Elsewhere’s Top Documentaries

Documentaries give us the chance to see the world through the eyes of another. In many ways they are the next best thing to travelling.

These are some of my favorites.

War Don Don (2010)

Set in the aftermath of the civil war in Sierra Leone, this was the film that first drew my interest to journalism. Following the war crimes trial of Issa Sesay, War Don Don paints a picture colored by poverty, violence and the ambiguity of truth. Sesay was an interim commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a faction in the 11-year civil war accused of (among other things) enslavement, mass murder and sexual violence.

The first half focuses on his prosecution, the second covers his defense. This simple structure shows no bias for either side, and reveals one complicated truth: that even the most morally stark tales are woven by two sides of the same story.


Häxan (1922)

I can think of no better film to accompany the long-awaited end of winter than this a bizarre piece from 1920’s Swedish Cinema. While I would struggle to call it a documentary by contemporary standards, this film nonetheless provides an informative overview of folk witchcraft beliefs from the medieval period.

Because of the era in which this film was made, there is no audio dialogue, using flash cards for narration instead. I must admit, the Swedish text couldn’t help but make me think of the opening credits of Monty Pythons Holy Grail (a m∅∅se once bit my sister), but that is where most of the lighthearted humour ends.

Done through a series of re-enactments, this film really shines through it’s mind-bending sets and bizarre costumes. Many of the actors cast as priests play the devils as well (possibly having blown the budget on paper-mâché tombstones and demon phalluses) but this fact nonetheless serves as a nice little piece of accidental social commentary.

In the end, that’s really what this film is: a piece of social commentary. By the 2nd half it becomes clear that the message about the horror of this period wasn’t necessarily about the fear of witches, but rather what the fear of witches drove human beings to do. Namely, to torture and execute lonely old women with dementia and other scary, degenerative illnesses.

You may want to call your Grandma after this one.

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Samsara (2011)

What can I say about a film with no dialogue? Well for starters, that in my opinion this may be one of the most important films ever made. Part 3 of the non-narrative, cinematography based series by Ron Fricke, Samsara is a breathtaking showcase of life on our planet, and I can think of no other film that says so much with so little.

Using time-lapse footage from supermarkets, slaughterhouses, cityscapes and ancient ruins, Samsara is a looking glass outside of history, and carries with it a deep sense of wonder, curiosity and profound sadness over the loss of our world.


Tickled (2016)

This film deals examines the secretive online world of professional “tickle-fighting”. Sound like a lighthearted good time? Think again. This is a seriously bizarre examination of unfettered power, gang-stalking and dark money.

Centering on one journalists effort to investigate the curious “sport”, it quickly unravels into a ‘Catfish’ on steroids. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a sociopathic millionaire collides with an extreme power-fetish, helped by the anonymity of the internet – (granted, you probably weren’t…) then look no further. Conspiracy theorists need apply, this is one of the most weirdest movies I’ve seen in years.

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Winter On Fire (2015)

I briefly mentioned it in Episode 1 of Elsewhere, but this film absolutely demands further examination. Winter on Fire follows the story the 2014  ‘Euromaidan’ revolution in Ukraine. Started during a simple student protest, it quickly exploded into a nationwide revolution which played out as one of the most violent and filmed incidents in the 21st century.

The result is powerful, modern, and deeply human. Winter On Fire is a much watch for anyone with a heart to be inspired.

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Bitter Lake (2015)

From renowned director Adam Curtis, “Bitter Lake” does the dirty, necessary work of examining the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Detailing the twin rise of American imperialism and Saudi Whabbaism (the deeply conservative interpretation of Islam followed by ISIS and Al Qaeda), Bitter Lake paints a damning, realistic vision of how oil has funded terrorism since the 80’s, and led to the rise of some of the wealthiest, and most immoral empire(s) the world has ever seen.


Elsewhere Episode #4 – Rayanne Irving (Author / Trafficking Survivor)


Rayanne’s life has been one of a kind.

A series of events early on started her down a path which led to kidnapping, prostitution and an encounter with one of BC’s most notorious serial killers (which in all fairness, is just a small part of her very big story). She now spends her days counselling other survivors of trafficking, and educates people on the issues surrounding youth prostitution.

You can find more information on Rayanne’s work and organization at


The Yulin Dog Meat Festival

I wrote the following paper for a Cultural Anthropology class taken in Fall, 2018. The purpose of the assignment was to take a controversial practice from another culture, and assess it using one of the core principles of Anthropology: Cultural Relativism. Eg. Avoiding the judgement of a practice or culture by using the values of your own.

