Friday, December 14, 2012

Dania Madera-Lerman

"Group of One"

It is 1971, and at the age of 16, this free spirited and independent adventurer headed West hitchhiking across Canada with little more then a backpack full of art supplies and an open mind. After spending a summer exploring the West Coast, she hitchhiked back home to Toronto, only to return to BC a year later. Dania made Richmond Island her home, studied at the Vancouver School of Art and spent the next few years absorbed in the beautiful landscapes, rich native cultures and the slower paced lifestyle that BC had to offer.

Ready for the next chapter in her life, the Toronto art scene was ‘where it was all happening’ and Dania was on her way. She was accepted at the prestigious Ontario College of Art on a grant. Not one to conform, Dania used the grant money to purchase more art supplies and spent the next 2 years auditing classes of her choice at OCA. It was there that she met Graham Coughtry and Gordon Rayner; these successful artists became mentors who inspired Dania with their unique approach to art.

Her next move forward was to attend George Brown College where she studied commercial art. She started working as a graphic designer and, although talented with this linear style of painting, her heart remained in her own freestyle of art.

It was around this time that Dania met her future husband, Al Lerman, a multi-instrumental musician and vocalist; he is the bandleader of the successful group known as Fathead. This began a decade of travel, live music and the birth of a new series of paintings for Dania. Great blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Lightnin Hopkins and Big Bill Bronzy inspired a collection whereby Dania sketched the artist during the live performance, capturing the energy and the essence of the moment, then at home, while listening to their music, she added watercolour and oil pastels to finish the piece. The success of this group of paintings was displayed during solo art shows, one at the ‘Squeeze Club’ which also led to interviews on CBC’s Sunday Arts and Entertainment and Bravo’s Talkin’ Blues.

Dania was once again ready for a change. She described her need to ‘stretch out, get out of her comfort zone and move forward. Painting the same thing again and again feels repetitive after awhile - change feels exciting. I need to change to be true to myself’. However, life had a different plan. Al and Dania found their aging parents needed help. Her father was suffering from bone cancer and required home care, so Dania was there. After her father died, her mother needed her. ‘When you take care of your parents, you really learn that the most important things in life are love and compassion’.

Dania speaks passionately about her life work, its changes, and challenges and focuses on ‘directing energy into something positive’. In Toronto she led art workshops for Youth Without Shelter, a program offering a safe and supportive environment where kids could come and eat nutritious food and accomplish something positive. She believes in feeding the artist both inside and out, with good food, confidence and the skills they need to find their own way. Although she admits the work can be emotionally exhausting, it is good, healing work. ‘Art saved me. It was there through thick and thin, and has been a positive focus of my energy’.

Her collections are varied, using many different styles and mediums. Her work reflects her inspirations including the Group of Seven, the Impressionists, aboriginal art and many more. Painting for Dania is a dance. ‘It leads a little bit, then you lead – you work at it, then you put it away, it goes back and forth’.

Today, we find Dania and Al living in the country, where the artists are inspired by the beautiful landscapes there. Their home was built by the river and designed for environmentally sustainable living. They are surrounded by wildlife which is inspiring Dania’s next stage in the creative process; ‘the animals are coming’.

See the article published in the Winter Solstice 2012

And see more of Dania at her very own website

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Great Christmas Tree Debate...revisited, merely updated.

I am reposting this, it is from my very early days of blogging... and it is appropriate to this time of year...

This past weekend the girls and I ventured out on our annual search for ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ tree. On our way to a friends Christmas tree farm, we enjoyed the music of Vince Guaraldi in the aforementioned special. We reminisced about watching Charlie Brown and Linus on their pursuit to find the perfect tree only to find a myriad of aluminum, pre-decorated take-it-home-Christmas-will-be-perfect trees. Alas, lo and behold, there was one lonely, sparse pathetic tree just waiting to be loved; now known as the proverbial ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree’. We have made the search for it our annual adventure.
Upon arriving at the farm, we walked through the trails, found what looked like the best tree top and cut it down. That is, we cut the top down. I like this particular farm as the policy is to cut the top of a tree thus allowing it to re-grow. I am ever aware of the environment and my contribution to its preservation. That being said, I am ever aware that I want a REAL tree. I suppose admitting that prevents me from qualifying for true tree hugging hippie credibility. I do not aspire to that fastidious status – if I did I would likely have a ‘living tree’, but I am getting off tree topic.

