Friday, January 28, 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes

ichannel Documentary Premiere: WE LOVE CIGARETTES, Tuesday Feb. 8 at 9 pm ET/PT

Today, the world will spend $1.2 billion on tobacco products. More than a billion people will light a cigarette, and more than 10,000 will die of smoking-related illnesses. Our relationship with the cigarette - a seductive yet utterly lethal product - is as strange and passionate a romance as any this planet has ever seen.

This irreverent and unsettling BBC documentary tells the story of a single day in the life of humanity's obsessive but ultimately fatal attraction to the cigarette. A whirlwind journey around the globe, from the heartland of American tobacco industry in North Carolina to the streets of mainland China, We Love Cigarettes offers up unforgettable portraits of men and women whose own lives are bound up with the worldwide addiction to nicotine.

Among them: British author, smoking aficionado and smoker's rights champion James Leavey; Duke University researcher Jed Rose, inventor of the nicotine patch, who is studying how this drug nicotine works upon the human body; Dr. Chris Proctor, head of science for a British tobacco manufacturer - and an ex-smoker who quit because of "health risks"; British cardiac specialist Dr. Stephen Westaby, who has operated on the hearts of more than 4,000 smokers; corporate whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (memorably portrayed by Russell Crowe in The Insider), who has spent years waging a quixotic one-man crusade against the tobacco industry; and famed British painter David Hockney, who dismisses the campaign against smoking as a totalitarian war on pleasure.

In much of the Western world, our love affair with the tobacco has soured since the 1960s. In developing nations, however, the romance is still in its first flush. As many as 70 percent of the world's smokers now reside in poorer countries, and nearly a third of all cigarettes today are smoked in China. Love it or hate it - and many of us, frankly, do both - the cigarette isn't going to be out of our lives any time soon.

Bill Nighy (Notes on a Scandal, Love Actually) narrates.

More ichannel Documentary Highlights for the Week of Feb. 7

THE MURDERED BRIDE - Monday Feb. 7 at 9 pm ET/PT
Repeats Saturday, Feb. 12 at 9 pm ET/PT
On June 9, 2000, the body of a young Sikh-Canadian woman was found in an irrigation ditch near the village of Kaonke Khosa in Punjab. Her throat had been slit. A month later, more than a dozen people were charged in connection with the murder of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu - among them her mother and uncle in Canada. Investigators concluded that Jassi's wealthy family plotted her death after she defied their wishes and was married in secret to a man they deemed unsuitable: an impoverished rickshaw driver named Mitto Singh Sidhu. This documentary tells the tragic story of Jassi Kaur Sidhu's life and death, and sheds light on the brutal custom of "honour killing," a remnant of ancient tribal custom that persists, troublingly, among some members of Canada's South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrant communities.

HOW DOES YOUR MEMORY WORK? - Wednesday Feb. 9 at 9 pm ET/PT
Your memory is you. The catalogue of your past experiences is the raw material from which your identity is shaped. The more science understands about memory, the more remarkable it seems. How is it that something as complex as a memory can be conjured from the connections between brain cells? This 2008 BBC documentary takes a fascinating look at recent advances in neuroscience that are helping us to grasp the essential nature of memory - from studies that reveal how young children begin to form their memories to research that is shedding new light on the loss of memory that accompanies old age. And the hour-long film profiles ordinary people whose stories illustrate the profound complexity of human memory: among them a 30-year-old British man whose damaged brain is unable to form autobiographical memories, leaving him trapped in an eternal present, and a young sexual assault survivor from Montreal who is helping researchers test a promising new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE DOG - Wednesday Feb. 9 at 10 pm ET/PT
Dogs have been domesticated for longer than any other animal on the planet. They are close relatives of fearsome wild wolves - yet we treat them as members of our families. Why have canines forged such a close bond with human beings, and what can we learn from this unique relationship? This 2010 documentary from the BBC looks at new research that is helping us to understand, better than ever, how man's best friend truly thinks and feels.