Eating Dog: Shining a Light on Culinary Cultural Relativism

Every summer in the city of Yulin, in the Guangxi province of China, thousands gather for a festival that, since its inception in 2009 has drawn the ire of the international community. In fact, since its creation over 11 million people worldwide have petitioned in an attempt to bring this festival and its practices to a close. This celebration, which involves the local population coming together to enjoy traditional plates of lychee fruit, has become one of the most controversial contemporary festivals in the world, but the 11 million people protesting it are not up in arms over the fruit, but rather the protein portion which makes up the traditional plates of this festival’s cuisine. In modern Asia, practices which were once common globally have persisted into current times. This dichotomy leaves us with the greatest example of contemporary cultural relativism that one can think of, with a practice so culturally jarring it leaves even the most rational Westerners lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks. I’m talking of course, about the practice of eating dog.

It is beyond doubt that dog meat has at least been occasionally consumed by every culture where it was available at some points in history. Dog meat was even referred to as “Blockade mutton” in Germany during its many points of starvation crisis in the midst of the 20th century. In the years since however, the consumption of dog meat in the West has fallen significantly, and is now seen as a meal of last resort for the impoverished or otherwise truly desperate. In some circles, it is seen as a point of moral superiority over neighboring countries in the East.

But why do people feel this way? What is it about dogs which rile up these defensive feelings? What is it that makes those in the West boil with rage at the concept of consuming dogs as livestock, as they themselves do with so many other animals?

Cultural kinship, for starters.

Dogs are, in many homes in the West (and all over the World), considered to be part of the family. They are the guardian spirits of the home, watching over its daily functions with an eye to detail only possible for a creature whose entire world is made up by the home. They defend this world completely. They watch over the children, and interact with them like siblings. For many children growing up, the family dog is a closer part of their life than even some human relatives. It is due to this hallowed place in the heart of Western identity that people react so strongly to idea of eating canine as livestock meat.

To contrast this Western cultural norm, dog ownership was actually banned during Mao’s cultural revolution starting in 1966. Although this is no longer the case, and dog ownership is now increasing with China’s rising middle class (with 64 million registered dogs as pets), it appears as if this gap in cultural pet ownership history may have had an effect on the Chinese perception of a dog’s place in society. Currently, between 10 and 20 million dogs are slaughtered for consumption each year in China, and although the youth population and some celebrities have increasingly called for bans or a reduction in dog meat consumption, the festival (and other dog meat proprietors) appear to be rolling forward with little regard given to these concerns.

The consumption of dog meat has a long history in Asian cultures, with many folk remedies and traditional medicines citing it as an important ingredient. It is said that eating dog during the summer months can be used to bring health and good luck to a family. Still other myths claim that dog meat can be used to increase the male libido, and combat disease.

China is no stranger when it comes to controversial folk-remedies, with shark fin soup being one of particular notoriety. Served at weddings and other special occasions, shark fin soup is considered particularly problematic due to the massive fishing operations undertaken to fuel its growing market. Often cited as being wasteful and inefficient, these fishing operations have been known to leave sharks to die after having only their valuable fins removed.

Another example of a controversial Chinese folk remedy ingredient is that of the rhino horn. Controversial to the point of being utterly illegal to harvest, China remains the number one importer of rhino horn despite the international taboo surrounding it, and the complete lack of evidence that rhino horn possesses any medical properties whatsoever. Much like with shark fin soup, rhinos are often shot and left to die upon having their horns extracted. There are currently 5 species of rhino on the World Wildlife foundation’s “Critically Endangered” list. The Chinese black-market trade of rhino horn continues despite this.

Given these facts, it is important to place the Lychee and Dog Meat festival into its proper cultural context. Due to the aforementioned examples, it could be argued that animal welfare isn’t particularly high on the list of Chinese cultural values, so a phenomenon such as the Lychee and Dog Meat festival perhaps should not be considered too surprising, or viewed as an outlier on the scale of acceptable activities within China.

One of the greatest arguments against the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival is the frequent claims of animal cruelty it faces. Over 10,000 dogs are slaughtered and consumed during the 10-day festival in late June, with many videos existing of dogs being public slaughtered with clubs. Cats are also consumed at the festival, with the occasional report of either animal being skinned alive, or having their fur burned off using propane torches.

This all sounds extremely harsh, but animals being killed at auction or in marketplace environments is not uncommon in China, or indeed in many other parts of the World. In the developing world is it common practice to have your livestock picked out from a pen, then slaughtered and processed right in front of you. In some ways, this practice can be preferred because it allows the customer to see that the process was undertaken properly, with the feathers plucked and toxic parts or organs removed.

Given all this, the Lychee and Dog Meat festival hardly stands out as anything other than business as usual in regards to contemporary animal rights in China.

Taking a wider lens to this issue, I think its important to think about the status of meat production globally. One of the biggest criticisms of the Lychee and Dog Meat festival is that the animals in question are transported in confined, inhuman conditions, with live animals often stuck in extremely small cages alongside dead ones.  But how does this differ to the treatment of livestock animals in the West?

Countless investigative reports and activist videos exist displaying the unsanitary and inhumane conditions of factory farms in the Western world. Transportation of livestock creatures is taken with as much forethought to their comfort as a farmer would have when transporting apples or carrots (That is to say, very little).