Real tree or not to be? - that is the question. Or in terms of consumerism – does one buy a real tree or an artificial tree?

Personally, I believe these artificial plastic mutants are sucking the spirit out of Christmas; further, the list of chemicals and toxins involved pose significant hazards to consumers. Allow yourself a little research time and you will reconsider even touching the thing (side note – assembly is required) let alone inviting your children to help decorate; and then there is the issue of those hungry tree eating pets…

OK, maybe I am a wee bit over the top here, especially considering the hypocrisy involved – yes, I own one of these spirit suckers myself. That being said, it is in the original box, is like new, in excellent shape and listed on kijiji, craigslist and any other free classifieds I could get at. I can’t sell it. But I can try and give it away.  (UPDATE: I should advise all of you readers that I DID donate this tree to a family in need - they wanted it, they asked me for it and they really appreciate it.)

My advice, “get real”. Should you or someone you know choose to go the artificial route and are in need of a 6.5 foot sable fir, let me know. I might be tempted to lecture the ill informed new owner, but then I run the risk of barking up the wrong tree.

“…and on earth peace, good will toward men. That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Hummmmm hummmmm hummmmm


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Art of Painting 'Plein Air'

Lucy Manly 'On Location'
“When you take up painting, you really learn to see. You see patterns, light, dark, colour, and harmony; you see the painting.”

To see what the artist sees, we must try and see the world through their eyes; what do they see, how did they get there? A natural place to start to see as the artist sees is to learn about them, who they are and where they came from.

Lucy’s Ukrainian mother and Polish father met at a work camp during the war and were married shortly after the war ended. Lucy and her brother were born in Germany, and the family emigrated to Canada in 1950. Her father started work as a labourer with Brampton Brick, where the family initially settled. Following that, they made a move to Toronto living near High Park. Lucy recalls her early interest of art and trips she made to the park sketching the landscapes there. Her skill came naturally, and her talent was recognized by her teachers, who frequently put her artwork on display.

Yellow Birches Triptych
It was her fathers wish to live in the country that brought about the next move to Bensfort Bridge near Peterborough. During her highshool days, she continued with her paintings and it was at this time that she met her future husband, Mark, while travelling on the bus to school. They were married and settled themselves in the area where they ran a successful welding company. Lucy began her art studies in Peterborough with John Norton at Kenner Collegiate. She became a “real student of art”, following up with studies at Sir Sanford Fleming and then on to Trent University. It was John Norton that encouraged her to join a painting club to be with others of like talent. This led to many workshops and her involvement with the East Central Ontario Art Association, which really enabled Lucy to “grow as an artist”. Her involvement with he ECOAA included many different positions starting as the newsletter editor and gradually working her way up to her current position as the President of the Association.

Lucy started painting full time in 1990; her work has been represented in many Ontario art galleries and she has won numerous awards.  Her favourite medium is oil painting. By the mid 1990’s, this student turned into the teacher of the arts, teaching art classes for Continuing Education at Loyalist College in Warkworth. Her teaching also included workshops at many of the well established art galleries in Ontario and she was selected as Artist-in-Residence at Bon Echo Provincial Park in Cloyne, Ontario during the summers of 1995-96 where she met the public while painting the landscapes of the Park. Lucy particularly enjoys the summer workshops teaching on location in the open air where she states, “I paint where I am”; this form of painting is known as ‘plein-air’.

Autumn on Cordova
Lucy’s desire to paint ‘plein-air’ has taken her to many destinations in search for her subject. She has travelled extensively throughout Canada, ventured south to the US and Mexico, and abroad to Italy, Russia and France. Lucy has been organizing trips to Limoux, Southern France since 2005 where the group stays at Le Monastere, and ventures out daily to paint ‘plein-air’ at many different and nostalgic locations.

