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A lighter jacket, a lighter mood

Photo by Kristina Kasparian

Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were blogging about the new year and all the winter festivities Montreal had to offer? It seems that some of us have had our noses far too deeply buried in our thesis work and manuscripts to have fully grasped that spring is here! (Alternatively, it could very well be fright and denial, given that the months and seasons are rolling by at a much greater speed than that at which our research work is progressing).

Yup, it’s time for possibly the most drastic change of season of the year. We’re so used to winter that it takes a bit to notice the change. We start to see signs of it – often subtle – like a crocus peeking out of the still dry, leaf-covered, unturned winter soil. Another sure sign is when every single person around you has a bad cold and, try as you might to immunize yourself, it’s sadly only a matter of time until you catch it too. Other times, the signs are not subtle at all, but rather quite blatant – like this year’s 25 degree weather in the middle of March, throwing us off kilter as we dug out clothes that we usually only inaugurate in mid-June. Still, we know the sneaky tricks Montreal can play, and are reluctant to get our hopes up. “Is it spring?” we wonder, “are we done with our coats and boots for good?“, secretly bracing ourselves for that one last crazy snowfall that could very well blanket the whole town just in time for Easter. But waking up to a symphony of bird-calls in the morning, and watching the trees bud makes you feel pretty darn sure that the time has come to bid winter farewell. Soon enough, it’ll be summer in this glorious city.


Spring equinox takes us for a ride in the Delorean into mid-July.

The Delorean, from the movie Back To the Future. Source: http://k26.kn3.net/taringa/1/1/5/8/6/6/81/urbano_seven/4C5.jpg


New York Film Academy

For those of you who have a passion for the 7th art, you might be interested by this post. If you have always wanted to be a filmmaker, actor or scriptwriter, your dreams might even come true… Because at the New York Film Academy, everything is possible, and anyone could enroll to get a training. They offer a very hands-on, intensive set of workshops, ranging from digital film directing, to acting and production. It has also campuses and branches spread all over the world, so you could go to Florence, Italy and be behind the camera, or travel to Tokyo and play a role in a few student movies. And this is, in my opinion, the best way to learn.

For further information, yo can visit their website and apply for workshops there: http://www.nyfa.edu/

A New Year, A New “State” of Mind

Gophers A Go-Go

This past weekend I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a Doctorate interview. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from my applications, which is nice, because it gives me a renewed sense of pride in myself (and in humanity, for that matter). I went in to the weekend expecting it would be fun, and nerve-wracking, and got a bit of both, but I actually came back surprised at how much I enjoyed my trip.

I arrived on Thursday. I was picked up with a group of other recruits at the airport (which after transferring at LaGuardia, was a beautiful and spacious sight to behold) by a current Ph.D. student. In typical Brian fashion, I was the first to arrive and therefore was nervously chatting with the student about her experiences in Minneapolis and the University for that matter, and if she had ever been to Montreal.


Shooting the movie «Saudade »

This post will describe how the shooting of my movie Saudade took place, with all its challenges, misadventures and surprises.

Step 1: Writing

I started writing the script during summer 2010. It took me about 1 year to take the film from ink on paper to concretize it to reality. Writing was a challenging process, because I had to show each draft version I wrote to about 10-15 persons at least, who are all experts in their field, and who would each give me a constructive feedback or guideline that i would follow, and eventually the mold was formed. Now the beauty about this whole writing process is that it is very inquisitive, and it enables you to dig deep into yourself and your past in order to find something that has left an impact or a scar in your heart. Because I can assure you that evry scriptwriter writes something about himself in his scenario, and there is always a hint of autobiography in it.

Step 2: Team Building

Now that I had a script in hand with a plot, a climax-driven story and an evolution of characters, I had to cast the actual actors that were going to play those characters. And this was not a difficult task: i knew already Mounia Akl and Cyril Aris, 2 professional actors/writers/directors, and Yasmina Hatem, a childhood friend. When she was 16-years old, Yasmina had been affected by the death of her mother who was fighting cancer, and cancer happened to be the main theme of my movie. So I decided immediately to cast her as the lead actress, as this would not only serve as a catharsis for her, but also reflect very realistically on her acting on screen. The main actor was a whole other story, because i cast 4 different persons before coming up with someone sufficiently credible for the role (age-wise).  I built the whole cast & crew from afar, prior my arrival to Lebanon. And this was the most challenging part, because when you are doing logistics from abroad, it is hard to make people commit to your project, especially professionals in that field, because they could have other projects coming up for them at the last minute.

