Category Archives: Special Guest Blogger

Introducing the Writers Community of York Region

SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER: Hyacinthe Miller, Writers Community of York Region (WCYR)

Catherine Sword, Librarian for the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library hosts SHELF LIFE, a half-hour radio program on Whistle Radio – 102.7 FM. If you’re not in the Stouffville area, you can access programs online. Catherine is a proud WCDR and WCYR member.

On Wednesday afternoon, I sat in on an interview with B.W. Powe, an amazing author, poet and university professor at York University. We had coffee at a lovely coffee shop called For the Love of Jo, at 6308 Main St, Stouffville, just across from the clock tower. They also have locations at 54 Water St, Port Perry and closer to home, 372 The Queensway S, in Keswick. They have a great selection of hot and cold beverages plus a changing daily menu of comfort foods like butternut squash soup with cinnamon, beef chili (delicious and loaded with vegetables), sandwiches on tasty bagels, chicken pot pie and of course, an array of tempting desserts, including berry scones. Their tag line is “you can sleep when you’re dead… have another cup”. They also actively sponsor music and arts-related events, including Open Stage nights on Saturdays in Stouffville and Fridays in Port Perry. So drop by, check out what’s on and maybe even take to the stage.

I have to say, after spending an hour deep in wide-ranging conversation with Bruce and Catherine, I came away inspired by their incredible energy and love of books. I confess, I now have coffee shop envy. For the Love of Jo is a great place to linger. Are there any similar spots like that in Newmarket or East Gwillimbury? Let me know and I’ll make a list.

I shamelessly promoted WCYR to everyone who came in to the cafe and in the process, met a lovely young woman named Aurora. She dropped by for lunch and since she had a huge Nikon dangling from her neck, I figured she might be a writer. Alas, not yet, but I mentioned that we’re thinking of having local artists exhibit their works in conjunction with our meetings, so perhaps when she’s completed a year or so of her photography program at Humber College, she’ll get back in touch. Listen to this – to get to the campus on the Lakeshore, she has to take four buses and spends upwards of 2 1/2 hours in transit. Now that’s dedication. I told Aurora that folks like her are our hope for the future.

Bruce will be giving a reading at the Whitchurch-Stouffville library on September 29, 2011 at 7:30. Plan on attending – Bruce is a phenomenal speaker, it’s well worth the short drive from Newmarket and you’ll get to ask him questions about writing and about his body of work.

The radio show, Shelf Life, will air during the next two weeks:

Tuesdays at 5:30 pm
Thursdays at 8:30 am
Sundays at 5:30 pm

If you can’t get the station at 102.7 on the FM dial, then listen to the interview on the website Catherine is always looking for interesting published authors to interview, so check out the library website and drop her an email if you’re volunteering for an interview or if you have a suggestion!


Hyacinthe Miller!/WrtrComYrkRegn



Feature Filmmaking: York Region-style

SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER: Sean Cisterna, Independent Filmmaker and President of Mythic Productions Inc.

In looking at the recent media coverage for the Toronto International Film Festival, it really makes the movie industry seem whimsical and magical. In my working experience, along with that of my colleagues, it’s just the opposite. For all that glitz and glamour we see in the press, there’s generally a small core team of self-sacrificing film artists behind the camera, sweating and stressing to make sure audiences have an enjoyable time at the movies.

When I made Moon Point, a new feature film road-trip comedy that debuts this September 19th at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, I knew that I had to stretch every penny that we were allotted and put it up on the screen.  To do this, I followed a few simple rules.

1.     Write around what you know

I worked with a fantastic writer, Rob Lazar (a Thornhill scribe). Rob knew exactly what kind of production we were going for, and therefore tailored his script around locations and situations that could be brought to life without breaking the bank. Moon Point is a fun, road movie. We don’t have massive explosions and costly epic battles – but we do have a fun plot, bizarre characters, witty dialogue…and one stunt.

Rob Lazar (writer) and Matt Hopkins (who plays The Innkeeper)

2.     Ask your community for help

I can’t tell you how many potentially devastating situations we ran into when filming Moon Point – from locations falling through at the last minute, to crew members simply not showing up.

