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There was a moment during this past weekend’s Global Citizen Festival when I looked back over the crowd stretched out across Central Park – 60 000 or so people – and I felt my jaw drop, in the very real and literal sense. It’s not the first time – it happened before, in 2014 when No Doubt joined Sting to sing Message in a Bottle and in 2012 when John Legend played Imagine on his piano. It’s a moment, spurred by a song, that contains a kernel of the Global Citizen Festival’s significance.
This moment came during Yusuf Cat Stevens (he now goes by all the names!) singing Father & Son with Eddie Vedder. Stevens hadn’t played on a NY stage in 40 years but that meant little to me as someone who’s never had the pleasure of seeing him live in any place. He only played 3 songs – Wild World, Father and, fittingly, Peace Train, but it was what he said as an intro to Father, that gave me goosebumps in reflection.
“Like that song says, there’s too much distance between people these days…Unrest around the world is caused by people who feel their identity has been traumatized and trampled on, so they lash out,” he said. “Movements like this can remind us that the globe is big enough for everyone to share.”
It’s been 5 years since the first Global Citizen Festival took place in Central Park, with the likes of Foo Fighters, Neil Young and John Legend performing. Since then a bevy of names – from Stevie Wonder to Coldplay and Jay Z and Beyonce (separately and together) – have all taken to the stage to complement the message behind the movement. With Chris Martin as the music curator, and a host of celebrities and world leaders at his side, CEO of the Global Poverty Project Hugh Evans has managed to create a must-watch event on the calendar every year.
More than that, it’s a must-do in the sense of taking part in one of the activities needed to be done to earn tickets – all centred on helping to end extreme poverty by 2030 – and also talking about some of the biggest issues facing the world right now. Right now that includes refugees and gender inequality, and to speak to those, there was a guest appearance of gleeful waving from six-year-old Alex who wrote a letter to Obama about little Omran Daqneesh that went viral, and a memorial video to Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch, who died at the hands of her brother in an honour killing.
The music is the reason we are there, to be sure. Sets from Demi Lovato, soaked in female confidence, Metallica, who sent rockwaves through Central Park, and a potent punch from Kendrick Lamar that included the anthemic and urgent Alright made sure of that. Rihanna’s headlining performance, with tracks from Anti, Unapologetic and Good Girl Gone Bad, sizzled 
Music is the reason we’re there, but it goes beyond and further. It’s a gathering of people, of actual bodies in the same place, at the same time, giving their energy to something good, rather than just sitting as individuals behind computers and phones. And it’s a wonderful, like I said, jaw-dropping thing.

My time at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was unfortunately shorter than usual, on account of being an in-demand journalist (ha, just kidding, but I did have another assignment that required me to be in Los Angeles) and so I hold dear the time I did get to spend and the film-going experiences I had while there.
My stand-outs start with the film that went on to win the People’s Choice award, La La Land. I liked it so much I was inspired to dedicate an episode of The Rundown to it.
The film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in their third on-screen pairing, as a couple who falls in love while they’re trying to make it in Hollywood – him as a jazz musician, her as an actress. I really like that it’s set in today’s time, but with little throwbacks to old Hollywood and that remnants of Los Angeles from a bygone era form the backdrop to their story. The singing and dancing was delightful to watch, and the scenery sumptuous. I tap-danced my way out of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follow-up, looking forward to his next movie even more.
A United Kingdom


Along with Loving, which I saw at Cannes, this film tells us about an illegal interracial marriage between Ruth and Seretse Khama that had global repercussions.  Whereas Loving is situated within Virginia in the US, this relationship had an impact far beyond the countries of just the husband and wife. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have a great chemistry, but Oyelowo proves once again, he is so adept at being able to disappear into a character and deliver a speech with such earnestness (whether he’s MLK Jr or a would-be king, as he is in this case). He’s also in Queen of Katwe, a wonderful film about a female Ugandan chess prodigy that premiered in Toronto too.
A Monster Calls
During the quiet parts of the last couple of scenes of this J A Bayona film, you could hear so many sniffles. Walking into a film about a boy (“too old to be a child, too young to be a man”) seeking the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness, I knew it would tug at the heartstrings. But it does so much more than that. The imagination that drives the story, based on the original novel by Patrick Ness, the drawings that whirl into the tale, and the relationship between Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall makes this film about family and love and death and loss and life a must-see.
I Am Not Your Negro


Raoul Peck (who also made Lumumba) returned to TIFF with this really timeous meditation on a James Baldwin letter that examines the movies and how people of different races have – or more like – haven’t been represented onscreen. It’s one thing to read the work of Baldwin, it’s a far more compelling thing to see him on video, giving a lecture or speaking in public.
Arrival and Jackie
These two films, about vastly different subjects – JFK’s widow and former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, and communicating with aliens – were both highlights because they’re rooted in two sterling performances by two of the best actresses of our time. Natalie Portman so wholly becomes Jackie Kennedy that she truly brought her to life for me, giving context to so many iconic photos of historic moments from her point of view. Director Pablo Larrain made me feel like I understood more about what made her so iconic.
With Arrival, a great sci-fi flick that calls into question how we communicate, what we value in life and the idea of what it would take to create world peace, I felt a deep sense of awe. Amy Adams is superb as the every-day woman who is actually a hero in disguise, using her skill as an translator to ease relations with foreign beings, aka aliens.
Manchester by the Sea
This drama is a slow-burner that sucker-punches you in the last scene, even if it’s a subtle blow. It’s such a moving story about dependency, remorse and guilt. After watching this film, I now see Casey Affleck in a new light, and as many publications have already noted, so too, surely, will the Academy come Oscar time.
Oh, and if you missed The Rundown from TIFF16, here you go!