Step 3: Pre-production- Meetings, meetings, and… meetings

Pre-production was a real hassle, because as soon as I arrived to Lebanon, we had to arrange meetings with the whole crew, both individually or as a group. Tasks were delegated to each team, be it sound, production, cinematography, art direction, etc… And they included: establishing a detailed budget, reaching out for sponsors, choosing the camera movements, defining the cinematographic language of the movie, its mood / atmosphere, color palette. Then the next step was to sit down with the AD (Assistant Director) to make the decoupage, which is like a written storyboard, detailing all the aspects of the scenes shot by shot, with the sounds, camera movements, and so on. The next step in the process included establishing a work plan, i.e. doing a schedule including when / where each scene was going to be shot. The call sheet was detailing all the contact info of people from the crew, especially the actors, so that the AD could call them while we are on set to tell them to come prior to a scene.

Step4: Production

The shooting itself was a lot of fun. And very magical. I felt many times that it was a bit surreal, that I was floating on a cloud. Everything happened so fast, it was just 4 days of shooting, from 6 am till sometimes midnight. We worked intensive hours, but it was very productive, and eventually we were all very satisfied of the result. I loved so many things during this shoot: I loved the teamwork, the fact that we were all together to accomplish a project and follow our dreams. I loved the fact that there were so many improvs in my movie. I was very lucky because i had such amazing actors, and they were all so natural and brilliant in their acting and improvisation that it added a lot of humor, simplicity and realism to the picture. I loved the rush of having to choose the accessories in art direction and putting them in place quickly, before te DOP and his team starts the lighting. I loved how the words Action and Cut could have such a strong impact and draw the line between reality and fiction. I loved the fact that after 4 days of continuous shooting, we were all so exhausted and dead, but yet so happy, satisfied and proud of our new accomplishment. I loved saying the sentence Its a wrap, on the last day of shooting at midnight, even though there was a pinch in my heart because i never wanted this to end. I wanted it to last forever… But unfortunately, every good thing has an end.

You can watch and share the trailer on Youtube at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7G34Zzc-Xe.

Like the page on Facebook called « Saudade » in order to follow the news for festivals, screenings, pictures of the shooting, plot description and so on, by clicking on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/saudademovie






« Saudade » is the title of my new movie. As I had mentionned in my previous post, I have written, directed and produced a short film last summer in Lebanon, and the trailer has just been released last week-end. It features Cyril Aris & Mounia Akl, Yasmina Hatem & Malek Rizkallah, Nabil Ghorayeb, Mona Fakhry and Thomas Chelhot. Assistant Director: Nicolas Cardahi, DOP: Marc Abiad, Sound: Melissa Karam, Music: Barnabas Folk, Ivan Folk and Milan Kuli, Art Direction: Mirella Salameh and Mounia Akl.

You can watch and share the trailer on Youtube at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7G34Zzc-Xe.

You can also visit the page on Facebook called « Saudade » in order to follow the news for festivals, screenings, pictures of the shooting, plot description and so on, by clicking on the following link: www.facebook.com/saudademovie

Hope you enjoy it ! Comments and feedback are welcome.

Synopsis of the movie:

The story unfolds in Beirut in 2003. Two couples, two divergent destinies: one spiraling upwards, the other downwards. Leila and Nabil have been together for two years, and the stars seem to be aligned for them. They are both rising actors full of dreams and aspirations, and they have all life lying in front of them to accomplish them. Their friends, Hala and Kamal, are experiencing the ups and downs of married life. Deeply in love, they each have their own passion: the former is a writer, the latter a photographer attracted to the sea since his childhood. A couple whose love cannot be spared by the tricks of fate manipulating them. Caught in a dilemma, the woman finds herself trapped in a whirlwind of guilt, apprehension, and eventually undertakes a decision that she is not close of forgetting.

*Stuff* Montrealers Say.

You’ve seen all of them. The good ones all go viral, and the not-so-good ones usually don’t. The point is….they’re catchy. Why? Because we can relate to them! Because they’re funny. Is there stuff that Montrealers say that any one Montrealer can relate to? Or will that promote stereotypes toward Montrealers? Well, some people think they do (promote stereotypes). I disagree. I think these videos are funny and that’s it. If anything, they fight stereotypes. I don’t think anyone is going around thinking: “oh, I think I’m going to start discriminating against New Yorkers because in the video they are shown talking about Urban Outfitters” — if anything, we, as Montrealers, are jealous of the fact that they can openly talk about Urban Outfitters because the website has been banned in Montreal.

So, what do we say? (more…)

Winter madness

Copyright Miguel Legault, 2012

An ideal Saturday night: getting together with friends, listening to funky music, sharing lots of laughs, and dancing the night away…in a one-piece snowsuit?


Welcome to Igloofest.


