Is Ottawa the city that fun forgot?
Amen Jafri’s documentary examines whether the capital truly is a buttoned-up bore, reports MEGGIE SYLVESTER.
Senate scandals. Senators hockey. The world’s largest skating rink. You might think all that would help the nation’s capital shed its reputation as Dullsville.
Sadly, no; and now there’s a film on the topic. Amen Jafri, 30, has produced and directed a documentary that considers Ottawa’s supposedly dreary dynamic. Borrowing a derogatory line from newspaper columnist Allan Fotheringham, she’s called the film The City That Fun Forgot?
Why this topic? Well, Jafri is originally from Toronto but is now settled in Ottawa, working for the federal government. On the side she devotes herself to film production and local issues such as “fun,” or the lack thereof. Her conclusion? Yes, she’s found the capital city sometimes fun-challenged. “My friend Nathan and I were mutually frustrated with Ottawa and finding something to do in the city,” says Jafri, explaining the project’s origins. “That’s kind of where it all got started.”
In her research, Jafri found that Ottawa has a thriving underground arts scene, but not everyone is aware of it. And the bars and clubs often appear dead, she says, recalling a recent night when she and friend were the only two customers.
“The idea that fun is hidden in Ottawa — that seems to come up a lot. That’s partly why it’s hard to find fun things to do, because you have to do a little digging.”
People, of course, can make up their own minds. Jafri’s documentary will air Thursday at HUB Ottawa. A panel discussion will follow on the topic, “Is Ottawa as dull as Canadians seem to think it is?” Participants include people in the arts, business and politics, and Jafri will be on hand.
It promises to be an interesting evening considering the advance comments from some of the panellists.
Jesse Cressman-Dickinson, a “community catalyst” at HUB Ottawa and event organizer:
“I think we all have a part to play in changing the reputation of Ottawa externally. When you get those crinkled up noses from people when you say you live in Ottawa, tell them what it is you love about this city,” said Cressman-Dickinson.
“I think the city has a lot to offer but you have to find it.”
Stephanie Vicente, cofounder and editor-in-chief at Herd Magazine:
Vicente said her position as editor of an arts magazine keeps her plugged-in to trendy events and projects in the city.
“I sort of keep an eye out to what’s going on; what people think and who is collaborating with who; so I have a unique perspective in that I’m heavily involved,” said Vicente.
“But I know what it’s like to be on the outside.”
Mitchell Kutney, cofounder of Just Change, Ottawa:
Kutney was one of the panellists who said he wants to discuss the growing development of social enterprise in Ottawa. According to Kutney, there’s a new way of doing business where young people care less about the bottom line and more about the mission of the organization.
If you can get past Ottawa’s dull exterior and really throw yourself into an organization, said Kutney, you will begin to see a city full of colour, culture and excitement.
Although he disagrees with the film’s premise, Kutney says he wouldn’t knock viewing it.
“I think that film is a great way to help break some of those cultural barriers or reputations that is difficult for a city to shake,” said Kutney. “I’d like to see more young people donating their time and money to causes they believe in instead of spending it at the movies or the bar.”
Mathieu Fleury, city councillor, Ward 12, Rideau-Vanier:
Fleury has some ideas for livening up the city.
He’s backing a bid to keep the ByWard Market open late for shoppers and tourists this summer. That way, farmers can sell their products for longer periods. But the desire to stay open must also be there, Fleury said.
As an active citizen, Fleury also said he believes everyone should take the initiative to get involved.
“I think the city has a responsibility,” said Fleury, “but every resident has a role to play in making Ottawa fun.”
Jafri would agree with his argument, too.
“We need to envision what we want Ottawa to become and ask, ‘How do we make that happen?’ ”