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.
If your freezer’s full of moose meat and you're looking for new ways to enjoy it, we have a solution.
Moose Bourguignon is a delicious adaptation of the traditional French stew that’s nutritious and so gourmet-tasting you can serve it at a dinner party. Or keep it simple and make it for yourself. Make up a big batch and freeze in individual servings, so you can heat it up on a frosty winter’s day and treat yourself.
Because it’s such lean meat, braising and stewing are ideal cooking methods for moose. The long, slow cooking in its own juices (fortified with a little wine and aromatics, like you would!) brings out the best in the flavour of moose and coaxes the short-fibred meat to tenderness and succulence.
Serves 6-8 (can easily be doubled)
½ lb slab bacon (or 1/3 lb regular bacon), cut into ½-inch cubes
2 lbs moose, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tbsp flour (for coating moose pieces)
3-4 tbsp olive or vegetable oil (less depending on fat from bacon)
2-3 medium onions, coarsely diced (or 2 cups peeled pearl onions)
4 ribs celery, chopped in half-inch slices
1 lb white or cremini (brown) button mushrooms, halved (or left whole if using
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp flour
1 bottle (3 1/4 cups) red wine
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Beurre manié, if needed, to thicken (recipe follows)
Using a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat burner to med-high. Add bacon and cook 5-8 minutes to render out the fat. You are not going for crispness, just to release fat. Remove bacon and set aside. You will need 4-6 tbsp of fat to sear the moose; add oil if needed. Season moose with salt and pepper, and toss with flour. Shake off excess flour and sear moose pieces on all sides, Do it in batches, so you don’t crowd the pan. Add oil as necessary. (All the browned bits on the bottom of the pan will be the base for the flavour of your stew!)
After all moose is seared and put aside, add onions to the pan and sauté until softened and lightly browned. Add celery, mushrooms, herbs and garlic. Sauté a couple of minutes more. Sprinkle in the next 3 tbsp flour and stir 2-3 minutes to cook out the floury taste. Season with salt and pepper and deglaze with the wine. Use your spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot for those flavourful browned bits. Return the bacon and moose to the pan. Liquid should nearly cover everything; if not, add water. Reduce heat to low to gently simmer, cover with lid and let stew for an hour, stirring occasionally. Check tenderness and seasoning. Add carrots and potatoes; stew 30 minutes longer. Remove lid for another 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. If sauce is too thick, add water. If too thin, thicken with beurre manié (pronounced bur mahn-yey): Stir or knead together 3 tbsp each of room-temperature butter and white flour until smooth. Turn heat up to medium, stir a tablespoon of beurre manié into the sauce. Cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes. You will see the sauce thicken and become a little glossy. Repeat, if necessary, to get the consistency you like.
Serve with crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine!
Big waves, whales, icebergs, seabirds, moose – you get the picture. In the May 2013 issue, we explore some of the very best places to spot icons of Newfoundland and Labrador. Below is awesome video footage of some of our iconic treasures.
On windy days, the shores of Middle Cove Beach on the Avalon Peninsula are lined with folks eager to see amazing wave action. But in 2010, some wave watchers got a rude awakening from Mother Nature when a rogue wave washed ashore on Middle Cove Beach. Check out this YouTube video of local news coverage of the phenomenon.
While the waters of Witless Bay, as well as Twillingate and Southern Labrador, provide almost guaranteed whale sightings in June, July and August, tour operator Ocean Quest takes whale watching to a whole new level with its "Close Encounters" tour.
In a province where two communities (St. Anthony and Twillingate) lay claim to the title "Iceberg Capital of the World," folks eager to see and photograph these glacial wonders are right to come here in search of them – and each spring and summer they do, in droves. But a group of tourists visiting Twillingate in July 2008 got an extra special iceberg sighting, as a giant berg foundered and fell into the churning waters before their very eyes.
We scoured YouTube for cool video footage of a moose - and this tourist's close encounter atop Gros Morne Mountain was, we felt, the most impressive. (Warning! Some mild foul language in this video - and who can blame her?)
Residents of Buchans, Newfoundland will likely remember this very special 1980s episode of CBC's "On the Road Again," hosted by Wayne Rostad. The quality of the video isn't the greatest - but the quality of the story makes up for it!
*Note: For long-time readers of Downhome, the magazine's illustrator, Snowden Walters, used Clarence the Caribou as inspiration for a series of cartoon sketches that appeared in The Downhomer in the 1990s. Click here to check them out.
Our province's heritage breed are known as hardy workers, used to plough fields and haul logs. But the Newfoundland pony featured in the video below, owned by passionate pony promoter Liz Chafe of Cappahayden, Newfoundland, is blessed with a rather unusual talent - we're fairly confident he'd make for stiff competition on any soccer field.
Actors & Re-enactors
The folks acting at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site have to reach far back in time to get into their characters. In reconstructed sod huts Viking re-enactors mimic the Norse ways of life that played out here more than 1,000 years ago.
Watch this video and come along for a tour of the Point Amour Lighthouse, the second tallest lighthouse in Canada, located at L'Anse Amour, Labrador.
Placentia-native and master boat builder Jerome Canning details the province's historic boat building tradition in the following video. With the help of the Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton, Newfoundland, locals with knowledge of the now rare art form are passing the tradition to younger generations.
Parks Canada cameras follow along as Inuit descendants visit the homeland of their ancestors, known now as the Torngat Mountains National Park.
Watching waterfalls cascade down over high cliffs surrounding this 16-km glacier-carved, land-locked fiord in Gros Morne National Park, you'll think you've been transported to another time.
The puffins of Elliston usually prefer to stick to a small island a short distance from the headland - but this one decided to wander over for some close-up camera shots!
Downhome's Grant Loveys recently visited the workshop of a man we've dubbed the "Shoal Harbour inventor." Oliver Vardy spends his days thinking up and constructing new and unique musical instruments. Perhaps the most unique is an invention that Oliver calls the Melody Chord Harp. It is essentially a combination of guitar, harp and lap steel, with elements of each instrument working together in a totally new way. Its five individual sets of guitar strings are each tuned to a particular chord. Parallel to these strings is a single string that can be plucked with the thumb and a metal slide, providing a haunting melodic accompaniment to the strummed chords. It's a strange little machine, but it sounds wonderful.
Watch and listen as Oliver strums a tune.
For the full story on the Shoal Harbour inventor, see the May 2013 issue of Downhome.