To learn more about this artist and to view her beautiful work, you can visit online at or venture out to one of the many art galleries listed on the site to see her work first hand.

Janet Jarrell
Article published in The Link Autumn Equinox 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Greenley’s – The Quintessential Independent Bookstore

Walking into Greenley’s, you will first be greeted by that quintessential smell of books and the contemplative quiet associated with bookstores. You meet the local authors’ book table, followed by a warm welcome from the staff, which simply makes you feel happy to browse. On this day, I am led into the sanctuary of the bookstore – the back office. This is where it all happens, books are ordered, received and shelved waiting to be displayed. This space feels rather sacred and unchanged. The Greenley’s are there, most at home. I first met them back in 1984 when they hired me, and other eager Nicholson students, to do inventory of the books in the store after hours. And here we sit, almost 30 years later, reflecting.

It all began with William (Bill) and Ruth Greenley. Bill was born in Toronto; Ruth was born and raised just outside of Stirling. The two met while at Queen’s University - Bill was studying to be an accountant, while Ruth was intent on becoming a teacher. “That’s what women studied then; you either took nursing, or you became a teacher,” said Ruth.

Bill went on to work at Hershey’s, which took the couple to Smith Falls, Ontario, where they raised their three children. He worked his way up to vice president of the company. Ruth worked as a high school teacher and taught adult education at Algonquin College in nearby Perth.

When Hershey’s wanted Bill to relocate to Toronto, he started thinking it was time for a change. He loved books and reading and the idea of owning his own bookstore. With his business background in accounting, and Ruth’s in education, the pair were well suited to the business of a bookstore.

Bill retired from Hershey’s in his early 50s and the couple took some time to travel and decide where to open their bookstore and start their second career. They travelled across the country, considering places all along the way from the Maritimes to the West Coast. They both noticed small towns need a bookstore.

They finally settled on the Quinte area, bought a home in a beautiful spot near the bay, and started the work on the store.

Greenley’s started small, renting space out of a building owned by Terry Barrett where Stephen License is now located. They opened their doors on November 10, 1980. By July 1983, they bought their own building and relocated to the present Front Street location.

This structure was built in 1825, making it the oldest building in downtown Belleville. A tour of the underbelly of the store is a historical trip, where the walls, the two-foot deep windowsills, and the holes in the walls tell the stories.

At one time, Henry Corby owned this building, which he used as a bakery, grocery store, and a tavern all at the same time. Mr. Greenley notes most businesses ran a tavern of some sorts in those days after hours. Many lifetimes ago, this part of the building was at grade level (street level). The old coal shoot, the cooking fireplace complete with an iron swing arm for the cook pot, patches of lathe, and horse-hair plaster remain. All of the walls are stone, except for doorways which were bricked in.

There is an outline of brick on one of the south walls where Henry Colby had his bake oven for the bread. Over time, the roads built up entombing the bottom level of this building where Corby used to hand the fresh baked loaves out of the windows to the customers on Front Street. This old building has been two times lucky surviving the devastation of fire. In the 1860s, a fire claimed seven buildings south of where Greenley’s is now, slowly burning out as it approached the stone wall protecting the building. When the Greenley’s owned the building, fire broke out claiming three buildings to the south. Ruth remembers that cold night well, and she recalls smoke coming off of the roof of the building. “I have never been so scared in all my life.”  

The store stands strong and tall today. Bill reflects, Belleville needed a dedicated bookstore. There was James Text, which was mainly a stationary store, which also printed the grade 13 prep exam books at the time. Reading and Greeting operated out of Century Place, and its owners also managed a magazine distribution business so it sold mostly magazines, newspapers, and only a few books.

It wasn’t long before Greenley’s bookstore developed a regular clientele. Ruth always insured there was a varied selection of French books available and the business supplied local (and not so local) schools with specific book orders and always supported local and Canadian authors.

One summer, Mr. Greenley recalls a casually dressed tourist came into the bookstore. The gentleman struck up a conversation with Bill around books and eventually asked for a recommendation. “I had just finished Running in the Family and really enjoyed the book so I showed it to him and asked him if he had read it. He nodded he had, and we chatted some more.” Several months later, Bill saw a photograph of the author Michael Ondaatje and made the connection. While visiting Greenley’s Ondaatje did not give any indication that he was the author, but from then on, when he did visit, as he was known to do from time to time frequenting a cottage he had in the area, Bill knew him, and was happy he had returned.

Mrs. Greenley recalls other notable visitors and excitedly admits the biggest hit was Don Cherry. Scheduled to be at Greenley’s for a book signing, the store was full of people anticipating his arrival – he was late. The Greenley’s got the call that he was just down the road waiting in a car not feeling well. He finally showed. He was dressed to the nines, high collar, tie; the crowd went crazy for Don Cherry. Other memorable authors include Bobby Hull, Jack Johnson with “Here Came Jack”, Ken Dryden, David Suzuki, Pierre Berton, Robert Bateman, Margaret Atwood, Robert Munsch, and of course Michael Ondaatje.

Greenley’s is a popular local stomping ground and always manages to draw people in and keep them coming back. Local authors include Gerry Boyce, Wilma Alexander, Janet Lunn, and the many talented authors whose work graces the local table.

After almost thirty years the Greenley’s realized it was time to retire once again, especially since the store was now managed by someone who loved it just as much as the Greenley’s. Tammy Grieve bought the bookstore in 2007, shortly after the Greenley’s announced they would retire. She had first come to Greenley’s in the mid-90s for a job. None was available, but a determined Tammy returned every few weeks to inquire and soon she was hired. Tammy’s passion for the books, her hard work, and the organization of the store was evident. Bill and Ruth showed her all aspects of running the bookstore and Tammy naturally transitioned into more responsibilities. When the Greenley’s finally announced their retirement, Tammy was the perfect person to step up.

As a community waited, Tammy worked hard with her dedicated staff to ready Greenley’s for the next stage in its life. During a brief shut down period, they updated the local independent store carefully preserving the essence so essential to the Greenley’s name. The night before opening day “was terrifying,” says Tammy. “We were all working until midnight putting books on the shelves; it was a team effort, and I couldn’t do it without them.”

The new Greenley’s opened in 2008 with an updated look including comfortable armchairs and the convenience of today’s electronic connections. Greenley’s now has followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook, a blog and a website. The store retains that welcoming Greenley’s feel synonymous with the name.

Tammy’s new monthly book club is relaxed and simply meant for people who like books.
"You have to love what you are selling, want to serve people, and love your customers.” When people come into Greenley’s, they see it as not just a place to buy books, but a place to talk about their families, what they heard on CBC and what has brought them joy that day. To them, this is home. When asked how she chooses the books she orders, Tammy replies, “that is indefinable, you just know, sometimes you order them just because you like them”. She admits that her specialty is in children’s books.

Although my time in this interview began with W&R Greenley, it ended with all of the family members. I observed the familial interaction, which was very respectful and balanced, interesting and intimate. Tammy still calls them Mr. and Mrs. Greenley. As I was interviewing Tammy, Mrs. Greenly ran off to Barrett’s to get some things she needed, and Bill gracefully made his way around the store fixing odds and sods; although retired, he is still working. This is truly a family run business. 

Read more in the summer issue of The County and Quinte Living magazine available now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Organic Abstract

Laurie Near is a Canadian artist and teacher who is currently making an impressive impact on the local art scene. Carol Feeney, Executive Director at the Quinte Arts Council comments "Laurie is a brilliant artist who has won many awards including the Juror’s Choice Award at Quinte Arts Council’s Expressions visual art exhibit at the John M. Parrott Gallery as the jurors believed that her piece was the best in show.  When I have Laurie’s art in our gallery and gift shop, people are literally drawn off the street when they see her vibrant, unique work.  She is a very talented woman and great teacher with an exceptionally bright future in her field."
Laurie has held a life long interest in the visual arts and has early recollections of painting as a child, remembering “the eggy smell of the tempera, the rustling of that flowered plastic smock” and her feelings that it very serious play at that time. “I’ve never been afraid of a blank page or empty canvas.”