Originally published in The Star Tonight.
40 years ago, Meryl Streep couldn’t have known, when she joined college friends in having a laugh over a recording by a person dubbed the world’s worst opera singer, that she herself would one day replicate the sound she heard on that tape. She couldn’t have predicted she’d take on the role of a woman whose voice elicited astonishment from all who heard it – or that it would be just one of a number of memorable characters she’d take on in a career as one of this generation’s finest actors.
Back then, while studying at Yale School of Drama, the multiple Oscar-winning actress couldn’t have foreseen that the part of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy socialite who had a passion but not the skill for singing, would be offered to her by British director Stephen Frears. “She’s not up there with Kanye,” jokes Streep, sitting in a London hotel, talking about how she came to know of Foster Jenkins. “But everybody that studied drama, certainly every music student, knows who she is. She’s sort of legend.”
Foster Jenkins, who found passion and purpose in music, achieved notoriety for singing in spite of her inability to carry the correct note, or pitch, or even tone, for that matter. The story of how she used her family money to put on shows in which she would sing for an audience, culminating in a sold-out performance at the hallowed Carnegie Hall in 1944, lives on in recordings made available to the public online. So, too, now in the movie Florence Foster Jenkins.

“I remember the first time I heard of her when I was in graduate school,” says Streep. “I was in a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was accompanied by the (composer Henry) Percell music. One day, all the Yale School of Music students were gathered around a tape cassette player in the stage-pit, screaming with laughter. We all went over and said, ‘What is this?’ ”

“I remember the first time I heard of her when I was in graduate school,” says Streep. “I was in a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was accompanied by the (composer Henry) Percell music. One day, all the Yale School of Music students were gathered around a tape cassette player in the stage-pit, screaming with laughter. We all went over and said, ‘What is this?’ ”
It was a time, Streep jokes, when her co-star in the film, Simon Helberg, wasn’t even a thought in his parents’ minds. The 36-year-old actor, who made his name known Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory, shares the screen with Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, as the pianist brought in to accompany her. As Cosme McMoon, Helberg’s attitude towards Foster Jenkins mirrors that of the audience, as we switch between feeling incredulous and embarrassed for her to admiration for her unmitigated chutzpah.
Streep raves about the qualifications that made Helberg perfect for the role, which required him to play difficult piano scores. As director Frears explains: “Alexandre, [Desplat, the film’s French composer] said to me, ‘Get a pianist who can act, not just an actor who can pretend to play piano.’ A casting director in New York told me, ‘The person you want is Simon,’ and I went to meet him, and that was that.” The director filmed the concert and performances live – requiring a little more of his actors than usual.

“There’s a very short list of people who can do this,” adds Streep. “It’s very hard to find someone funny who could play that music, and play it live.”

“There’s a very short list of people who can do this,” adds Streep. “It’s very hard to find someone funny who could play that music, and play it live.”
In turn, Helberg is full of praise for Streep’s skill at being able to sing badly. “You have to be able to sing this stuff well before you can piss on it, systematically destroy it and wreck it,” he chuckles. “You have to know where the high ‘F’ is to dance around it, come up around it, and flirt with it. You can’t just flail and be wild with it. And then you’re singing in Russian and French too. Those are the hardest pieces of music ever.”
Streep, who studied opera during her youth and has sung in movie musicals like Mamma Mia and Into the Woods, says she doesn’t have the voice she once did – that “years of smoking and debauchery” have ruined it. Her preparation for Florence Foster Jenkins came hot on the heels of filming another movie that required her to sing, the rock-n-roll comedy drama Ricki and the Flash. “I was singing at the bottom of my voice, and my co-star in that movie, one of America’s best singers, the wonderful Audra Macdonald, gave me her teacher’s details. And I said to her, ‘Do you think he’d ever forgive you?’ His name is Alfred Levy, and he was a very good coach that I went to for a month, and broke his spirit!” she says, with a laugh.
Starring alongside Streep is Hugh Grant, who makes his return to the big screen in the kind of role he was once loved for in films like Four Weddings & a Funeral and About a Boy. As Foster Jenkins’ second husband and loyal life partner, St Clair Bayfield, Grant is charming and lovely, and provides a solid foil to Streep’s Foster Jenkins, who got syphilis from her first husband. “I had two jobs in this film,” says Streep. “One was to sing badly, the other was to love Hugh [Grant], and I’ve done that for years so that was the easy part.”
Frears offered Grant the role while he had been caught up in the Leveson Inquiry, set up to look into the practices of the British press. Grant liked the way the script played with audience expectations. “You’re not entirely comfortable as to what genre this is; there’s a little bit of laughing at her, and some laughing with, but you’re never quite sure,” he says.
For Grant, Foster’ Jenkin’s passion for singing is akin to his love of race-car driving. “I may not be good at it, but I look nice in my uniform,” he chuckles, smiling with those trademark dimples. For Helberg, it’s like his cooking. “I like eating,” he says. “But I’m a bad cook because I don’t have any patience to not eat the food while I’m making it!”
Streep, like Foster Jenkins, loves singing. “I’m really not that good anymore, and yet I continue to inflict it on others. I have a great respect for those who do it.” The chance to play another woman steadfast in her ways, as Streep has done in films like The Iron Lady and The Devil Wears Prada, extended this respect. “You could easily scoff at [Foster Jenkins] – she was silly in a way, an old woman, considered useless, rich, and ill – but to wake up every day, and to choose to look at this glass as half full and to say, ‘I’m going to drink it as deeply as I can, and to love as deeply as I can – the music, the man, the whole thing,’ is something to be admired. That’s what I loved about her.” It’s an admiration Streep couldn’t have known she’d come to have, all those years ago at Yale.

