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Guy Maddin delves into 'The Heart of the World'

Guy Maddin may be one of Canada's best-known unknown filmmakers. From his early, improbable success with "Tales From the Gimli Hospital," the director has relied on near-extinct film techniques to convey both a heavy dose of melodrama and a sly sense of humour. Maddin now works with international stars, but his humble origins are with the Winnipeg Film Group — a filmmakers' co-op that, over 30 years, has brought global acclaim to many Manitoba moviemakers.

Guy Maddin just might have Joseph Stalin to thank for jump-starting his career. In 2000 the Toronto International Film Festival commissioned Maddin to pay tribute to the festival's 25th anniversary. Reminded of the Soviet dictator's habit of inviting artists to write symphonies for him, Maddin's tribute was a frenzied bit of Soviet-style propaganda. The Heart of the World has succeeded "beyond my most hubristic daydreams," Maddin tells the CBC's Michael Enright.
The Heart of the World tells the story of Anna, a scientist who realizes that the "heart of the world" is dying. The revelation throws the world into chaotic disarray, and Anna must choose between two brothers who are competing for her affection. A greedy industrialist (played by Maddin's former producer, Greg Klymkiw) complicates matters, but the world is saved when Anna tumbles into its core and becomes its new, strong, beating heart.

• Guy Maddin was just one of 10 Canadian directors who were asked to create a five-minute tribute to the Toronto International Film Festival. Among the others were Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg.
• Piers Handling, director of the festival, said it took two or three viewings before he saw how The Heart of the World related to the event. "I thought, 'This is the festival. It captures the mania, the energy, the insanity,'" he told the Globe and Mail.

• Maddin was inspired by film student (and, later, collaborator) Deco Dawson, whose enthusiasm for early Soviet cinema rubbed off on the director.
• Caelum Vatnsdal, author of Kino Delerium: The Films of Guy Maddin, explained that the film uses "the machine-gun 'shock montage' editing techniques of Sergei Eisenstein and the other pioneer Soviet filmmakers, who asked aloud why there should ever be any need for long, extended shots in a film."

• Even though the shoot lasted just five days, Maddin ended up with sets just as big as on any of his features — all built by volunteers. "I felt like a reactionary union-breaker rather than the comrade my surrounding suggested I be," he told the Globe and Mail. "By putting all the burden on the backs of the workers we finished on budget — $20,000."

The Heart of the World was by far the most popular of all the tributes at the festival, and was named the best experimental film of 2000 by the U.S. National Society of Film Critics. It made the top-10 lists of many film critics that year and won a Genie for Best Dramatic Live-action Short Drama. The short also played at the Cannes Film Festival and at festivals in New York, Rotterdam, Sweden, Madrid and Australia.

• Between Twilight of the Ice Nymphs in 1997 and The Heart of the World in 2000, Maddin worked on few projects of his own, paying the bills by shooting music videos and advertisements.
• Seemingly energized by the rapturous response to The Heart of the World, he completed two features (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary and The Saddest Music in the World) and a 60-minute film (Cowards Bend the Knee) in two years.
Medium: Radio
Program: The Sunday Edition
Broadcast Date: June 8, 2003
Guest(s): Guy Maddin
Host: Michael Enright
Duration: 2:53
Photo: Zeitgeist Films

Last updated: August 8, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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