Over the years her passion for art has matured along with her style, which, as a relatively new and emerging artist, Laurie has managed to develop and form into a recognized signature form of painting. Laurie says that one might term this style as ‘organic abstract’, adding that she has been painting seriously and with focus since 2009. “When I first started with acrylics, the paintings were whimsical and bright; playful compositions featuring flowers, dragonflies, petulant cats, cat-ladies, pregnant figures…these ‘early’ compositions were used as a means to transition from the tight control of the photorealistic drawings I’d been doing at the time - and as a way to experiment with various techniques and acrylic colour combinations.”

Her current series according to her website, originates from a concept central to Zen Buddhism where “Satori” is described as a state of sudden spiritual enlightenment in which one becomes able to recognize and appreciate the “true essence or nature” of things. As a strong believer in basic philosophies regarding the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world, Laurie is an avid naturalist and ‘these works are infused with symbols, colours and shapes inspired by elements of nature.’ She adds “a sense of wonder and appreciation can serve as powerful catalysts for creative expression –spiny lobsters; fiery opals; a crisp white lotus flower; the peculiar habits of bowerbirds....there is no end to the list of amazing things around us.”
As an artist, Laurie is most inspired by writings, music and artworks. She describes herself as a voracious reader taking a great interest in artist’s biographies. “I'm not only interested in their artwork but also in their thought-processes and interactions with others and the structure and cadence of their daily lives.” She also tends to read texts which speak to ‘the human condition’ and those which explore issues of spirituality and interconnectedness. Music is also an important source of inspiration during her creative process and Laurie adds that she enjoys the simple harmonies of indie performers. Artworks also have a role in this artists inspiration. “When I first started to paint I was most taken with Klimpt and various Abstract Expressionists. With time, I’ve come to really appreciate the more elegant and understated work of Canadian artists such as Otto Rogers and Alex Colville.  While their individual styles are quite different, I have great respect for the quiet power of their neutral colour-palettes - and the underlying sense of spirituality present in their work.”

As a teacher, Laurie says “I strongly believe in the importance of providing balance between the passing on of specialized knowledge and practice time with tools and media - and real opportunities for risk-taking, creativity and self-expression. It's part of the art-teachers job to provide students with a variety of techniques to choose from, how to achieve certain effects, common pitfalls to avoid...however, focus too much on the technical and you lose the potential power and beauty inherent in more personal and spontaneous art-making. Fear can be a serious block to artistic expression; I’ve found that both youth and adults work best in an environment where they feel safe and supported, where questions and risk-taking are encouraged. It's important to understand that it's okay to make mistakes - and that frustration can be as much a part of the artistic process as the joy.”
The artwork of Laurie Near hangs in a number of galleries and in private collections
across Canada, the U.S.A. and the U.K. To view her work, please visit her Website: or check her out on FaceBook at LaurieNearART.

Janet Jarrell

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Susanna Moodie "Life in the Clearings"

A Walk Through the “City of the Bay” with Susanna Moodie
by Janet Jarrell

Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County
On a city walking tour, it is a pleasure to discover the rich history that lies quietly in our midst waiting for us to rediscover it, to remember. One such historic figure is Susanna Moodie, an English born literary notable that made Belleville her home and resting place. Moodie has connections in both the Hamilton/Peterborough area and again right here in Hastings County. She was born in 1803 in Suffolk, England into a literary family, and was a published author by the time she was nineteen years old. In those early days, well on her way to becoming a professional writer, Susanna met Lieutenant John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie in 1830 and a year later they were married. Neither had the backing of an inheritance that would provide for them in the manner to which they hoped to live in England. As a retired veteran, John was entitled to a substantial land grant in Canada – thus, the decision was made to move. With a newly born Catherine Mary (Katie) in tow, the Moodie’s set sail for their new lives, eventually settling in the Douro Township, just north of Peterborough. After almost a decade of living in the ‘backwoods’, John Moodie was appointed as the first Sheriff of the newly formed County of Hastings in 1840, offering the growing family a new start in Belleville. This position saw John working out of the stone courthouse on the hill, a historic edifice that still occupies that hill to this day. Although the main front building has been completely rebuilt, the stone house in back where the Warden of the gaol (jail) lived remains to tell its story as it is known to be haunted.

