Oscar contender Incendies was co-produced by a Schulich grad

Incendies, the critically acclaimed Canadian film, has a good chance of walking off with an Oscar for best foreign-language film Sunday night, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Feb. 26 in a story about the filmmakers, including producer Luc Dery (MBA ’92). The story predated the film’s loss to Denmark’s In a Better World.

Incendies, about twins discovering details about their mother after her death, has bowled over audiences since its debut last year, said the Citizen. In Quebec alone, the film has grossed more than $3 million and it’s expected to add to its box-office tally after Sony Pictures Classics gives it a major theatrical push this April in selected US cities.

"This was definitely a labour of love to get it to the screen," says Dery, 47, a producer for the past 15 years who…studied biology at university before turning to moviemaking. "It was a complex project to produce (and) it was challenging shooting the film in the Middle East, and in Arabic. (It was filmed in Jordan.) It’s an ambitious script and, for a Canadian film, it’s pretty high-budget…which was a big challenge. But we’re very proud of this achievement."

After studying film at the University of Montreal and getting an MBA in arts and media administration at York University [Schulich School of Business], he worked in film distribution for five years before becoming a producer.

"After film school, I decided that one of the weakest links in the (film) industry was producing. A lot of producers in the old days were actually directors who got to be producers eventually. I thought a formal business background was an interesting way to start." He calls producing "bizarre" because you have to juggle both the artistic and business components of making a film. That’s where the MBA from York comes in handy, he says.

York science & engineering delegation tours India

Researchers from the Faculty of Science & Engineering at Toronto’s York University are currently touring India on a mission to establish key partnerships and collaborations with Indian research organizations and educational institutions, wrote Mumbai’s The Hindu Business Line Feb. 27. The delegation of 12 researchers is visiting several top-tier universities and institutes across the country such as the IITs at Chennai and Mumbai, the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the University of Kolkata, to name a few.

The key mandate for these meetings is to enable researchers from York University and from across India to establish joint bilateral research and developmental projects. York University, the third largest university in Canada, is the country’s leading interdisciplinary research and teaching institution with an academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as 200,000 alumni worldwide.

Leader of the delegation is Janusz Kozinski, dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering, and professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Sciences & Engineering. Among others, Kozinski’s brainchild is an anti-terrorism project evocatively called eWAR (Early Warning & Advance Response) system that seeks to detect, quantify and initiate an effective response to chemical and biological agents released in public buildings.

In a special interview to Business Line during his visit to this newspaper office in Mumbai despite a hectic schedule, Kozinski shared for the benefit of readers the mission’s objectives, research priorities, funding and related matters. [Below are excerpts.]

Kozinski: India is one of our three focal points. We want to engage in projects with practical social applications. Specifically, we are looking at, among other areas, space science which would cover micro and nano satellites to carry communications tools. Our focus would also be atmospheric monitoring to study global warming and climate change.

Also, we are keen to develop partnerships in the field of biotechnology for healthcare; analyse propagation of infectious diseases – their origin, spread, control and eradication through bio-sensors.

We firmly believe in creating value and sharing it with the society. Where societal benefits are involved, I am somewhat wary of creating barriers like intellectual property rights and so on. We want the society at large to benefit from our research.

Osgoode grad is betting on gold and CSR

With his close-cropped hair, trim physique and crisp grey suit, [Osgoode grad Tye Winston] Burt, 53, could be a retired colonel. But today it is his love of Hemingway that has brought us to [Paris’s Café Flore], wrote Eric Reguly in The Globe and Mail Feb. 26, in a story about the CEO of Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

A few writers from the non-fiction world have influenced Burt [LLB ’83] heavily, notably Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.

The book explains why many African and some Asian countries, in spite of their vast commodities wealth and endless foreign-aid injections, can’t break out of grinding poverty. Why does Burt care? Because Kinross’s bet-the-ranch, US$7.7-billion purchase last year of Vancouver’s Red Back Mining made it the biggest foreign investor in Mauritania, and is about to make it one of the Western Saharan country’s biggest employers. Kinross bought Red Back largely for the potentially mammoth Tasiast gold development, whose construction phase will employ about 3,500 workers when it starts next year and whose mining phase will directly employ 2,500.

Kinross’s investors may not like what he has in mind, which is to spread Tasiast’s wealth beyond just the local elite and Kinross’s non-African shareholders, minimize the environmental footprint and leave behind something more useful than a gigantic hole in the ground. “I want to make Mauritania an illustration of what responsible development of natural resources can do,” he says.

Altruism does not, of course, fully explain the effort. Burt thinks corporate responsibility is an essential part of the value-creation process. Mining companies live and die on mining permits and shabby behaviour can delay or eliminate them. “There are plenty of examples where protesters have closed the gates and governments have shut down mines,” he says.

