expectations of Fonda’s character’s son highlight the strengths and weaknesses of inter-generational family relationships. She shines as a devoted grandmother and despite a geographical move, finds a way to continue a nurturing relationship with Redford’s character.
A Documentary by Michael Rossato-Bennett 2014
This film takes us deep into nursing homes where people diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimers are routinely given a variety of drugs which have been linked to the worsening of these conditions. Viewers see this tragic story unfolding until Dan Cohen, social worker and founder of the non-profit Music & Memory organization makes his appearance with iPods programmed to play the specific music of each person’s life . . . the music they danced to as youngsters . . . the music they married to . . . the music they grieved with . . . the music they identified as their generation’s soundtrack. Cohen’s premise is that music connects us with our lives in a way that nothing else does, and this viewpoint is supported by research demonstrating how music lives on in the brain and the heart long after the ravages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia are manifesting. This film makes the heart leap with the same joy that prompts its subjects to sing and dance as they listen to their music and remember who they have been. See Alive Inside. When you do, you will learn more about this vitally important musical approach to healing. As well, you can visit the Alive Inside website at www.aliveinside.us.
A Place at the Table / Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2013
This DVD profiles food deserts and food insecurity, not in the developing world but right here in the United States. A provocative look at the political influences that keep so many children hungry despite being obese, this DVD belongs on every social justice curriculum in North America. As the producers claim, “A Place at the Table shows how this [hunger] issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides – as they have in the past – that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all.” For more information about A Place at the Table, please the film’s websites at www.magicpictures.com/aplaceatthetable and www.takepart.com/table.
Forks over Knives
Monica Beach Media, 2011
This documentary explores how shifting to a plant-based diet cured degenerative diseases – including diabetes and heart disease – in several individuals willing to follow the regime of physicians prescribing a whole-foods diet rather than medications to improve health. This work is informed by the research of Dr. Collin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former surgeon at “the world renowned Cleveland Clinic.” Interviews with research subjects and physicians make this 96 minute documentary a must-see for every citizen searching for healthy alternatives that empower individuals and are good for the planet. For more information about Forks over Knives, please visit www.forksoverknives.com.
Healthy at 100 / John Robbins / Ballantine Books, 2007
John Robbins, the same compassionate and inspirational writer who gave us Diet for A New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Heath, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth in 1987, has written the quintessential book on how to age with joy and skill. Healthy at 100 is subtitled How You Can – at any age – Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and your Health Span. This is quite a claim, one the author supports by examining four distinct cultures and their successful aging strategies. By successful aging, I mean healthy, vital, productive, joyful aging. This book contains invaluable research, including the well known China Study. For more information on how these cultures produce long-lived, engaged citizens, please visit www.johnrobbins.info.
Standing Silent Nation / Prairie Dust Films / 2007
Long the centre of controversy here in the United States, the growing of industrial-grade hemp remains a legal issue despite industrial hemp’s viability as a key contributor to local, sustainable, food systems. In this film we witness political and law-enforcement pressure exerted against a Lakota family’s “struggles to retain tribal identity and sovereignty” expressed in a narrative revealing how powerful the lobby against establishing a sustainable hemp economy is in the US. If you don’t know about the benefits of industrial hemp, a casual web search will provide research proving its versatility as a food crop, a building resource, a fabric source, and a biomass crop. For anyone looking for a cause to work for, this film will inspire you. Please visit www.standingsilentnation.com for more information.
Transformation in Canada’s Deep South / Jane Buchan / 1996
Described as a “love letter to my place” Transformation was my very first attempt at self publishing. After moving from Toronto to Kitchener, Ontario, in the early 90s, I began to make note of the positive changes that were transforming our food system in Southwestern Ontario. Peace and Justice workers such as Vandana Shiva were giving talks on how globalization efforts were destroying our local food systems and introducing concepts like food sovereignty, monocultures, and the need for local and regional populations to protect their diverse food and water sources from corporate companies furthering agribusiness interests. As a child of Essex County’s glorious bio-region, I knew the taste of a real tomato, the scent of onion fields after rain, and the relationships between old, back-road orchards and the pollinators vital to our food supply. I didn’t know about Community Shared Agriculture and the relationship of local food systems to both community justice initiatives and the grass roots movements taking on government ineptitude. Two years of research requiring travel around my home province reminded me of the beauty and integrity of my birthplace. Transformation in Canada’s Deep South is indeed my love letter to this industrialized, over populated, magnificent biosphere where, despite corporate interests, it remains one of the most celebrated migratory pathways in Canada.
To order free copies of Transformation in Canada’s Deep South, please email email@example.com or call (802) 533-9277 for postage-cost estimates. In the meantime, I hope you will explore your own unique part of the world and do what you can to protect its integrity and support your local, organic farmers.