Dir: Guy Maddin.Canada, 2007, 80 Mins.
More than any other filmmaker, Guy Maddin has shaped the image of the prairie metropolis ofWinnipegand its environs in his idiosyncratic oeuvre that embraces retro styles and techniques. It is a bygone hallucinatory dream location steeped in melodrama, which reveals contemporary truths as it embraces a ferocious fictional construct.
As he demonstrated in the Roberto Rossellini homage, My Papa is 100 Years Old, the film-maker has more than sufficient ability to bend the non-fiction film to his will.
Since making that film he’s been approached to make other projects in the genre with the caveat from producers that it ‘doesn’t have to be precisely accurate’.
My Winnipeg , a psycho-poetic documentary, more than lives up to that dictate as it explores his relationship to the city with biographical detail as skewered as his lens. The anti-travelogue approach is unlikely to be employed by the Chamber of Commerce.
The hybrid approach poses a bit of a marketing challenge as it doesn’t fit into traditional modes of exploitation for documentaries. However, it has an accessible, unconventional zaniness that works for his niche base and is expansive enough to draw in converts.
The thrust of the piece is the film-maker’s dilemma of feeling stuck within his environment; as he explores, he considers the ‘fact’ that Winnipeg has the highest incidence of sleepwalkers in the world and a native American myth about two phantom rivers running underneath the town with strange magnetic pull.
He also recreates his own family life under the thumb of a domineering mother (portrayed by 1950s B-movie icon Ann Savage) whose personal frustration is manifested in a singularly non-nurturing household.
Largely shot in black and white with a soundtrack dominated by narrated commentary, Maddin has spent quality time in local and national film archives to find arcane material that dovetails precisely with his recreations. He invents a senior hockey team playing in the bowels of a local arena as the wrecker’s ball does its work. The local television favorite LedgeMan, also invented, contemplates suicide daily but is somehow convinced to hold on for another daily.
There are unquestionably some historically correct details woven into the texture of the film and one’s apt to think only the most bizarre stories are true. In fact it’s all true because it is definitively Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. Ironically, it might also be the filmmaker’s biggest commercial success as the city’s biggest export is people and a recent UN study revealed that other than areas that were war zones, Winnipeg had the largest per capita diaspora of any major urban area in the world.
Everyday Pictures (Can)
Buffalo Gals (Can)
The Documentary Channel
Maximum Film International
(1) 416 960 0300