Holiday Letter Four: Wacky Weather

Dear Winter,

I know that climate change makes it difficult, if not impossible, for you to make up your mind about how winter will unfold. Cold or mild? Snow boots or galoshes? Puffy coat and ski gloves or mid-weight parka and mittens? Slippery or safe? Outdoor skating or not? Wet or dry wind?

So far, there has been much confusion. I suppose we deserve it.


Remembering the 90s.

The 90s. That’s what I resonate with the most.

Not because I like to say “rad”, “gnarly”, and “tubular”…

But… because I took the early evening commuter train the other day. I board the train and I’m overtaken by fatigue — inexplicably. Boredum reigns. Everyone is dressed in beiges, greys, and blacks. Buried in their newspapers and momentarily using their blackberries. Hair in shades of grey, beige, and dark brown. No blowouts, no curls, no brushing. Just a lot of dishevelled hair. Matching their clothing. Ladies wearing distasteful boots and men in scrunched loafers. Sordid faces tired from long days at work. Seems like just a little over eight hours — and they are beat. An eery silence fills the train, and every time the door slides open and someone walks on or passes by, eyes stare upward from the paper they’re perusing to see if the passer-by is anything visually noteworthy. Eyes are glazed over, distressed. It feels like the Great Depression. Or perhaps it’s just me — who is greatly depressed — by the over 50s who are riding this train with me. I feel stifled. I feel like I’m breathing too loudly. Is anyone else breathing? Maybe it’s because I’m the only colour to enter this sea of black and white. I sit uncomfortably on the 30-minute ride feeling increasingly relieved at every stop with more people exiting. At least it opens up space in this crowded train car rolling into the depths of gloomy suburbia — whence they’ve all emerged.

And, it gets me thinking….. (more…)

Poinsettias and Panettone: Chasing the holiday spirit

Since my previous blog post, I have fully accepted that Christmas is coming. By now, I am ready to embrace the holiday spirit and to feel my senses rejoice with all the simple pleasures this time of year brings along with it.

When I lived in Europe, this pre-holiday season would make me giddy with wonder and happiness. Late-November in Milano meant the massively tall Christmas tree would be set up — with the help of mega-cranes — in front of the Duomo (Cathedral) and the most wonderful lights and building projections would liven up the grey, fog-cloaked city. The cobblestone streets would be made all the more narrow with Christmas markets selling handmade arts and crafts, and after only a two-minute stroll, I’d suddenly be overwhelmed with the desire to fill my already-overweight suitcase with handcrafted Italian Christmas tree ornaments. Shopping for gifts in tiny, artistic shops (or even gorgeously decorated department stores) never felt hectic or crazily consumerism-driven, and the way the clerks would gift-wrap everything for you automatically with the most amazing paper and with such classy flair always left me smiling. Late-November in Milano was the season of outdoor markets, of Christmassy musical concerts in churches, of poinsettias and panettone, and of the scent of roasted chestnuts permeating the crisp foggy air.

Photo credit: Kristina Kasparian


An Orange Dog Productions

If you have read my previous post, you would understand better this one. It’s about fulfilling a childhood dream of filmmaking, that finally concretized itself this summer when I was in Lebanon. Now this was not an easy journey, it was in fact a painful and laborious one, that required a lot of patience. But I can tell you that in the end, the reward just warms up your heart and makes you want to smile until your cheeks hurt. (more…)

La Dolce Vita

Being a filmmaker has always been my dream. From as long as I can recall, I have been attracted to the world of cinema, with all that it entails: acting, scriptwriting, directing, producing, etc.

This interest was most probably inherited from my father, a big cinephile, who has introduced me at a very young age to this fascinating and addictive art. He used to say “I read more about movies than I watch them”- which was true. He had a huge library with big books on the Italian cinema, the neo-realism and the French New Wave, which he used to read eagerly everytime he had a chance. His favorite one was “Hitchcock by Truffaut”, which is a classic study of the great director and his films, comprising a series of dialogues between Hitchcock and Truffaut. French cineast Francois Truffaut, who was a big admirer of Hitchcock’s work, had the brilliant idea to interview the master of suspense, and collected all the information in a massive book divided scene by scene, film by film. I highly recommend this to anyone who is passionate about the 7th Art. (more…)

Ode to November

It was the first day of November, a Tuesday morning, and I was on the bus. Between songs on my iPod, I would overhear students dissing the poor month that had just begun. “I hate November”, “November sucks”, “Oh, November’s always so grey and boring”. I couldn’t bring myself to agree with them. Not on that morning anyway. I gazed out of the window, squinting from the sun, as the bus climbed steadily uphill along Pine Avenue, the downtown cityscape coming into view behind a colorful row of still-relatively-leafy trees.