Bringing a film production to a smaller community outside of Toronto – as we did in places like Richmond Hill, Oak Ridges and Orillia, for example – was incredible, because it’s still a relatively exciting thing to catch a glimpse of. You’d be surprised at how many members of your community will offer to help the production just to be involved in the filming process. We were able to use people’s trucks, generators, showers, cottages, clothes, food, even random people came by to volunteer as extras…all without asking for anything in return. Don’t be afraid to ask your community for help.

Actress Paula Brancati and a borrowed ice-cream truck from Oak Ridges

3.     Work with hungry people

 The Canadian indie landscape is full of hungry people. Not hungry for food hungry, but hungry for creative expression and for having a platform to showcase their talents! It’s not every day that a young actor lands a lead role in a feature film, so in assembling a strong mix of relative newcomers (including Degrassi/Being Erica’s Paula Brancati) with a few seasoned veterans (such as Canadian acting icons Art Hindle and Jayne Eastwood), we came up with the perfect Moon Point cast.

And sure you can blow your budget on an uber-experienced cinematographer with numerous film credits, but in taking a chance on a talented up-and-comer, Moon Point’s director of photography Carl Elster gave it his all and shot a really beautiful-looking film with a tiny Canon 7D.

Director of Photography Carl Elster and his Canon 7D camera

4.     Look for funding in unlikely places

 Face it. Toronto is full of crusty industry execs who love to say no. Trust me. I’ve met them.  In trying to get Moon Point up and running, I applied for numerous filmmaking grants, met with talent agents, attended distribution meetings, and they all ended with the same two letter answer. “No”. Only it took them a full rejection letter to get the message across. Which is why I was shocked when I was given the great news that both the York Region Arts Council and the Richmond Hill Mayor’s Endowment Fund for the Arts would support my project. Who knew that if you got involved and dug deep enough, funding could be found right in your backyard? These combined funds allowed me to actually finish Moon Point – without their support, I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry.

5.     Shamelessly self-promote

Sure, my core group of good friends knows what project I’m working on at any given time, but does that girl I used to sit beside in grade 10 English class? And do people in that girl’s social network know about my film? Facebook/Twitter/YouTube have been instrumental in letting people know about Moon Point. Yes, it feels gross sending out pleading messages to friends and family to come see your movie…but the journey of a thousand steps starts with the first, and your movie will fill a thousand seats only after it has filled one. It’s been said numerous times by everyone because it’s true – use social media to your advantage…but offer something – even something as simple as an autographed 8×10 poster – to those that take the time to “like” or “follow” you.

By the way, please LIKE Moon Point here:

And FOLLOW US on Twitter here:



Sean Cisterna is an independent filmmaker and president of Mythic Productions Inc, a successful film and video production/post-production company. His new feature film road trip comedy, Moon Point, featuring a number of well-known Canadian stars, is currently on the festival circuit. See the trailer here:


Reflections about my paintings and my technique by Ernestine Tahedl

The concept of multiple canvases and panels has always fascinated me. It leads me towards the medieval concept of religious paintings and their spirituality.  I hope that spirituality and serenity are integral to my work. Colour and light are additional factors that guide my work. Colour to me is light. For me, my Paintings come close to a musical experience; as a result, many of the works have musical titles.  I feel these paintings are a direct, human and spiritual experience without confinement of the motif or formal restriction, yet still consist of all those elements that I have explored in my work over the years.

As long as I can remember, my preferred technique for painting has always been acrylic. This started early in the 1950s, when the medium was still in its early experimental stages. My father, Prof. Heinrich Tahedl, was approached by a paint manufacturer in Vienna, Austria, to try some of their newly developed paints in acrylic. The medium suited my style and expectations from the beginning.  I tried them and have continued to work with acrylic paints ever since.

After I painted my early works on paper, I had developed a keen interest, like so many artists in the 1960s, to strong textural work incorporating textures and fillers such as plaster of Paris, sand and other relief-creating materials. Over the years I have developed more and more, a ‘glazing’ technique that I based on the theories and techniques of the Old Masters, but using these new materials. The concept is quite similar, yet, in contrast to oil paints, acrylic paints allow me to be a lot more flexible in layering colours, such as from light to dark, as well as dark to light. For me, this characteristic is one of the most important advantages in using the acrylic paints. The other advantage is the option of thinning paints to any consistency one desires.

