Mia Kirshner Biography
Name: Mia Kirshner
Date of Birth: January 25, 1975
Place of Birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Height: 5′ 3½”
Eye Color: Hazel
Hair Color: Dark Brown
Net Worth: $2 million
Ah, a local girl…well, once she was local…having been born in DVDwolf’s natural habitat of Toronto, Ontario (Canada) on January 25, 1976. Her father is a journalist and her mother a teacher.
Mia began her stint in the theatrical world at an early age, in fact, while she was still in school. She was starring in both Canadian and US productions such as Sweating Bullets, My Secret Identity, Are You Afraid Of The Dark and Dracula (the series) before making her big screen debut in Denys Arcand’s Love And Human Remains…still a great freaking title!
A few other films followed but it was Atom Egoyan’s Exotica that really propelled both of Mia and Egoyan into the attention of Hollywood. Egoyan has chosen his own eclectic, almost Cronenberg-like path through Hollywood while Kirshner is a bit more direct. Her next film was with Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater, a really dark but fascinating film called Murder in the First that is worth a look if you missed it.
She appeared in a few more films that were not as well received by the public through the critics usually had some good things to say. These included films like The Grass Harp, Century Hotel and Anna Karenina with Sophie Marceau.
She returned to Television in 2001 with the short-lived Wolf Lake series and again in the teen comedy entitled Not Another Teen Movie. More recently she appeared in New Best Friend with Taye Diggs, a story of a deputy sheriff who investigates the murder of a college student which is connected to an unusual class project.
In October 2008, after 7 years in production, the actress published the book I Live Here, which she co-produced with ex-Adbusters staffers Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons, as well as writer James MacKinnon. The book features original material from the well-known comic and graphic artists including Joe Sacco and Phoebe Gloeckner. It was published in the U.S. by Random House/Pantheon. It was supported logistically by Amnesty International, which will receive proceeds from the book. After the release of the book, the Center for International Studies at MIT invited her to run a 4-week course on I Live Here in January 2009.
I Live Here
What was your inspiration to create I Live Here?
I felt like I was living a disconnected life, a sheltered and disconnected life. This was 7 years ago, and I just became increasingly aware of how fleeting time is, and how it’s so easy to get up and go to work, and eat well — if you have that option — and to really be disconnected from what’s happening in the rest of the world. So after September 11, I was just like, “I am frightened at the level of my own ignorance,” because it never felt to me like these incidents happen in isolation; we’re all connected and we’re all affected by it. So that’s the rambling answer of why the book was done.
And where did the project really start to coalesce?
From the beginning, really. You mean the format? It was never supposed to be my writing, in the book.
I had read that, yeah.
That was one of the things that did change. This book has a vision that’s remained unchanged from the very beginning. The only things that changed were the creative nonfiction, my writing in it, and that it was split up into four books, but before I contacted my brilliant partners [Adbusters creators] Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge — we did the design together, and they did the actual handwork in the book, which is painstaking. I did my own mock-up book and a very very crude version of that.
The way that it’s laid out?
Just the content. I knew that I wanted it to be their writing, and the writing of the displaced — their photographs, their art, and the ephemera that I was collecting from the camps. I wanted it to feel very intimate, and very much like a journal, and something that was radically different from a dry human right report that you might read. It does feel very intimate. Yeah, that was the point. Because I feel that, I can only speak for myself, but the way that I’ve been engaged to do something is to be moved, to feel a sense of intimacy with the subject. That was why the book was done like that.
How did you go about getting your interviews? Did you just go to the places and find people to talk to?
No, there was nothing casual about this book. I mean, the book _looks_ like it could have been haphazardly done, but you can’t go to these areas without a tremendous amount of research. So first of all, before the book started, there was about a year of research that went into picking the places, and then Amnesty International — for the first two places, Ingushetia and Burma — they set me up with a local human rights organization, who acted as my fixer. And then from there, through the research, I had a list of stories that I wanted to do and possible locations. But a list is just a list. Everything changes when you get there.
Reality kicks in.
Exactly. I think it’s important to know what you’re doing. It’s not safe otherwise. So they were the ones who set up the interviews, but we were driving into the locations. But in the camps, you don’t know. In the brothels, you don’t know.
What was your relationship with your translators like? You must be so dependent on them.
They’re really important, translators, you know, because they’re basically your eyes and ears into the situation, and I definitely learned that very quickly, especially in the beginning. Well, I had a very good translator in Ingushetia, who would literally translate every single word the subject said, even if it was grammatically incorrect, even if there were inaccuracies in what they had said because that’s for my partners and myself to decide later how to use that material. And there were other translators who — somebody could be speaking to me for like a minute, and then I would get a one-sentence translation. That’s not OK, so they were let go. I would say it was the translators I was probably the hardest on. And my prerequisite was that they translate absolutely everything that the subjects say, they don’t give a commentary on what the subjects say, and that they’re female.