It was while living in Belleville that Susanna began writing about her life and times in Douro, which was the basis and the inspiration of Moodie’s best-known book, Roughing It In The Bush. This most important literary work depicts life in a very young Canada during the years 1832-1840 from the perspective of a cultivated English woman turned pioneer after she has immigrated to Upper Canada. The work describes in detail the life of an early settler, the struggles associated with working in communal working ‘bees’ clearing the land and also society as it was developing with regards to the relations between Canadians and the Americans, thus making it both a historical and political piece, which is still studied to this day.

To local historians in the County of Hastings, of equal importance is a later work, Life In The Clearings. This work is a follow up to Roughing It In The Bush, and reads like a walk through Belleville during the mid 1800’s. Susanna much anticipated a new life in the city for herself and her growing family. On the one hand, Belleville was a welcome change from the isolation she had come to know in the bush, on the other hand, Susanna was mildly disappointed with the city. She saw it as an “insignificant, dirty-looking place” where the layout of the city did not measure up to what she would consider civilized.  She says, “the few streets it then possessed were chiefly composed of frame houses put up in the most unartistic and irregular fashion…their gable ends or fronts turned to the street…without the least regard to taste or neatness’’ and continues, “at that period there were only two stone houses and two of brick in the place.” This was most assuredly accurate as Belleville was, in fact, just coming out of the depression. It did recover quickly, and after a few years and some traveling about, Moodie grew to deeply admire and connect with the land. She describes how over the next decade the city flourishes, grows in population and expands in size. Moodie writes about of some of the most historical landmarks, influential people and significant events in this town. Of mention is Canniff’s mills, presently known as Canifton. She says, “Lumber forms, at present, the chief article of export from this place.”

Through Life In The Clearings, Susanna Moodie takes the reader on a walk through the streets, to the churches and to meet the “Odd Characters” that she describes in magnificent detail. From “Sketches of Society”, to “Camp Meetings” to “Lost Children”, the chapters of this work are an honest account of the life and times. She begins where most cities begin, with the churches. She describes the four “on the hill” in such detail that when you look at those same churches today, you can see the features and fine points that she highlights.  She mentions St. Michael’s church with “its elegant structure and graceful spire” and how the church bell was shipped in from Spain and reportedly cost 700 pounds, which can be heard 8 miles into the country. In her travels, Moodie made visits to Picton, a place she says that stands at the head of Long Reach. While in the County, one of her most pleasurable trips was to ‘Lake of the Mountains’, as she referred to it. This spot has been rumored to be a mystical place for writers to visit and be inspired. Moodie notes, “strange stories are told of its unfathomable depth”. Most of the stories about this beautiful spot “rest only upon hearsay”.

Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County
Those early days for the Moodie’s were not without personal and professional struggles. To begin with, the family suffered from the loss of their son George Arthur who died in infancy. Then again a few years later, the tragic death of their five-year-old son John, who drowned in the Moira River. Susanna writes about the boys in her poetry A Mother’s Lament and in The Early Lost. Further, a fire completely destroys their family home leaving them with a huge financial burden, which would continue to follow them for the rest of their living days.

Professionally, Susanna continues to write through it all. Her political views in support of responsible government challenged the establishment at that time and were unwelcomed as the views of an outsider. The Moodies were frequently critized publically in the local newspaper, The Intelligencer, by the editor George Benjamin. This public defamation inspired Susanna to write Richard Redpath, depicting a character based on Benjamin that was published in the Literary Garland. These political battles made things difficult for John in his position as he struggled for balance between his work as Sheriff, his own writing and his political views.  Nevertheless, it is the prolific writing of the Moodies that serves to best document times as they were.

With a walk through Belleville today, you will see the strong influence the Moodies had on this City. The well-known and recently recognized Susanna Moodie School stands as a constant reminder of the importance education had in the minds of the Moodies. Also, the beautiful stone cottage where the Moodies resided with their children stands at the corner of Bridge and Sinclair. The house has been deemed a historical landmark, a distinction marked by the plaque out front in Susanna’s name. Both Susanna and John have city streets in their name, Moodie and Dunbar respectively, and finally, at the Belleville Cemetery, a monument stands out, the large white angel of granite marks the Moodie gravesite.