This might be the place to talk more about the technique I am using. I have referred before to the ‘glazing’ technique, somewhat borrowed from the medieval panel painting.  Through various layers of transparent paint layered over each other, one achieves a quality and harmony of colours not obtainable through other painting techniques. For example, to get a certain green, I would do an under-painting of cadmium yellow and glaze over this colour after it is dry, a variety of blues, paynes gray, and umbra to get the desired green. As pointed out, the under-paint naturally has to be totally dry so not to mix with the other paints. The colour choice of the over- or under-paints is up to each individual painter’s preferences. It is a lot more flexible than other painting techniques. Most of the time I use paints with a very thin consistency, and for this reason, I execute most of my painting with the panel or canvas placed flat on the floor. I make sure to give my work enough time to dry, sometimes taking several hours. I might start a second painting, so as to not waste much time waiting for the drying process to be completed. This also gives me an opportunity to allow me some distance and objectivity for evaluation of the work and not to get too ‘restricted’ and ‘hung up’ on the painting.


The Plight of Arts York/Arts Unionville

SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER: Justin Leung, Co-Founder | CanYouth

Before even beginning this article, I encourage and challenge every single person who reads this article to leave a comment and state his or her opinion on the issue below. At CanYouth, we are committed to creating and channelling a strong voice for all youth across Canada and we really do value what you have to say. Thank you!

It all started when Unionville High School first opened in 1985, as the newly created Arts York Program began and stood beside the school right from the very start. The commencement would mark the beginning of 26 years of unparallel excellence in the disciplines of drama, dance, visual arts and music. In this time, the Unionville High School Arts York program managed to establish themselves as a staunch advocate for the arts and was able to spread their influence in the artistic world to virtually all around the globe.

Beginning with the intensive selection process in order to gain admittance to the school, students enter a positive working environment that fosters individual growth and creativity. As a result of all this, the Arts York program has managed to produce alumni that have gone off after their time at Unionville to pursue their passions and make a difference in the world; the most notable being national champion figure skater Emmanuel Sandhu, Hayden Christensen from the Star Wars trilogy and Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage.

The program serves as an artistic incubator for youth all across York Region as it encourages talented teenagers to take advantage of the opportunities Unionville offers by auditioning. However, a few years ago the York Region District School Board cut the buses and eliminated all means of school transportation for students attending the Arts York Program. Almost instantly, students within the school who relied on the school buses to get to school were put in jeopardy and the dropping rates began to show. This would mark the beginning of a nightmare for students already attending the school and also to many prospective students who wished to attend. Naturally, the school, the community and many parents and students rallied and protested against the school board’s decision for quite some time. A group of parents took the school board to court and after a significant time period, eventually won. Not long after, the school board succumbed to the public pressure and in an act of appeasement, resumed the bussing. Just one year later however, they slashed it again.

This was the first significant move that the school board initiated and as a result of this, damaged the school’s reputation. Students who wished to attend the school but lived too far would be forced to make the lengthy trek to school every single morning themselves. I was one of these unfortunate students who needed my parents to drive 45 min with me to school every single day. Many others gave up their opportunities to attend the school because of the distance factor.

Just two years ago, the YRDSB school board made another significant decision to restrict the boundaries of the students attending Unionville. New arts programs began to pop up around York Region and students living in areas not around Unionville were required and expected to attend their own respective arts schools. To Unionville’s Arts York program, that meant fewer students, which directly constituted to less talent. When asked about their motives to restrict the boundaries in the region, the school board stated that their intentions were to enrich and spread the arts all around the region.

However, my question that I pose to the school board is this: “to what cost?” To all readers who are viewing this article, I hope you understand that by no means am I saying that the arts shouldn’t be spread around the region. In fact, I am saying the exact opposite and I want more arts school in York Region, BUT I believe that there should be a certain degree of choice revolving this issue. Why can’t we let students choose where they want to go? If the school board’s intentions were to spread the arts, then wouldn’t it benefit the board more if they had students all across York Region diversified and were not being forced to attend their boundary schools? The fact that Unionville’s Arts York program housed students all across the region was a motivating factor in the success of the program. When students from all around gathered together in one place, that was when the real magic happened. Every arts school would experience a rich and diverse representation from all over the region and would effectively create one community, as opposed to the segregation from one boundary to the next. Let’s think about that.