Cows are slaughtered with sledgehammers and chickens are eviscerated with saw blades attached to assembly line tracks, all behind the closed doors of fully legal, sanctioned slaughterhouses all over the world. Female cow mothers are kept perpetually pregnant, confined to tight spaces and slaughtered as soon as their bodies are incapable of producing milk. The entire backbone of the global meat industry rests on nothing more than a perpetual, mechanized holocaust for cows and other livestock we deem “appropriate for human consumption”.

One can only imagine the horror that Hindu’s must feel in response for the global appetite to their sacred animal, the cow. My point being is that animal cruelty for the purposes of meat production exists everywhere. Those who feel horror and disgust at the concept of eating cats and dogs should realize that the sympathies generated for these animals in particular are almost entirely culturally bound. Given a different upbringing, they may feel a similar outrage when confronted with the dietary norms which make up the dinner plate of their own culture.

At the very least, when purchasing meat from a traditional market in China, you receive the grounding and macabre benefit of seeing where your food comes from, no matter what it’s made of. Although the practice of eating dog will no doubt continue to horrify and confound outsiders, it is nonetheless a consistent part of Chinese culture, and should not be dismissed as outstandingly cruel given the cultural context from which the practice originates.


Elsewhere Podcast Episode #3 – Aaron Chapman (Author / Historian)

New Year, and a new episode of Elsewhere going up today.
This month’s guest is Aaron Chapman, author of “The Last Gang in Town”. We talk 1970’s gang culture in East Van, how the city has changed since then, and how crime has changed with it.

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Edit: Rally for the Wet’suwet’en is being held this coming Saturday, January 12th.

2pm @ Victory Square. Hope to see you there.


Elsewhere Podcast Episode #2 – King Raam

Raam is someone who walks between two worlds. An activist and musician, his time spent between North America and Iran has been coloured by rebellion and personal tragedy. We talk culture, music and the difficulties surrounding creative expression in one of the most oppressed countries on Earth.

You can find him @KingRaam on all your usual social media outlets.

Massive thanks to Chris Ryan of Tangentially Speaking for initially turning me on to this story. His podcast is incredible, and in many ways inspired the work I currently find myself doing.

Solidarity with the people of Paris, and around the World.


Elsewhere Podcast Episode #1 – Elena (Anthropologist)

Alright folks, well as you can probably gather, East Van To Elsewhere is now a Podcast! This is a project born from our desire to build a platform for all the interesting people who live or pass through Vancouver. We’ll be talking with authors, activists, academics, poets, scientists, film-makers and just about anyone with a pulse who we think you’ll be interested in hearing.

The structure of the show is evolving, but right now we’re committed to delivering one new episode around the 1st of every month. Our guest for this pilot episode of Elsewhere is none other than my friend Elena.


Elena is an anthropologist who specializes in the study of far-right politics. Having just recently completed her dissertation project in Ukraine, we discussed the current Russo-Ukrainian war, the history leading up to it, and where it may go from here.

As promised in the intro, this is the infamous Dairy Queen commercial featuring our beloved sound engineer Cody. He’s the one in grey, doing all the actual tricks.

As previously mentioned, we would appreciate that you keep your marriage requests to a minimum, as Cody is currently involved in a loving and functional relationship (they even have a pet hedgehog!)

If you enjoyed the closing music, here’s another beautiful, less upbeat song by DakhaBrakha. Fair warning though, it’s absolutely haunting (made even more so once you’ve learned the regions history), and when I saw them live at Folk Fest there was scarcely a dry eye in the house. Also, the psychedelic fan-made music video is quite a trip.

Anyway, we hope you enjoyed our 1st episode! We’re currently in the process of getting it hosted on Apple Podcast and all your other RRS feed based services, so look for it there in the coming weeks. Until then, find it right here at EastVanToElsewhere.com

Catch you next month.



Canada Day

There’s nothing wrong with loving where you live. Canada is a beautiful place, with many things to be proud of. Our history is not one of them.

On the lands which we currently occupy, one of the greatest genocides in human history took place. That cannot be overstated.

In a series of calculated decisions, the people who founded this country employed biological warfare, mass imprisonment and the seizure of children. They did this in order to hypnotize a generation, and the effects are still being felt to this day.

Statistics Canada shows us that 30 per cent of prisoners enrolled in correctional services from 2016-17 were Indigenous, compared to only 5 per cent of the general population.

Indigenous youth make up 46 percent of the juvenile detention population.


There is nothing wrong with going out with your friends and enjoying the celebrations – but please remember that this can be a painful day for many people who live in your community. The happy futures afforded to us by this land came at an unthinkable cost.

But I encourage you to think about it.

Ojibwa Chief Hector Shorting showcasing the quality of water available to his people on a reserve in rural Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Star. Full Article