Cancer an obstacle to beat for McFarlane

Living under a bridge in Toronto, a young Fay McFarlane was determined to better her poverty-stricken life, wrote The Orillia Packet & Times Feb. 26. Homelessness and teen pregnancy didn’t hold her back as a youth. Now at 48, breast cancer sure won’t stop her, either. “I’m a fighter,” McFarlane said on Friday. “I see an obstacle and I want to get over it.”

The Orillia lawyer has practised despite being diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. “I don’t want to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I just keep going,” McFarlane said.

She had surgery in October and in November began chemotherapy. At the same time, she was completing her master’s degree in real property law and beginning a master’s degree in family law at York University [Osgoode Hall Law School].  “I just love the law. I love learning and that’s the way I keep going,” McFarlane said. “I don’t think it’s amazing for me, but everybody else thinks so.”

This week, the Simcoe County Law Association honoured McFarlane with the 2010 Sam Delmar Memorial Award.

York prof will speak at Winnipeg conference

An innovative cross-communal Jewish education program that began in Great Britain 25 years ago is finally coming to Winnipeg, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press Feb. 26. The program, known as Limmud, the Hebrew word for learning, is a weekend conference taking place March 12 to 13 at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

A few out-of-town experts, however, also have been invited to Winnipeg to teach. These include…York University humanities Professor Rabbi Martin Lockshin, who will discuss classical Jewish texts beyond the letter of the law.

Ontario Cricket Academy on historic tour to Sri Lanka

The Ontario Cricket Academy’s under-19 cricket team will become the first club team from North America to tour Sri Lanka, when they depart Toronto on March 2 for a two-week tour to the island, wrote Sri Lankan cricket fan site IslandCricket.lk Feb. 27.

“It will be challenging adapting to the extreme weather conditions in Sri Lanka, coming from our winter,” the head coach and director of the academy Derek Perera [BA Spec. Hons. ’04] said, speaking of the challenges that lay ahead of the young cricketers who hail from conditions as cold as -30 degrees Celsius. “Our team is very skilled and talented, so I expect them to adapt quickly and be very competitive,” Perera added.

Perera, 33, who is of Sri Lankan descent, founded the Academy in 2002 while still a student at York University [Faculty of Health]. Nine years later, the Academy has produced six cricketers who have represented Canada at the youth level.

Hockey history retold

Hockey Gods at the Summit is an exceptional recounting of the [1972 Canada-Russia hockey Summit Series], a prize piece of recall by Frank Cosentino, wrote Ontario’s London Free Press, Feb. 26, in a review of the fictionalized account featuring players who died before the summit took place.

Make no mistake, Cosentino, the author of 15 books and a professor emeritus at York [Faculty of Health], is a teacher, doing so though his writing since his retirement from York in 1997.

In the introduction, Cosentino said one of his reasons for writing the book is that there’s a whole generation of Canadians – almost two in fact – who weren’t born when the summit happened.

Part of the beauty of the book is Cosentino’s easy style…he mixes a heaping helping of highjinks and humour, blending the hard facts of the hockey summit with the fictitious antics of a group of hockey gods.

A little hokey? Perhaps, but it’s fun, too. And it’s a dynamite metaphor for the richness of Canada’s hockey culture, how the generations are brought together by hockey and how Canadian players can fall back on the sport’s history when times are tough.

York prof mounts campaign for posthumous degrees to Brampton sisters

[York students] Isabel and Vanessa DiCeglie were inseparable, in life and in death, wrote Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno Feb. 25.

The beautiful Brampton sisters perished after a thundering collision between their Honda Civic and a tractor-trailer that was hauling gravel, on Sept. 13, 2007. It was Isabel’s 23rd birthday. She succumbed to her massive injuries two days after the accident. Vanessa, 19, died at the scene.

Yet there is one thing that the sisters’ immigrant parents and a younger brother fiercely desire: Posthumous university degrees from York University for their lost girls. Had tragedy not struck so brutally, the sisters would have undoubtedly obtained those degrees on merit — Isabel was in her final year in French and business management; Vanessa was in her second year studying French and drama.

“There’s a moral issue here," argues Stephen Fleming, a York psychology professor [Faculty of Health] who has spent more than a year campaigning for the posthumous degrees on behalf of the sisters’ family. “I’ve left e-mails and voice mails. I’ve gone up the chain of command at the University and I’ve submitted the supporting documents to the (University) senate.’’

In his private practice, Fleming counsels bereaved families, so he’s well-versed in the significance of small mercies. “I work with parents whose kids have died. While no one can imagine the horror of how the world shattered for the family of Isabel and Vanessa, I think it would make a huge difference to the level of despair and sadness they’re still feeling…. I mean, it’s not as if these two girls are going to go out and sell their degrees on eBay.’’

University spokesperson Wallace Pidgeon told the Star Friday that the request was “under review".

On air

  • Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor in Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about her research on bilingualism and its benefits in delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks” Feb. 26.