Just as it seemed as the program was adjusting and recovering from the blows that struck them, the arts program, now called Arts Unionville gained word and news of yet even more advancements, or should I say declines. I still remember how my entire class erupted in anger when my teacher notified us about the changes that would take place next year. It was not a great feeling at all and within seconds, the whispers began and the news began to spread. Apparently, the Arts Unionville music class sizes were too low and so certain adjustments had been implemented. The regular separation of grade 9’s and 10’s from the grade 11’s and 12’s would no longer be happening and instead, one huge class of all grades would take place. For those who are unfamiliar with the logistics of the program, the school has prided itself on its small classes and low student to teacher ratios. It is how the program is so effective because individual student attention is given and as a result, fosters individual growth. That now, has been tossed into the trash. The problems do not even stop there.

Imagine a piano major waking up every single morning for school from far off places like Aurora, only to be awaited by a class of 30 kids and not enough pianos. That poses a serious issue and strain on the equipment the school offers. While the school already has filled every single empty space with a piano, how are students expected to share instruments? What do we do if there aren’t enough? Is the school board responsible for supporting all the changes in financial needs the program now requires? What are the differences in the Arts York Program and some other standard and basic music classes in some other schools? We must congratulate the school board for these changes because they have effectively smothered 26 years of artistic excellence and contradicted their own original intentions for their program. I wonder if the people that work for the school board have even considered the implications and consequences of their actions. Let me walk you through a few.

The school board will have effectively created an environment brimming with inequality, as different majors will receive different levels of opportunities. As pessimistic as this sounds, the school board will have successfully began the tilt of the general downward slope of the program. All teachers and students would have to struggle and work extra hard just to maintain the caliber of the program. Why risk everything? Next up, as petty as this may seem to some, 30 kids armed with instruments doesn’t exactly sound or look pleasant. In fact, the very though itself frightens me. The level of noise created would resemble going to a rock concert for 4 years straight. I’m sure we’ll manage to NOT blow our brains out in 4 years. Finally, these changes will decrease the productivity and efficiency of the program, and ultimately cause the program to suffer as the large class sizes will directly hinder the regular speed and progress the program abides by. What is the point of having the program in the first place then?

How do we solve this issue? Well for starters, students need a voice. It’s as simple as that. If the school board wants to create eventual responsible adults, they first need to listen and consult the students. In my humble opinion, I believe that if the YRDSB school board had maybe taken the time to perhaps sit through some classes, attended some of our performances or even listened to what we have to say directly, they would have thought twice about this. To me, it makes sense to ask the students, teachers, parents and community who are related to the program how THEY want their program to run. Their opinions do matter. I’ve had friends that have unsuccessfully made any impact after sending numerous letters and emails to trustees, superintendents and even directors of education. However, this isn’t the way we should do it. As youth, we are harmless as individuals. It is only when we unite to create one voice where we have a chance to create an impact.

Ending on a positive note, if these changes are to be in effect, I hope we all understand that the way we view these changes will directly constitute to how they will happen. If we go to school next year with a negative mindset, we will only be hurting ourselves even more. So I say we embrace the change and try to see it as an alternative way of operating. We should focus more on the advantages as opposed to dwelling on the negatives. Nevertheless, this should serve as an important lesson for both the administration and students. The school board needs to pay more attention to the student voice and we as students, need to step up and make sure that we are heard so that in the future, instances like these don’t happen.

As Mary Engelbreit once said, “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

Special thanks to Tiffany Chan. Photo Creds to Haley Ma.


Justin Leung is one of the co-founder’s of the youth organization CanYouth. He is a grade 12 student currently studying at Unionville High School in the Arts York Program specializing in percussion and drums. In addition to his presence in CanYouth, Justin is also affiliated with Youth Volunteer Markham and the Mayor’s Youth Task Force. Justin hopes to pursue a career in law, politics, international relations and finance. Please check out his organization and read all his other blog posts!

Justin Leung

Co-Founder | CanYouth |

Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook