December 30, 2016
It has been icing on the cake of my life, a giggle every time to have been an occasional extra in film. This includes a television series based on a Danish film called “My Life as a Dog”.
Yes, this included belly dancing and another scene or two that I can’t even remember.
Once. Count it: one time, I actually had a few lines to speak in a movie.
This is also where I met the late, great Winston Washington Moxam who was the film maker and someone who became a good friends of mine: another late, great named James Meagher.
From James, I learned the power of reiki, a form of energy healing, and how to die with exuberant dignity.
A man with a wicked sense of humour and an amazing classical guitarist, James delighted in giving people healing hands on reiki while he himself was dying.
He lived life strongly until he died, continuing to play in a band with his close friends Honey and Richard.
James had been emotionally, physically and sexually abused by his father. Which explained a lot as to why he had difficulty creating stable relationships.
One day, though, we I came over to interview on his life story, he greeted me with a huge grin on his face. He said, “Last night, my father came to me in a dream and told me he was ready to give me the love that he never gave me when he was alive.”
An invitation to James for his spirit to head into the afterlife, if I ever heard one.
Who knows maybe Winston and James, in the spirit world, have been cracking jokes and making fun of people who deserve to be made fun of ?
This is what The Barbeque did:
The Barbeque Affair
by Tanya Lester
Winston Washington Moxam’s The Barbeque is the feature film among five dramas to premiere from August 20 to 25 at Cinematheque in celebration of The Winnipeg Film Group’s 20th anniversary. The five are first dramas for their director/producers. (The other films — all shorts– are Tenants and Landlords by Cory Lussier, Taken for a Ride by Dirk Schweppes, Silence of the Clams by Paul Ulrich, and Catherine Kloczkowski’s Cookies and Midnight Cigarettes.) They are also firsts for many of the technical people and actors involved, including myself.
The Barbeque, which is being billed as a comedy-drama about a young black woman’s encounter with her ex-boyfriends’s family, deals with racism in Manitoba. I play a sort of pre-Betty Ford Clinic Elizabeth Taylor type named Maggie out to start an affair with almost anyone.
But my love affair with the big screen began in the dark leather seats at Cinema 3 fifteen years ago. That summer my life was on hold. The end of a six month trip through North and Central America coincided with the death of yet another relationship.I was waiting for a return to university in the fall where I was destined to embrace gonzo journalism Winnipeg-style. I had the time and the time to do it right.
Pan the camera east to Toronto almost a generation earlier. James Meagher was fantasizing about being Errol Flynn with the wicked smile that got people’s (read especially the ladies) attention when he walked into a room. Sword fights. Pirates. Robin Hood. Good Arabs and bad ones. As a kid, Meagher walked down the street making up action stories in his head. Even today, he still likes these kind of fantasies.
Same city, spin the reel forward a few years. Annabelle Smith saw Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender. She sighs just thinking about that first time with Elvis. “I always thought making a movie would make people love me,” she says.
Now, forward past me in the late 1970’s, to Jaws and Star Wars.
Enter Winston Washington Moxam, who’s got it bad for science fiction movies and loves to put together fantasy worlds with dinosaurs.”I was never interested in acting,” he says. “It was more fun to blow things up than being blown up. I thought being a filmmaker would be an easy way to get out of working for a living. I was wrong.”
After obtaining a film production diploma from Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Moxam started out as a documentary filmmaker ( of special note is his From the Other Side about Toronto street minorities which he sold to Vision TV). His shift to drama was an attempt to make things easier for himself as a director-producer. “Documentaries are just too much,” he says. “You can’t escape it. Emotionally, it’s much more strenuous. It’s the subjects’ lives. In drama, you can make things up.”
So Maxim made things up when he wrote The Barbeque. Set circa 1950’s cum 199’s, the film has a chorus line scene, limbo dancing and the tackiest barbecue doodads you’re ever going to run across. A white missionary could (played by Craig Strike and Sandy Gousseau) vie for the attention of a young black woman named Gracie (Anne Clarke) to help fuel their fervour for saving Africans. They run up against Arnold (Larry Geraghty)– the sleaziest, womanizing bigot anyone could ever imagine in their most stereotyped nightmare– and his wife (me).
Or is this made up? Remember the film is billed as being about racism in Manitoba. In it everyone is ridiculed for either their racist mouthing-off or their passive silence. “Yes, white people can be stupid and silly if they’re racist,” Maxim says. “And black people can be stupid and silly for taking it.” Interestingly, making the film has made him more bold about confronting people when they make racist jokes, for example.
Still, the film is very different from the ones that fuelled our fantasies when we were younger.
“When I went into it, I was kind of apprehensive about the people I would be working with,” says Smith who plays Susan Spittle, the mother of the young white man Louie (Sterling Burky) who brings home his black ex-girlfriend (Anne Clarke). “I thought there would be a lot of controversy and bickering. It turned out I was just eager to get going again the next day. I loved being in front of the camera. I felt a dream I would never realize was happening ‘Take me. I’m yours’.”
Smith, like everyone else in the film, did not enjoy walking back and forth through the mud which eroded the well-manicured North End backyard as the August 1993 weekend shoot and the rains of last summer continued. But she feels Moxam gave us the star treatment with his assistants even bringing us our coats while waiting for the weather to clear and for the camera to roll.
“It’s archival,” says Meagher, who plays Louie’s uncle and calls the others on their racism. “You know, you go to the movies and say, “There’s a guy in the movie talking’. I’ll be a guy in this movie who people will say that about.”
According to Moxam, who believes “art is a way of communicating with the average person on the streets”, everything clicked for The Barbeque which has already received interest from a Swiss film festival, the National Film Board (NFB) and CBC-TV locally. “It’s amazing how an idea can be in your head, then you write it down,” he says. “Then you get in onto the scene. If you do if from the heart it will work.”
Moxam is now writing a script based on the story of a black woman mistakenly executed for the murder of her husband in the 1950’s. These days, he admires the work of American filmmaker Spike Lee but things of NFB director/producer Clare Prieto (Black Mother, Black Daughter; Older, Stronger, Wiser) as a role model.
So Maxim will continue to make films and work as a projectionist to get by, but would the rest of us do another movie?
“Absolutely, in an instant,” Smith says, reflecting everyone’s sentiments. “Anyone out there looking, call…”
To read more posts on this blog go to writingsmall.wordpress.com and tealeaf56.wordpress.com
Tanya’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes.
Tanya works as a psychic — doing tea leaf readings and tarot for the last two decades–, is a reiki master and a full time house sitter. To access her services go to treading.wordpress.com or her pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google. You can also contact her directly at tea firstname.lastname@example.org or calling her cellphone at 250-538-0086.