Guy Maddin learned his craft as part of a local filmmaking initiative, the Winnipeg Film Group, which exists both as an art-house cinema and as a resource for local filmmakers. Alex Fitch talked to Cecilia Araneda, executive director of the WFG, about the work of the organisation and Guy Maddin’s involvement with it.
Cecilia Araneda: There are proportionally a lot of independent filmmakers working in Winnipeg, and I do mean independent in the sense of artist-driven work. Winnipeg is a bit of a rarity in Canada in terms of its filmmaking context. Indeed, in English-language Canada, we believe that Winnipeg has the most distinct filmmaking community. Because Winnipeg does not have a film school, and for some other reasons likely related to the size of our city (big, but not too big) and its isolation from any other major metropolitan centre in Canada, the Winnipeg Film Group developed as different from other independent film co-ops in Canada and became a full centre supporting the entire cycle of film.
Alex Fitch: Why do you think Winnipeggian film has a distinct voice within Canadian cinema?
CA: Without access to a film school, filmmakers in Winnipeg just did what they thought was best and perhaps didn’t realise – or maybe they did and didn’t care – that they were breaking all standard conventions. Locally, film critics were brutal when they reviewed the works of our members produced in the 80s (we opened our Cinematheque in 1982, and of course prominently featured our members’ films) and the early 90s, because they weren’t following the standard conventions that are normally taught to filmmakers in film school. Before the ‘film industry’ reached Winnipeg, with corps of experienced film crafts people and technicians training students in making films ‘the right way’, the Film Group evolved an aesthetic approach that essentially affirmed that there is no one right way to make a film, and certainly no wrong way. The skill of filmmaking in Winnipeg was something that was handed down personally from filmmaker to filmmaker (John Paizs to Guy Maddin, Guy Maddin to Deco Dawson, for example). It often stuns people across the country to see just how influential and significant Winnipeg filmmakers remain, and how proportionally deep the talent pool is in relation to artistic cinema over the years, in spite of how small Winnipeg is and in spite of the absence of the many financial resources that are available in other centres.
AF:Is Guy’s output indicative of a local style?
CA: He is certainly among one of the most recognised independent filmmakers from Winnipeg, and his output could be said to be parallel in a way to that of Norma Bailey (Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1980). But Norma works in a completely different aesthetic school, focusing on narrative and documentary, and her movies are a staple of television programming. Guy and Norma are the only filmmakers that I can think of that have consistently worked for decades here in Manitoba at a high level. In the early days, if you wanted to make a film and if you wanted it screened at our film theatre (likely the only screening local filmmakers would have had here in the city), you would have hung out here at the Winnipeg Film Group. In an interview I did with Guy Maddin last year, he noted that he learned filmmaking by hanging out at the Film Group – as non-specific as that might sound (Guy studied Economics in University). Guy’s insistence on doing things his way – even a documentary commissioned by the Documentary Channel (My Winnipeg) – often in spite of compelling financial reasons, is, of course, what clearly stands out in my mind about him as a filmmaker. That, plus you always feel you know him a little more as a person with every film you watch, which is not necessarily true of other filmmakers in his category.
Interview by Alex Fitch