“I can’t believe it’s November already!” another student exclaimed. Now that I could agree with. Time’s been flying. It was September just two seconds ago. Before we know it, it’ll be winter and time for the holidays. A time for going home, or coming home, or realizing that by now you kind of have two homes. The change in clothes is inevitable now, and so is the inauguration of the good old winter coat. How do we do this again? After a long, hot, sunny summer, who on earth could possibly get psyched up for waterproofing, ice-proofing and frostbite-proofing ourselves all over again?


Jumpstarting your social life in Montreal

We usually gather in really nice venues!

So you just arrived in Montreal a few months ago and you’re overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you need to read, write and do for your grad studies. And it is starting to get cold outside (not today in particular, but still…). And you realize you barely had time for some fun. Don’t panic, there is a way out!

As one of the thousands of expatriates that arrive in Montreal each year, I moved to the city a couple of years ago without knowing anyone. Having known InterNations before, I looked to see whether there was any event going on so I could mingle with fellow expats, but there were no activities in Montreal at that time. After posting some messages in the local forum asking for it, I was invited to organize the events in Montreal and become the city’s “ambassador”.


Choose Passion. Choose Dreams.

Choose Passion. Choose Dreams.
Passion and Dreams. Two words that should be constantly circling in a loop in our minds. They should be the motor that fuels our daily lives, the oxygen we breathe and the philosophy we adopt. Simply because without them, life would be meaningless and flavorless.
Follow your Passions. Doing a phD in Astrophysics or a Master in Mathematics should not forbid you from doing the things you love as well on the side. For me, grad school has been a discovery of my talents and their exploitation. McGill offers incredible and endless resources to its students, from clubs to NGOs to career centers, etc. My first exposure to that was at the Activities Night at the beginning of the year. It was like a beehive. Things were in constant movement, representatives from all sorts of associations your mind could possibly imagine, from fundraising to volunteering to Acapella to photography to Fine Arts. They have it all. (more…)

At McGill but not in Montreal

A spring sunset on Macdonald Campus. Credit: Mohsin Bin Latheef

I go to McGill, but I do not live in Montreal!

In fact, I never have lived in Montreal. That is because I go to the ‘other’ campus, the Macdonald Campus. Yes, I will get annoyed if you are from McGill and you spell it as MacDonald. 🙂 And no, it is not on a different planet, we are very happy at Macdonald Campus, thank you! Most people at McGill will tell you the wonderful things about Montreal, of which I only know a few.

I will use this post to tell you what I know: the favorite five things about Mac Campus and Sainte Anne de Bellevue, my lovely little village for the last three years:


My non-academic to-do list

When I lived abroad during my Master’s degree, I used to keep a list of all the non-academic experiences I wished to make time for during my stay. Sights I wanted to visit, cafés and restaurants I was craving to try, names of streets and parks deserving a stroll, weekly markets in different parts of town, art exhibitions that were calling out to me at various points of the year… I would jot them all down on an ever-growing and ever-shrinking to-do list that I kept quite separate from my “academic to-do list”, usually folded into a small square and tucked into the front pocket of my purse, or the first page of the small journal I’d carry around with me everywhere.  (more…)

Dancing beams of light

I had a bit of an off day today. No particular cause for it. It was just the way I woke up, and I couldn’t shake the feeling all day long. It must have been the cloudy sky. After so many consecutive days of glowing sunshine, a grey sky hanging much too low overhead can have that effect – at least on me.

Wednesdays are my long days; I usually co-lead a seminar on Academic Writing in the morning (which I am likely to tell you about in future posts!), spend the rest of the day at my desk working towards my PhD, and then I attend a course in the evening, from 5.30 to 8.30 — roughly the time when most others are crowding the metro and rushing home, making supper, unwinding after their day. The course is a bit outside of my comfort zone, too. My research interests are in the area of neurolinguistics (a combination of “language” and the “brain“) and specifically about bilingualism. How do children and adults learn a second (or third, fourth) language? How are different aspects of a bilingual’s languages stored and accessed in the brain? How does a bilingual’s mother tongue affect the learning of other languages? These are some of the questions that fascinate me.


Welcome to the jungle

Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Manjari, a second year Master’s student, returned Montreal ex-pat, sometimes jogger, sporadic DIY enthusiast – by all accounts, a typical grad student. I came to Montreal for two reasons: first, to pursue a Master’s degree, and second, to begin my foray into adult life in one of my favorite cities in the world.

Montreal, the city of lights. Photo credit: City Photos

But entering graduate school I was, as many graduate students are, overwhelmed. The combination of new city, new school, new colleagues and new way of thinking were all murkily muddled in my mind and, although I was excited, I was also quite frankly a bit terrified. So, as I began to embark on this second leg of my journey through grad school, I asked myself, what would I have wanted to know a year ago, as a new graduate student and Montréalaise?


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