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Official Selection Hot Docs Documentary Festival - Toronto

Screening at  Hot Docs Documentary Festival
Toronto, April 25th and 28th

"Scouts Are Cancelled" is one of the Toronto Star's 13 recommended films for the Hot Docs Film Festival.

Watching John Stiles performing his poetry – which largely evokes his childhood growing up in Nova Scotia's rural Annapolis Valley – is like watching someone lost in a trance. He squeezes his eyes shut, channels the voices of his speakers and loudly emits the sounds of growling dogs, wailing sirens and non-verbal whoops of joy and despair. An original artist with an unsurprisingly obtuse relationship with the world, he has become the subject of a film – made by his close friend John Scott – that is both true to the poet's art and understanding of the person's idiosyncrasies".
  Geoff Pevere, Toronto Star , April 13, 2007

Screening at the Hot Docs Documentary Festival
Toronto, April 25th and 28th




Middle-aged, way broke and with nothing to lose, Toronto telemarketer John Stiles hears the exasperated "hello" on the other end of the line:   "How yah doon?" he quips

... and with that simple phrase, Stiles invents an inspired rural-roots call centre performance art that changes his life dramatically.

This new voice, first used to woo his cold calls, develops and evolves into energetic performances he gives at Toronto open mike readings.  Then comes two published books of poetry and literary tours of Eastern Canada and New England.

And people love it!  Whether he's conjuring the work on stage or improvising it in the  midst of a cold call, audiences fall in love with Stiles' energizing performances that are animated with the sounds he makes of sirens, dogs, horns and the district characters and dialect of his home community in rural Nova Scotia.

Mainly in the moment, and on the road, SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED is a surprising and cinematic story of how an underdog character finds his voice as a telemarketer.  From there, Stiles's story takes us on a revealing journey far, far away from that careful script that we are all supposed to follow.


Posted on Apr 25, 2007 by Glenn Sumi

You won’t listen to a telemarketer in quite the same way after watching Scouts Are Cancelled, a fascinating doc about poet John Stiles.

Stiles, born in rural Nova Scotia, lived for about 8 years in Toronto, where he took on a series of tough jobs to support himself, including door-to-door salesman (where he was told to sell in poor neighbourhoods, because the people would be more likely to listen to him and buy) and telemarketer.

During his telemarketing gig, he occasionally spoke to his unsuspecting customers in a series of colourful voices that harkened back to his small-town upbringing. These voices – full of vernacular phrases and singsong rhythms - influenced his poetry and his poetry readings.

Whenever Stiles reads from his work – in performance, or in a studio session filmed in cool jazzy black and white – he comes alive. His body takes on a different character. His words stand up, stretch their limbs and do a little dance.

When he’s not reading, he’s not quite present. He blinks his eyes a lot, as if he’s just woken up. His mouth settles into a frown.

Writer/director John Scott has known Stiles for nearly 20 years, and admits he spent a lot of time filming his friend. He includes some footage of a series of trips taken a decade ago, to places like Prague and India. (For some unknown and unacknowledged reason, Scott uses Margaret Laurence’s phrase from The Diviners, “Memory Bank Movie,” to preface these flashbacks.)

Scott interjects occasionally to tell us what we’re watching, but he doesn’t dig deep into his own relationship with the man. That works for and against him. We make up our own minds about Stiles, who’s a bit of an oddball drifter, but also also wonder why Scott is so fascinated by him. Is Stiles doing what Scott, who seems to have taken a more traditional life path, wishes he were doing? In short, what’s Scott’s motivation for making the movie?

The director does successfully bring some of Stiles’s poems to life, and he’s edited the film in a suggestive fashion that plays with his subject as inventively as his subject plays with language. One of the best sequences contrasts Stiles’s own colourful readings with a series of monotone readings from students in a high school where Stiles teaches. It’s brilliant.

The ending is also moving, when Stiles goes back to his home town, visits his mother, and goes in search of an old friend in an apple orchard.

This, I think, is the heart of the film. Where does artistic inspiration come from? The answer is still a big mystery, but Scouts Are Cancelled offers a partial response that’s beautiful and poignant.

Scouts Are Cancelled screens tonight (Wednesday, April 25, 9:30 pm) at the ROM and April 28, 7:45 pm, at the Al Green.


© 2007 Magpie Productions