January 8, 2018
Prostitution is considered to be the "world's oldest profession", yet it remains taboo in many parts of the world. For some, however, it is life-affirming.
Paul and Jordan talk to former escort, Andrea Werhun, and advocate for the differently abled, Paul Swartz, about the value and importance of sex work. Beyond the physical, Andrea and Paul reveal how such work provides clients with emotional and psychological fulfillment, central to a meaningful life and which may be otherwise wholly absent from the client's own. The group also discusses the continued struggle for the decriminalization of sex work in Canada, especially the unnecessary moral and religious barriers that hinder its progress.
Learn more about Andrea, including her recently published book, Modern Whore: A Memoir, at modernwhore.com and Paul here. In addition to being a seasoned real estate agent, Paul is the subject of Short on Short, a documentary by co-hosts Paul and Jordan, on the difficulty of being a small statured man.
January 2, 2018
Long before the “6 God” Drake, Toronto has had a thriving hip-hop scene. Since the 1980s, early Toronto rappers such as Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee and Kardinal Offishall, have been testimony to the city’s impressive talent and paved the way for other hip-hop artists to shine--locally and abroad.
Exploring Toronto’s hip-hop scene, Paul and Jordan talk to a diverse and insightful group: emcees Mindbender and Leo Noir, DJ Mike Stoan and hip-hop scholar Ola Mohammed. The group candidly discuss what is unique and distinctive about Toronto hip-hop itself, how Drake--as one of the most accomplished rappers in recent memory--has significantly changed hip-hop in the city and barriers to success that exist for up-and-coming Toronto hip-hop artists.
Stay tuned early 2018 for "Memories of a Bender", an exclusive The Dark Room mini-series featuring stories about the underside of Toronto's hip-hop scene.
December 13, 2017
We are accustomed to viewing video games as unnecessarily violent, containing graphic depictions of death. Some, however, are spinning death in a new light.
Paul and Jordan talk to video game developer, Gabby DaRienzo, about her recent creation, A Mortician's Tale. It is a video game that requires the player--as a funeral director--to both care for the business and emotional side of death, from preparing the bodies of the deceased to comforting the bereaved. Though seemingly dark, the game, Gabby shares, is deemed "death positive," helping people talk more openly and comfortably about death.
Follow Gabby on Twitter @gabdar
November 28, 2017
Laws are in place to protect the innocent from being punished. But what happens when those entrusted to uphold them, do the opposite?
Paul and Jordan talk to David McCallum, imprisoned 29 years for a crime he did not commit, and Ken Klonsky, pivotal to his eventual release, about the events surrounding David's wrongful conviction and the unfair justice system responsible for it. Exploring how much has changed since, the four delve into important issues of race, false confessions, and the right to a fair trial. As David and Ken reveal, though wrongful convictions still persist, we--as concerned citizens--can help end them by holding governments legally accountable.
Learn more about David and Ken here.
November 8, 2017
How much do we, in actuality, “judge a book by its cover”? Is artificially altering someone’s appearance enough for us to think differently of them?
Exploring this, Paul and Jordan talk to documentarian, Steven Burton, about digitally removing—via Photoshop—gang tattoos from photographs he took of ex-gang members, in the United States. Beyond aesthetics, Steven reveals he did so in order to remind audiences of the humanity of ex-gang members, overshadowed by their tattoos which continue to stigmatize them in real life. Steven’s photographs, before and after tattoo removal, are part of his new and original book, Skin Deep, accompanied by unflinching statements by the ex-gang members about their hopes, fears and dreams along the path of creating a positive (crime free) life for themselves.
Learn more about Steven here.
October 24, 2017
Many of us with busy lives have a hard time remembering what we did yesterday or even moments ago. We are comforted by the thought, however, that when our lives move at an even and steady pace, we exercise a "good" memory. But how good?
Paul and Jordan talk to Rebecca Sharrock, one of a handful of people worldwide who have what is known as "Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory" (HSAM). Remembering all the events of her life from infancy, Rebecca shares how she went from thinking her exceptional memory was normal to realizing, initially with the help of her parents, the rare gift it is. Though, as Rebecca reveals, this gift can be rather challenging, causing her to relive painful emotions of the past. Still, Rebecca is empowered by her difference and through mental health advocacy encourages others to embrace theirs--as the foundation for a truly unique and meaningful life.
Learn more about Rebecca here.
October 9, 2017
Mental health has become a popular topic in our culture. It seems practically everywhere there are heartfelt ads supporting those battling depression, anxiety, and other illnesses of the mind. Yet, there oddly remains a reluctance to personally disclose the difficulties of one’s own inner life. Some wish to buck this trend—and collectively so.
Paul and Jordan talk to Aanchal Vashistha and Kathy Chu, from Reach Out Together, about the tragic suicide behind the group’s inception and how it underlines its compassionate mandate to destigmatize talking about mental health challenges, ultimately helping those suffering in silence. By the same token, Aanchal and Kathy reveal why Reach Out Together is also committed to bringing people together at their life-affirming events—from candid conversation to vibrant dance socials—to promote happiness and well-being through the often overlooked power of face-to-face interaction. In an era characterized by “chronic loneliness," Reach Out Together offers a refreshing alternative to the isolation many have, unfortunately, become accustomed to.
Learn more about Reach Out Together here.
September 25, 2017
For many, hearing “circumcision” is enough to feel uncomfortable. It evokes not only physical pain but causes self-consciousness about what, quite literally, hardly sees the light of day. Paul and Jordan talk to documentarian Brendon Marotta about what led him to create his new and original documentary film, American Circumcision, and the controversy that still remains around male circumcision in the United States and abroad. Historically a common practice, though waning in frequency today, male circumcision has received minimal attention from documentary filmmakers. Brendon reveals why, especially given the health and psychological risks of the practice, breaking that trend is necessary and the ethical, cultural, and medical value a larger discussion about it will have for both present and future generations. Learn more about Brendon and his film here.
September 11, 2017
Is everyone a photographer today? Has the simplicity of taking pictures on smart phones rendered trained photographers insignificant?
Paul and Jordan talk to Manuela Cacciaguerra about her seasoned career as a documentary photographer, capturing everything from natural disasters to media shy politicians, and why--despite the proliferation of digital cameras--there has not been a swell of great photographers. Recalling earlier years, Manuela shares important lessons she learned in the lengthier process of using non-digital technology, such as film, that accounts for much of her artistic and professional success. Moreover, as someone who often spends extended periods of times with her subjects, Manuela reveals how the photographer becomes akin to an anthropologist, learning about their interior world just as much as their outer.
Follow Manuela on Facebook here.
August 28, 2017
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), characterized by a tingling sensation produced by soft whispering and sounds, is quickly gaining popularity online, especially on YouTube and other social media. It is commonly a one way experience, whereby the ASMR artist performs for their audience, feeling a gentle euphoria in turn.
Paul and Jordan talk to Sarah Marchand and Chelsea Dab Hilke about their new theatrical production, ASMRtist, and how, using ASMR, they go beyond and arguably defy this experience. Unlike most ASMR performers, Sarah and Chelsea are interested in dissolving the boundary, such as the computer screen, between themselves and audience. In doing so, they--blurring the line between art and real life--invite the audience to directly take part in ASMRtist, co-creating the story onstage.
Learn more about ASMRtist here.
August 26, 2017
Canada is often regarded as a beacon of democracy, where many, internationally, flee dangerous and oppressive conditions to live a life free from harm. Tragically, however, some are subjected to those very conditions on their arrival, unnoticed by the community around them.
On the heels of her recent TED talk, Paul talks with international speaker and human rights advocate, Samra Zafar, about surviving a child marriage that began at age 16 when she was forced to move to Canada to marry a man unknown to her. Nearly two decades later, she is today an inspiring example of courage and resilience, having escaped her abusive marriage and empowering herself through higher education--a dream of hers since childhood. As Samra reveals, there is the potential in all of us to, despite the worst of adversity, realize the future we want for ourselves, rather than dictated by others. In her quest of compassion, Samra also leads "Brave Beginnings,” an organization dedicated to helping others escape abusive relationships and lead happy, independent lives.
Learn more about Samra at samrazafar.com
August 14, 2017
Paul and Jordan talk to Kwame Mason about his groundbreaking debut feature documentary, Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future. Exploring the film together, Kwame reveals the difficult, but ultimately heroic, journey of Black hockey players in the NHL, and the important lessons it teaches us about the destructiveness of racism, as well as courage and resilience in the face of hatred. Taking an interesting turn, the episode also delves into the history of the Toronto hip-hop scene, and how--as in filmmaking--discussion the scene can progress when artists collaborate rather than simply compete.
Learn more about Kwame and the film at soulonicemovie.com
August 1, 2017
Like other counterculture trends, tattooing has been adopted by the fashionable mainstream. But for some it is more spiritual than "cool."
Paul and Jordan talk to tattoo artist, London Slade, about his unusual journey into tattooing--from street youth to entrepreneur--and how, despite a rollercoaster life, inking remains for him a sacred art. Embracing the strange as good, London reveals the vision behind his shop, "Weirdsville," as not only a place to get beautifully bizarre tattoos but where outsider difference is celebrated.
Learn more about London here.