As published in The Link Spring Equinox 2012 issue.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quinte Film Alternative and Picton Cinefest

By Maury Flunder and Janet Jarrell
See you at the movies!
The Quinte Film Alternative started in September 1995 with a small ad in the Community Press, inviting any interested persons to a meeting at the Quinte Arts Council office to discuss the formation of a film group in Belleville. About a dozen people were at that meeting, and most of them stayed on to serve as the first QFA board of directors.

Cam Haynes was there, along with his brother Blair. They had started the Northern Film Circuit a few years earlier, forming a relationship with the Toronto International Film Festival to supply films, which met with great success. They were proposing a Southern Film Circuit for this part of the province. Belleville became one of the original Film Circuit groups by October. The Film Circuit continues to serve as a lending library working with TIFF and distributors to supply films to the QFA and now 193 community groups like the QFA across Canada.

The first memorable debate was what the debut film should be. There was considerable support for Michael Moore's satirical "Canadian Bacon", but an odd little film, "Blue In The Face" was selected. It was quirky and funny and it certainly wasn't a mainstream blockbuster, which were typically the only movies that were screening in Belleville at that time.

That first screening was in January 1996 at the Bellestar 3 cinema (now the Royal Lepage Headquarters). The seating capacity was 168 and that first night sold out. Screenings over time were changed to the Quinte Mall cinema's, then to the Famous 8 (now Galaxy) then in 2003 to the wonderfully restored Empire Theatre (formerly the McCarthy Theatre) where we were able to add a matinee and where we have been ever since.

The mission was clear from the start; bring films that would not otherwise be screened in Belleville. This led to films that got a lot of buzz at the Toronto Film Festival, many being nominated for Oscars, including edgy films like "Trainspotting", documentaries like "Bowling for Columbine" and Foreign Films like "Life is Beautiful". Large crowds quickly became the norm, which led to selling advance ticket memberships. 

The QFA eventually incorporated as a Non Profit to set up some formal accountability, but the composition of the Board of Directors remains bound by the love for films. Recent recognition by the Quinte Arts Council of the QFA as the Arts Association of the year has been window dressing to what continues to be a labour of love for film lovers on the board. We maintain a list of e-mail subscribers of over 600 who are reminded of the screening every other week, and have members “bring-a-friend nights”.

As for picking the films, this is really more of an art than science, and is also the reason that maintaining interest and cohesion on our volunteer board has been relatively fun and easy. We all love the films and are passionate about bringing the best each year to the Belleville audience.

A year after the QFA got underway, the County began its own showing of artistic alternative films. In 1996, a small and dedicated group started what is known today as Cinefest Picton.  Both groups have a shared commitment to offering independent films for the locals in their area. Joining the Film Circuit, which acts as a “broker with distributors, loaning films to smaller centers for one night screenings” says Peter Blendell, Cinefest Picton chose ‘Big Night’ as its debut film.  

“It really took about five years to establish the following we have today”, says Peter, as the County slowly began to grasp the scope of the alternative films and documentaries being screened. Many local sponsors and community groups began investing in Cinefest Picton ensuring the film screenings continued success. A readership was initiated and maintained through e-mails, which offer a film review of up coming screenings.

Requests for films began to come in and were “bottlenecked” to a programmer, Rita Johnson, who researched the choices and made decisions based on artistic merit. Overtime, the independent film aficionados developed a sense of the artistically demanding films that the group wanted to screen.

The screenings themselves are all held at the historic and beautifully restored Regent Theatre in downtown Picton. It offers its patrons a unique venue for the viewing of these alternative films.  This theatre underwent further renovations in early 2011, briefly relocating the screenings to the second floor space found at Books & Company. With the upgrades complete, the films are back at the Regent where Cinefest Picton presents a bi-weekly program screening on alternate Mondays.

See you at the movies!