VILLAGE OF SPIRITS: LILY DALE - Thursday Feb. 10 at 9 pm ET/PT
The tiny hamlet of Lily Dale in northern New York State attracts thousands of visitors each year, all with the same purpose: to hear messages from departed loved ones. The largest surviving Spiritualist community in the world, Lily Dale is home more than three dozen registered mediums. In July and August, this gated community opens itself to outsiders, becoming a kind of "Spiritualist summer camp." People come from all over the world to experience readings and spiritual healing sessions, and to connect with friends and family long gone from the world. This 2006 documentary follows Saskatchewan filmmaker Jackie Dzuba as she meets some of the mediums and spiritual healers who call Lily Dale home, speaks to other visitors about their reasons for coming, and - with some trepidation - embarks on an emotional quest to make contact with her own deceased father.

GLOBALIZATION IS GOOD  - Friday Feb. 11 at 9 pm ET/PT
Call it Yes Logo. As controversial today as it was when it first premiered in 2003 on Britain's Channel Four, this hour-long documentary makes a provocative case in support of globalization. Young Swedish writer Johan Norberg takes the viewer on a journey around the world to assess the impact of globalization - and its absence - and to examine the role of multinational corporations. His conclusion, after investigating conditions in countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and Kenya: the unequal distribution of wealth in the world is the result of the unequal distribution of capitalism - those who have capitalism grow rich, while those who don't stay poor. The "ignorant and dangerous" anti-globalization movement, he warns, is inadvertently helping to keep the world's poor trapped in poverty.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cuba In All Its Dimensions

ichannel is proud to be among the sponsors of the CUBAN FILM FESTIVAL at Toronto's Royal Theatre on February 4 & 5. Have a look at this promo spot, currently airing on ichannel.

A showcase for outstanding feature films and documentaries from contemporary Cuba, the festival is free to the public. Fans of Latin music will want to check out the closing presentation, Ian Padron's 2009 documentary Eso Que Anda (Saturday Feb. 5 at 11 pm), a celebration of the 40-year history of Cuba's greatest band, Los Van Van.

These are films you'll see nowhere else. Check out this site for more details.

The Royal Theatre is at 608 College Street. Phone 416-466-4400, or check out

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why We Love St. Elsewhere

Remember the shock of discovering that troubled resident Peter White (Terence Knox) was the St. Eligius rapist? Bold, uncompromising story choices like that, and a willingness to take its characters to some very dark places -- those are the qualities that made St. Elsewhere a series ahead of its time. In retrospect, NBC's classic hospital drama has more in common with today's taboo-breaking premium cable fare (like Breaking Bad or Nurse Jackie) than with a straightforward network drama such as Grey's Anatomy.

Canada's ichannel airs St. Elsewhere every Thursday night at 10 pm ET/PT, and on Sundays at 8 pm ET/PT. Here's what's coming up in February:

"The Women" - Feb. 3 and 6
In this Emmy Award-winning episode, three women sharing a room at St. Eligius (guest stars Eva LaGallienne, Blythe Danner and Tracy Nelson) become friends as they face the new realities forced upon them by their ailments.

"Cramming" - Feb. 10 and 13
Pressure mounts on the young residents as the dreaded National Board exams approach. Facing trial on sexual assault charges, White (Terence Knox) takes a big risk by agreeing to a polygraph. A stressed-out Armstrong (Kim Miyori) makes a tragic misdiagnosis, while Ehrlich (Ed Begley Jr.) is distracted by the arrival of his eccentric Aunt Charice (guest star Louise Lasser), who has romantic designs on Dr. Westphall (Ed Flanders).

"Rough Cut" - Feb. 17 and 20
As the first-year residents anxiously await the results of their exams, knowing some will be cut from the program, Armstrong (Kim Miyori) grows increasingly erratic. While Fiscus (Howie Mandel) poses for a provocative photo spread, Joan (Nancy Stafford) and Dr. Caldwell (Mark Harmon) attempt a romantic getaway to Paris – but all does not go as planned.

"Hello Goodbye" - Feb. 24 and 27
The residents scatter as vacation begins. Joan (Nancy Stafford) faces a difficult decision when structural problems close down the emergency room. Steven Craig (guest star Scott Paulin) returns home from rehab, and widower Morrison (David Morse) puts aside his wedding ring to spend his first night with another woman (guest star Helen Hunt). With his fight against liver cancer taking a turn for the worse, Dr. Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) collapses in the elevator.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Last Thing You'll Ever Do

ichannel Documentary Premiere Tonight: MOMENT OF DEATH - 9 pm ET/PT

Tonight's ichannel documentary MOMENT OF DEATH features insights from a couple of fascinating authors. Mary Roach wrote the 2003 non-fiction bestseller Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which examines what happens with our bodies once we're through with them, and reveals some of uses science has made of cadavers throughout history. Her 2005 follow-up was Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Much more about Mary Roach here.

Also featured is Dr. Sam Parnia, one of the world's leading experts on the scientific study of death and near-death experiences, and author of the critically acclaimed What Happens When We Die: A Groundbreaking Study Into the Nature of Life and Death.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Future Earth: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

ichannel Documentary premiere: FUTURE EARTH, Monday January 31 at 9 pm ET/PT

Could vast solar energy plants, installed across dry sunny expanses of North Africa, Texas and elsewhere help us to break our fatal dependency on fossil fuels?

Can human ingenuity outpace global warming? At the current rate of change, most climate scientists agree, the planet will be two degrees hotter in 50 years, and at least three degrees hotter by the end of this century. This 2009 documentary from the BBC takes an in-depth and often profoundly unsettling look at the implications of man-made global warming. How will our world change as the temperatures rise? And what scientific and technological advances will we use to deal with the potentially catastrophic impact?

Future Earth takes the viewer from the pine forests of British Columbia to the waters of California's Monterey Bay to bear witness to the ways in which climate change is altering the lives of both animal species and human communities, and to investigate some of the innovations that may offer hope in the midst of this growing crisis.

In New York, we meet scientists and engineers working on ways to protect Manhattan against devastating floods as ocean levels rise. In Iceland, we see how technological developments such as automobiles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are advancing the country’s effort to free itself from fossil fuel dependency. And in Arizona, we learn about a pair of research scientists who are developing “artificial trees” designed to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – an advance that could hold the key to reversing climate change.

An increase of three degrees in the earth’s temperature between now and 2100 would render this planet all but unrecognizable. Future Earth weighs the potential consequences – from widespread extinction of animal species to vast wildfires that would reduce the Amazon rainforest to a dry savannah – and considers some of the more extreme measures that might become necessary if we cannot summon the will to curb greenhouse emissions soon. Could we reduce global temperatures by firing sulphur into the atmosphere to create an artificial sunscreen? Could we deploy mirrors in orbit to deflect sunlight away from earth?

“Geoengineering” concepts such as these have scarcely progressed beyond the drawing board. Yet without genuine and concerted worldwide effort on climate change in the next few years, they may represent our civilization’s only hope for long-term survival. The fight for earth’s future begins now.

** More Documentary Highlights: Week of Jan. 31 **

Can anti-aging cosmetics undo the ravages of time? Does it really matter what kind of conditioner you use on your hair? And what does a Nobel Prize-winning molecular discovery have to do with making a better wrinkle cream? In this eye-opening BBC documentary, British physician Lesley Regan casts a cold, scientific eye at the miraculous claims made by the manufacturers of beauty products. As Professor Regan discovers when she pays a visit to the cosmetics counter, there’s as much advanced technology poured into a jar of face cream as you’ll find in the cockpit of a modern fighter jet. But is there any valid research behind the beauty industry’s promises of a younger-looking you? Professor Regan subjects some of the most heavily marketed types of skin and hair products to rigorous scientific scrutiny – and what she discovers will make you think twice the next time you’re browsing in the beauty aisle.

In this companion to Professor Regan’s Beauty Parlour, British physician Lesley Regan shifts the focus of her scientific scrutiny from the cosmetics counter to the supermarket aisle. Are “superfoods” like goji berries or pomegranates really all that super? Do organic foods have any genuine health benefits? Will antibacterial cleansers actually protect you and your loved ones from marauding household germs? And what the heck are probiotics, anyway? This fascinating BBC documentary follows Professor Regan as she applies hard science to the most heavily hyped new health foods and household products, in an effort to find out whether there’s any truth to the miraculous claims they make on their labels. Will research show that they deliver on their promises and justify their hefty price tags? Or is their profitability the real miracle? Peter Capaldi (In the Loop, Torchwood: Children of Earth) narrates.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gun Nation: America's Troubling Romance With Firearms

Tonight's encore presentation of the documentary GUN NATION is, sadly, all too timely in light of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Gunman Jared Lee Loughner's attempt on the life of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords left six dead -- among them a nine-year-old girl -- and wounded 14 others, including Giffords herself.

There are 300 million people in the United States – and almost as many guns. The right to bear arms was embedded in the nation’s founding documents, and to this day Americans have a deep, complex and often troubling relationship with firearms.

This 2008 documentary, airing tonight at 9 pm ET/PT, takes a penetrating look at the gun and its place in the American psyche, as seen through the eyes of ordinary people whose lives have been changed, for better or worse, by their encounters with guns – among them a former gang member, a policeman shot in the line of duty, and a suburban dad sharing a love of target shooting with his teenage daughters.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, the hour-long film asks why people in the U.S. are so passionate about gun ownership, and poses unsettling questions about the true cost of America’s romance with firearms.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Growing Up in Urban America

ichannel Documentary Premiere: THE PERFECT LIFE, Monday January 24 at 9 pm ET/PT

A decade ago, Sam Lee taught at Harlem’s experimental Neighborhood Storefront School for disadvantaged kids. In this heart-wrenching documentary, she returns to find out what’s happened to some of the kids she taught.

The result is an intimate portrait of American inner-city life, as seen through the eyes of five very different teens. Raymond, Laura, Lizzie, Troy and Nathika all struggle to navigate their way through the many perils of urban existence – including poverty, gang warfare, domestic violence and drug abuse – while somehow hanging onto their aspirations for “the perfect life.”

Skillfully juxtaposing present-day footage of the kids with images of their seven-year-old selves, the film celebrates the persistence of hope while raising tough questions about what it means to grow up as part of America’s alienated and increasingly disenfranchised urban underclass.

For more information, check out the Web site for The Perfect Life.

More ichannel documentary highlights for the week of January 24 (encore presentations):

PEOPLE OF THE REEFS – Tuesday Jan. 25 at 9 pm ET/PT
Coral reefs are among our greatest natural treasures. Yet most of the world’s reefs are now at risk of extinction. This beautifully photographed Canadian documentary reveals the damage that pollution and destructive fishing methods have done to the coral reefs of Indonesia, and introduces the viewer to men and women who are fighting to save this endangered undersea world.

OCEANS OF PLASTIC  – Wednesday Jan. 26 at 9 pm ET/PT
Over the last century, human beings have dumped at least 100 million tons of plastic waste into the planet’s oceans, threatening countless marine species. Why have we turned the seas into a garbage dump? This award-winning documentary looks at the work of scientists who are trying to measure the pollution’s impact, and profiles activists who are fighting to raise awareness of the crisis.

THE STORY OF MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS – Thursday Jan. 27 at 9 pm ET/PT
This critically acclaimed documentary presents an intimate and unflinchingly honest portrait of the bond between mothers and their daughters. Ordinary women from many different walks of life share their experiences, offering real-life insight into the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship at every stage in life’s journey – from birth and childhood through old age and death.

THE STORY OF FATHERS & SONS – Friday Jan. 28 at 9 pm ET/PT
A father contemplating his newborn son’s future. An adolescent boy fighting to win his dad's approval. Such universal experiences are among the most profound of any man’s life. A companion to The Story of Mothers & Daughters, this acclaimed hour-long film features ordinary men from across the spectrum of American life speaking candidly about all that is good – and bad – about the father-son relationship.

More than five million people around the world, and as many as 100,000 in Canada, suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that severely impairs motor functions. This documentary follows a group of patients as they test a promising new drug treatment, and offers a heart-rending glimpse of what it’s like to live, day after day, with Parkinson’s.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Someone to Watch Over Me

ichannel Documentary Premiere: EVERY STEP YOU TAKE - Tonight at 9 pm ET/PT

With more than four million closed-circuit TV (CCTV) security cameras in operation – one for every 14 citizens – Britain has become “the surveillance capital of the world.” The average Londoner appears on camera 300 times a day – a quietly chilling realization of George Orwell’s famous vision of a nation under constant scrutiny.

The growth of CCTV surveillance in the UK over the past two decades is the result of various factors, including cutbacks in traditional policing and the looming fear of terrorist attacks. But as this provocative 2007 documentary by Austrian filmmaker Nino Leitner reveals, experts disagree about whether CCTV actually does anything to reduce crime – and civil libertarians fear that its ubiquity is steadily eroding individual privacy.

With North Americans debating the desirability of intrusive security measures such as “virtual strip searches” at airports, Every Step You Take raises timely questions about the increasingly blurred line between the public and the personal. How much of our privacy are we willing to sacrifice in the name of greater “security”?

For more information on Nino Leitner's Every Step You Take, please visit the documentary's Web site.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ichannel Documentary Highlights: Missing Girls in India, Shari'ah Law in Nigeria

** ichannel Premiere **
INDIA'S MISSING GIRLS - Thursday Jan. 20 at 9 pm ET/PT - In July 2007, authorities in a small town in eastern India found the remains of dozens of aborted female fetuses dumped on property owned by a private clinic – a grim discovery that shed light upon one of Indian society’s darkest secrets: every week, thousands of baby girls are aborted, killed or abandoned, simply because of their gender.

The Indian culture has long prized sons over daughters. While boys carry on the family name and provide for their parents in old age, girls are seen as an expensive burden: by tradition, when a daughter marries, her parents are obliged to pay a dowry to the groom’s family – a custom that leaves many poor families mired hopelessly in debt.

In recent years, advances in medical technology have further fueled this obsession with sons. Despite government efforts to curb the practice, private ultrasound clinics throughout India do a brisk business in sex-determination tests, which in turn has led to a surge in abortions of unborn girls, and helped contribute to a growing imbalance in the country’s female-to-male ratio. According to some estimates, by 2020 India will be losing as many as a million girls every year.

This BBC documentary investigates the tragedy of India’s missing girls, as seen through the eyes of Sandhya Reddy, whose orphanage in the southern part of the country struggles to help some of the victims of this crisis: unwanted girls, some just days old, who have been abandoned or sold by their own families.

INSIDE A SHARI'AH COURT - Friday Jan. 21 at 9 pm ET/PT - A growing number of Muslims here in Canada and throughout the Western world want to see the system of Islamic law known as Shari’ah introduced in the countries where they reside. This prospect alarms many non-Muslims.

Proponents say Shari’ah would simply function alongside a country’s existing legal system, dealing mainly with mundane civil matters such as marriage, property, custody and family disputes. Critics of Shari’ah, however, describe it as a harsh and oppressive system that metes out brutal punishments – such as stoning for adultery – and promotes the mistreatment of women. Its fiercest opponents portray it as a vehicle for Muslim domination of the West.

In this BBC documentary, award-winning filmmaker Ruhi Hamid seeks out the truth about Shari’ah by traveling to Nigeria to see Islamic justice in action.

Beginning in 2000, a number of states in northern Nigeria made the controversial decision to introduce Shari’ah, triggering riots that left more than 300 dead. Yet despite the initial fears, Shari’ah today is credited with helping to reduce violence, alcoholism and drug abuse in many communities. As Hamid observes the system in practice, in the courtroom of Judge Isah, she discovers that the reality of Shari’ah is far more complex than those on either side of the debate acknowledge.

More highlights: Encore Presentations

With so many options available to young Canadian women, few consider entering the convent anymore. This fascinating documentary ponders the fate of religious orders in an increasingly secularized society, and follows Joanne O’Regan, a thirtysomething Toronto woman who – to the shock of her friends and family – has decided to take the nun’s vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Why are we in Afghanistan? This documentary follows independent “citizen journalist” Richard Fitoussi on a journey to Afghanistan’s southern frontier to find out why Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying on a mission that has sparked more controversy than any other military intervention in our history.

PRESCRIPTION: SUICIDE? - Wednesday Jan. 19 at 9 pm ET/PT
Troubling evidence suggests that children who take prescription antidepressants may have a higher risk of suicide. This documentary takes a look at how the lives of six ordinary families were changed irrevocably when their children started taking these so-called “miracle drugs.”

JERRY LOVE - Saturday Jan. 22 at 9 pm ET/PT
A true story of love and loss, set against the backdrop of the German occupation of the British Channel Islands during the Second World War.