July 18, 2017
At an early age we were taught never to talk to strangers. In teaching us this, the adult world was legitimately concerned for our safety. Now grown up, should we continue to heed their words?
Paul and Jordan talk to Robbie Stokes Jr., Natalia Bialobrzewska, and Alisa Choi Darcy, from the non-governmental organization, I Talk To Strangers, about the value of conversation with those we do not know. The three share how interacting with unfamiliar people has great learning potential and is at the heart of their dialogue-driven events. The episode explores important issues of boundaries, privacy, and social etiquette, when it comes to with whom and when we talk to others, while provoking the question: Should we be doing more to meet new people, face-to-face, and perhaps be happier for it?
Learn more about I Talk To Strangers at ittsfoundations.org
July 10, 2017
Some believe marijuana is a natural healer, others a gateway to harm.
Paul and Jordan talk to one of Canada's foremost marijuana activists and entrepreneurs, Jodie Emery, and medical marijuana advocate and co-chair of Women Grow-Toronto, Melissa Rolston, about the controversial struggle--locally and abroad--to decriminalize weed. From "reefer madness" hysteria that blames the drug for dangerous, anti-social behaviour to health benefits it has for sufferers of chronic illness, the discussion explores the legally and ethically troublesome relationship marijuana continues to have with the larger society. Will this prevent marijuana use from becoming a truly universal right?
Follow Jodie at twitter.com/JodieEmery and Women Grow at twitter.com/womengrow
July 5, 2017
Historically, audiences have expected those in the business of telling the truth to be detached from their subject. This includes documentary filmmakers who, like journalists, should tell a story but not be part of it.
Challenging this, Paul and Jordan talk to award-winning director, Alan Zweig, about his highly personal style of documentary filmmaking, as well as the ironic value of pessimism that it shapes and underlies. Alan reveals why such an unorthodox approach, where trusting the process is paramount, best captures the essence of people.
Follow Alan at twitter.com/a_zweig
June 20, 2017
There is widespread consensus today that addiction is a disease. Beyond a moral failing, it is symptomatic of a neurological illness that permanently compromises the individual's ability to make free and responsible decisions.
Paul and Jordan talk to psychologist, attorney, and therapist, Stanton Peele, about his controversial stance that addiction is not a disease at all. Rather, it is a dysfunctional way of coping with various life problems, such as grief or separation, but remediable by empathetic treatment--ultimately empowering the individual to reclaim control of their life. Hence, as Stanton reveals, he has long been an outspoken critic of the still popular twelve-step program, pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, and similar morally-driven recovery models that frame individuals as "powerless" to their addiction, while unable to even manage it in the absence of a "higher power".
Learn more about Stanton at peele.net
June 6, 2017
Can someone change for the better when most of their past is characterized by wrongdoing?
Paul and Jordan talk to recovering drug user and ex-offender, Vito La Monica, about his difficult journey from traumatic childhood to helping those suffering in silence, through his creative (and literally multicoloured) writing--ranging from the spiritual to comedic. Turning over a new leaf, Vito is today on a mission to encourage "outsiders", especially those with autism like himself, to view their stigmatized difference as a gift, allowing them to perceive and take part in the world in both exceptional and positive ways.
Stay tuned for Vito's "Life In Colours" multimedia project, showcasing his actual notebook writings, accompanied by his own personal messages of hope.
May 23, 2017
Being forced into exile can certainly be demoralizing. After all, it undermines the comfortable certainty and attachment we have with the world around us.
Paul talks to genre defying rapper, DJ, and writer, Chippy Nonstop, about how she has sustained the courage to be herself, despite being deported to Canada and prohibited from entering her home in the United States. Throughout her bizarre performances in colourful hip-hop videos and openly revisiting sexual encounters in diary-style articles, her refusal to conform to the ordinary is readily apparent. It is at the same time a refreshing change to the conventional and, arguably, oppressive forms of "being a woman", which Chippy’s work seems at once to both mock and reject.
Follow Chippy @chippy_nostop
May 15, 2017
Many maintain that being a mother is, as Oprah Winfrey has remarked, the world's "toughest job". But what does it actually take to be a mother and how is that experienced?
Exploring the question on The Dark Room’s first Mother’s Day Special, Paul and Jordan talk to a diverse and insightful group of mothers: Isabel Michaels, Lucia Catania, Olga Ruiz, Gianna Patriarca, Teresa Gramano, Sebastiana Aprile, and Handzia Feloniuk. The group candidly discusses the strength and courage of being a mother, the sacrifices of child rearing, and different--perhaps even conflicting--cultural styles of mothering.
This episode is in memory of Maria Salvatori, Paul's mother, and the inspiration for the Mother's Day Special.