{Calgary} With Punam Kumar Gill, Filmmaker

Drawn to interesting people living with purpose and passion, Punam Kumar Gill, a self-taught documentary filmmaker, thrives on telling their stories in less than ten minutes. Her upcoming short film features actress and Top Chef Canada host, Lisa Ray, about her collaboration with fashion designer Satya Paul to create a line of sarees benefitting cancer research. Punam’s body of award-winning documentaries includes: Ahluwalia+Abbasi: Unplugged on the Upper East Side about songstress Kiran Ahluwalia and her jazz guitarist husband Rez Abbasi, a film on Chef Vikram Vij’s famed Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., a short about New York-based jewelry designer Amrita Singh, and the heart-warming ‘The Lesson’ (a festival favourite) depicting the life story of Punam’s father. Currently, Punam is directing her first feature-length television documentary, airing in 2015, on the controversial topic of abortion. Her films have received official selection to international film festivals in India, USA and Canada. She was also a 2011 Chatelaine Magazine Woman of the Year nominee. When Punam’s not behind the camera, she hosts two Canadian food and wine television shows, EATS Edmonton and EATS Calgary. Punam has a three year old son and lives with her family at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Canada.

Describe your city to someone who has never been.  If I were to pick a zodiac sign to represent Calgary, I would pick Capricorn. Calgary is industrious, will rise to any occasion, wants to be on the map and will do whatever it takes to achieve that. Calgary has a big and sincere heart but can also get too caught up in appearances and has little tolerance for those who lag behind. Although self-conscious and sensitive, Calgary prefers to project a strong image.

What do you love about it?  The great minds that live here. Calgary is often misunderstood as being ultra-conservative, but I feel the people here are very open-minded and independent thinkers. They have their opinions, but they aren’t dogmatic. Even if someone here doesn’t agree with me, we can still meet, discuss and laugh.

What’s your favourite neighbourhood in the city and why?  We live in a far-south neighbourhood in Calgary, almost at the city limits. We are blessed to live in a place where our view is totally unobstructed. In the day, we see the mountains and the meandering Bow River. At night, it’s pitch black with the city lights and skyline shining for us in the distance. It’s beautiful, peaceful and romantic. Fish Creek Provincial Park is nearby, which is truly an oasis. Lots of people enjoying the outdoors. Lots of dogs, even wildlife. Annie’s Bakery, located within the park, is a charming place to stop during a bike ride. This area makes me feel alive.

What are your favorite places for:

Coffee and people-watching? When it comes to coffee, I can really only trust the Italians. Mercato serves Illy coffee, always in a bistro-style white cup with saucer, always with love. I like their Mission location. On a cold day, their restaurant is hopping with interesting people. And on a warm day, their patio is molto bella. I actually do a lot of my scriptwriting there. I love the noise and vibrancy, and hearing the occasional Italian. It’s like I’m on a writing retreat in Italy.

Date Night? I like picking an area that’s dense with cool places, and then restaurant hopping – a place for drinks, another for oysters, another for dinner. You get the picture. For this, I’m a fan of Stephen Avenue or 17th Avenue. Life is too short to spend the whole night in one spot. Drinks? I grew up in a dry household and I’m not a hard liquor drinker, but the head bartender at Candela Lounge introduced me to a gin drink so fine that I’m hooked and I keep going back. He actually gave me the recipe, but why bother? I will also go for drinks in the sunken bar of the Hotel Le Germain. The clientele is a mix of creative and business types, and travellers. It’s an exciting vibe.

Dinner with friends? My girlfriends and I love the whole experience at Añejo. We like their made-to-order guac, the handcrafted margaritas, and their hiring policies!

Picnic? My living room: I love ordering in, laying out a blanket and picnicking with my family.

Where do you go in Calgary to feel inspired?  Where we live, you can either turn right to go into the city or turn left to go to the countryside. We tend to associate arts and culture with a more urban scene, but lately, I’ve been turning left for my inspiration. The drive from Calgary to Bragg Creek is ridiculous. It’s quintessential prairies – wide, open, rolling pastures and big azure-blue skies. Somehow, the clearing in the landscape also clears the cobwebs in my brain. Being able to see the horizon lets new ideas emerge. Thoughts that have been noodling, surface.

How do you get around?  We have a sturdy SUV for our family vehicle and a sporty and compact VW Diesel for tooling around the city. Having the contrast is loads of fun, and brings out different sides of me.

What should we buy in Calgary to take back home?  Crave cupcakes. Phil & Sebastian coffee. A Julie Van Rosendaal cookbook. A Jann Arden or Raghav CD. A Nenshi purple tie. Cowboy boots.

Hotel you recommend to out-of-friends?  I would never recommend a hotel to friends – they will always stay with me. However, if they are heading to the mountains, I think a wonderful and off-the-beaten-path stay is at the Banff Centre for the Arts or Baker Creek Chalets.

A tourist attraction we shouldn’t miss?  The Calgary Stampede is a riot. It heralds the real beginning of summer. I’ve been here two decades and still look forward to it each year. Everyone looks hot in cowboy gear.

Best pizza in the city?  I can eat an entire pizza at Pulcinella’s. With a glass of crisp white. On a Saturday afternoon. Ooh.

For a culture fix, what should we see or do?  I’m a fan of Lunchbox Theatre. One act, 50 minutes, and you’re out. It’s like tapas, a small bite of culture. Obviously, I also love art house cinema so the independent movie theatres are great.

What might surprise us about Calgary?  For a city that is doused in winter for a good 8 months of the year, Calgary surprisingly has many amazing patios. Some of my favourites are Market, Ship & Anchor, Bonterra, River Cafe, Cilantro,Teatro. I could keep going, I have truly never met a patio I didn’t like.

What’s a good side trip from Calgary?  Emerald Lake Lodge. The whole experience at Yoho National Park is worth the trip – the Burgess Shale hike, dinner at Truffle Pigs Bistro, then a stay at the Lodge with a private fire in your room. Divine!

Describe a perfect day for you in your city.  I am a Libra, so the perfect day is a balanced and beautiful one. Luckily, my toddler is a good sleeper, so it starts not too early, going nowhere fast, in our pyjamas with cuddles, coffee and reading in bed. Once a week, I like to take all of us to experience something new. Lately, this has meant a walk or short hike in a park that we’ve never been to. It’s incredible how such a simple thing can feel adventurous, even daring. I love the after-glow on everyone’s faces, especially our dog’s! This would be followed by my own time in a restorative hot yoga class or in a dry cedar sauna. (I am not giving away where I go for this bliss!) Then my favourite meal of the day, ‘linner’ (lunch-dinner), on the Boxwood patio with a glass of champagne in the afternoon, with someone who likes to talk about life as much as I do. Before leaving, I’d take a moment to appreciate dusk, the way it colours the city. Then, I’d race home, to our backyard, to enjoy a spectacular Calgary sunset and finally, the twinkling city lights.

And then, what the hell, some fireworks.

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