Friday, April 24, 2009

Ebertfest Report: A Strange Winnipeg

The movie I have most enjoyed at this year's Ebertfest, although it certainly is not to everyone's taste, is the quirky My Winnipeg. It was written and directed by Guy Madden, who has lived all his life in Winnipeg and has a normal day job as a professor in film studies at the University of Winnipeg. He specializes in making quirky movies, and he makes what he wants to make, how he wants to make them without regard to movie conventions. Everything in My Winnipeg was done in one take, and if a scene was slightly out of focus, so be it.

The movie was commissioned by by the city fathers and was supposed to be a documentary about Winnipeg, designed to attract tourists. It turned out to be a docu-fantasy, with real events being told in a warped mixture of fact and fiction (all of it true, however, since "fact" and "truth" are not the same.) Madden explained that when he was young, his aunt would take him to see travelogues. She would say, "We're going to Morocco tonight," and he would interpret it and report it at school as that they were actually going to Morocco. He would often fall asleep during the travelogue, and would experience those documentaries n a half-dreaming state. The dream-like movie he made is often just plain weird. For example, in the early 20th century, there was actually an incident in which a herd of horses, stampeding from a burning stable, fled into a river and froze to death, with the horse heads sticking above the ice until the spring thaw. Madden takes some archival footage of the dead horses and transforms it into a gruesome comedy, with the people from Winnipeg coming out to picnic on the horse heads. (For a hilarious account of the making of this part of the film, see his "documentary diariest" at this blog.)

Roger Ebert, as always, said it best. In his published remarks in the program booklet, he said,
"His (Madden's) imagination frees the lurid possibilities of the banal. He rewrites history; when that fails, he creates it.

Aside from Ebert himself, Madden is one of the funniest people ever to appear on the stage at Eberfest. His lack of pretense was refreshing. He quipped his way through the question and answer session, at one point telling people that if they felt like sleeping through his movie, he didn't blame them, he got 45 good minutes of shut-eye during the showing Thursday himself. When asked how the city fathers of Winnipeg reacted to his product, there was a long pregnant pause, during which the audience started laughing, topped off by Madden saying, "They're okay with it now."

I have to warn readers, however, that not everyone is going to like this movie. It is shot in black and white, and the dreaminess of the film, is going to be off-putting to some people. What is refreshing, however, is that Madden doesn't really give a damn whether you like it or not. I gave it five stars.


rdl said...

Wow, sounds good!

forsythia said...

I'll tell our less-buttoned-down daughter about it. She'll love it.

PG said...

Do you remember The Saddest Music in the World from a few year's back at Ebertfest? All Guy Maddin's movies look like this. He has one weird sensibility. My Winnipeg is one of my favorites, though.

I tried not to grumble about the festival this year. I think I did a good job of not complaining. I'm making progress.

Patry Francis said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always looking for good films.

Anonymous said...

5 stars? Out of 10 I hope. As a former Winnipeger I can view this movie for it's artistic merit plus appreciate all the finer points that Mr. Maddin portrays in the movie. IMO the movie's good is equally outplayed by the bad. Watching this once was enough for me.

Crockhead said...

No, Former Winnipeger, that was five stars out of five. As I indicated in my review, this is not a movie that the tourism promotion people will send to would-be visitors. I can see how current and former Winnipegers wouldn't like the movie a bit. But as someone who has never been there and probably will never go, I loved the movie.