Why female? For comfort?
Well, it’s women and children, so you know, in many cases women were talking about sexual exploitation, and it made sense. Women feel more comfortable around women — safer.
In Ingushetia, where you and Joe Sacco traveling together all the time?
No, we went together, and we were at the hotel together, but with each person, we would split off during the day, because we were doing our own stories.
So he used his own translator?
Oh, yeah, everyone had their own translator. Phoebe Gloeckner [who contributed a graphic novella to the Juárez chapter] had her own. It’s really essential. And then in terms of having the material translated, often it has to be translated more than once, to make sure that the translation was appropriate.
Yeah, that’s where the real work came in with the book because I literally would collect hundreds of pieces of writing from each place, so I have to make sure. I can’t tell if this is a correct translation, so it had to go through a series of tests, I guess.
That must have been a real organizational feat.
It is, that’s why I didn’t work. The L Word paid for it, and that’s why I made a decision very quickly after I started the book I realized that it was — you know, these people were brave and kind enough to share their stories, so the best I could do was to use all of my time to do justice to the stories.
These stories are so affecting to read. What was it like to come back from these places?
It was a process. I think the beginning it was very hard. But I think that the last thing I want to be is this sort of hysterical person that comes back from these places, and lectures my community about overconsumption. I didn’t really talk about it that much. It was something very personal. But I did realize over the years some very important things, and it all came together with the way I hoped it would in Malawi — that nobody wants your pity, nobody wants you to be angry on behalf of their situation, nobody wants to be thought of as this poor person. They want to be respected, and to be thought of as dignified — I realized that the best thing I could do was to find the best in each situation and each person that I meet. So that was sort of the process. But you know, it was definitely quite lonely sometimes.
Did you hand-pick the artists you worked with?
Joe Sacco was the first person I wrote to, and this was before Mike and Paul became involved, and I wrote him a long letter, and the same thing with Kamel Khûlif, who did the Burma project. I actually called his French publisher, and I had a translator on the phone with me, because my French isn’t proficient enough. And he agreed to do it. Mike and Paul found Julie Morstad. Phoebe, I wrote a long letter to through a website; Ann-Marie MacDonald, the same thing, so it was really letter writing. J.B. MacKinnon — he only accidentally became involved — he was only supposed to do the Ingushetia story, but very quickly he started working and elevated the text to what it is.
Each chapter has a very distinct feel to it artistically. Did that come about organically, or did you have a clear idea of how you wanted them to look and feel?
Mike, Paul, and I would sit down after I had collected the material, and our office is in Vancouver, and we would literally break the stories. And they’re so talented. They’re two people, but they work as one. So we would sit in the room together and discuss what each story meant, and talk about all the elements that would go onto the page, as far as colors, what the story was about, what the theme of the chapter was. The Juárez chapter, it had to be hand-stitched. And then after doing these detailed notes on each page — like, “This page is going to be green. It has to look sticky and wet. It should look like it’s in a jungle. We should try to use Polaroids on this page — they would go and they would do the actual handwork. But once a draft came back, it didn’t mean it was done. Each page went through maybe 50, 60, 70 changes. So I would look at each page and say, “Why don’t you move that to the right? Why don’t you modify that color? Let’s change the font on this. Let’s think about getting another artist for this stitched heart.”
That sounds very, very painstaking.
Oh my God, yes. But rewarding. And it’s funny that the day job came first because this is what I wanted to do.
How did your family feel about you going and doing this?
Um, they were a little bewildered, concerned for my career — and just concerned. But now I think they’re proud. I hope they are. You’d have to ask them.
How did your sister [Lauren Kirshner] get involved in the project?
Well, she’s an incredibly accomplished writer. She has a book coming out next year; M&S; [McClelland & Stewart] is publishing. So I just felt — she writes so beautifully about the ache of being a teenager and a young woman that I thought she would be perfect for it.
I was looking on I Live Here’s website, and it looks like you’re soliciting videos from people.
I hope so. Yes, one day I would like that website to be an online community where people can share their witness and stories. Right now, my priorities are really, really focused. My goal is to get this book into as many schools as possible.
As I was reading the books, I was thinking how this would be wonderful to see in a curriculum.
So basically, that’s the goal, because it’s not a marketing tool. It’s just that when I was in school and university, and the end of high school, that’s when I really began to be interested in this kind of stuff. So I feel like this is a new way of teaching this stuff. So, Loyola is teaching it to professors there. The goal is, I’m going to basically start this program with the book, and basically, a student will be selected by a professor to represent the book and form these book clubs and ideas about how to collect material from your own community, creating miniature versions of the books that are local. So, yeah, that’s my goal, because I feel like students really have the loudest voice.
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