When you move a lot, you tend to downsize a lot. For me, there was no bigger downsize than coming from South Africa to the US. Somehow, with the help of a very meticulous friend, I squashed 29 years of life life into one big suitcase, one carry-on, a laptop bag and a handbag. But I have 11 boxes in storage at my friend’s house in Joburg that I still haven’t sent for – of things I collected in my life – books, CDs, photos, journals. My stuff. I often wonder if I should just tell her to get rid of them completely. But I can’t bear to part with them forever. There’s something about my collections that is part of my identity and I feel like if I were to throw the boxes away, I’d be throwing parts of myself away.
It’s thoughts like these that made me particularly interested in the latest exhibition at the New Museum called The Keeper. It’s to date, the museum’s biggest – the centrepiece is an exhibition itself, with 3 000 family-album photos of people posing with teddy bears. I never knew the word teddy bear came from Theodore Roosevelt. It’s an incredible thing to look into this collection, as is with many of the other collections on display – whether it’s Roger Caillois’ assortment of rare stones (I don’t think I can look at stones in the same way again) or Vanda Vieira-Schmidt’s 500 000 drawings stacked up, overflowing, on a table and chair (which made me wonder what a collection of  drafts done on a laptop would look like in visual form).

There’s something reassuring about physical things and making sense out of the world through grouping them. So, even though I don’t have space in my cupboard of an apartment for those 11 boxes, they were how I made sense of my world, for a while at least. So they’re an extension of me. I don’t have shelves filled with books anymore. No CDs showing you my music taste (or lack thereof!) Those collection of “things” that would tell you a little bit about me – there’s no physical space for them in my world anymore, so I just don’t have them. I don’t collect anything anymore – other than hotel pens and matchboxes. I would like to, but physical space is a commodity in NYC, so most things exist online. Instead of buying a collectible Mondo poster, I’ll put a picture of it on Tumblr.
But it’s just not the same.
The other night I walked into a guy friend’s apartment. I have never felt particularly attracted to him but running my fingers along his shelf filled with all the classic books I love, like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, and seeing his Al Pacino and Scorsese collections, I started to feel a stirring inside. I felt like I saw more of him; who he was, beyond just what I’d gotten to know from running with him.
What are we without these collection of things? And what does it mean that they’ve become virtual now? Beyond just the spectacle of the sight of the actual collections within The Keeper – marvelling at the physical space they occupy – is the internal feelings they conjure. How they create testimony for some, such as in the case of Ydessa Hendeles’ The Teddy Bear Project, which preserves history that would have been erased, or create a sense of self for others, like Hilma af Klint’s suite of abstract paintings, which she kept hidden for decades after her death, her assertion that she once lived. What is the value in a collection? Or what value do we put into one?
The curator, Massimiliano Gioni says these kind of reflections and questions are part of the intention behind the exhibition. If you’re in New York, I urge you to take a walk around it, and contemplate your own collections, be they in boxes or not.
The Keeper is currently on at the New Museum.

I’m one of those people that stops to take photos when I’m running. I don’t do it as much as I used to when I first started running and would be amazed all the time by the sights I was seeing on foot for the first time. Now I take a lot of mental pictures and blow air-kisses to the things I like. But great pieces of street art in NYC usually make me stop to take a quick snap. So for this edition of The Rundown, I thought I’d take you through a route that hits some of my favourite pieces on the Lower East Side, starting at the legendary Bowery Mural.
Artists featured include, Nick Walker Art, Invader, Tristan Eaton, Danielle Mastrion Art,Dasic Fernández and Aron Belka Art.
Here’s the route: