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Guy Maddin's Gimli Saga

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.

A lovelorn fisherman, a deadly smallpox plague, a barn hospital and a romantic rivalry: Guy Maddin's got a story to tell. Maddin is a Winnipeg filmmaker whose first effort, a short called The Dead Father, is on its way to Toronto's film festival. Now Maddin has quit his day job to build a set and start filming Gimli Saga, another short set in a Manitoba community of 19th century Icelandic immigrants.

Maddin says his friend John Paizs, another local director, inspired him to start making movies. But inspiration is about all he's got. He has a one-man crew -- himself -- and he's doing it on the cheap. However Gimli Saga turns out, Maddin's already thinking about his future as a filmmaker. "I guess I have to make a feature if I'm serious about this," he tells a CBC reporter. "I don't want to go back to work at the bank." 
• Guy Maddin was born on Feb. 28, 1956, in Winnipeg, the youngest of four children. The family lived in apartment above his aunt's beauty salon, where his mother Herdis also worked. Maddin's father, Chas, was general manager of the Winnipeg Maroons hockey club, which later became Canada's national hockey team.
• Maddin attended the University of Winnipeg and earned a degree in economics.

• Later, at the University of Manitoba, Maddin took courses in film and screenwriting. There he met professors George Toles and Stephen Snyder, who would become his mentors and friends. Toles would also become Maddin's screenwriting partner.
• Because of his inexperience and various problems with the all-volunteer cast, it took Maddin three years to make The Dead Father (1985), his first movie.

• Maddin submitted The Dead Father to the Toronto Festival of Festivals in 1986 at the urging of fellow Winnipeg Film Group member John Paizs. "The idea of my film being good enough to be accepted there was ludicrous at best," Maddin remembered. "But John said no, said most of the movies that play there are crap; why don't you just enter it?" Maddin did, and the movie was accepted.

• It took 18 months for Guy Maddin to complete Gimli Saga, which was released as Tales From the Gimli Hospital. By that time it had grown from the planned 30-minute short into a 74-minute feature.
• Maddin shot the movie on location in Gimli, Man., and on the set he built in his aunt's former beauty shop. "It felt really sacrilegious to be hammering spikes into the beloved hairspray-veneered stucco of this place," he recalled years later.

• The film took 18 months to finish because Maddin added shots during the editing process: "Having edited the movie, I would realize that I needed about ten reaction shots of [actor] Kyle [McCulloch] lying in a bed," he told author Caelum Vatnsdal in the book Kino Delerium: The Films of Guy Maddin. "So I'd make up a bed… then call Kyle to come over. I'd…open a beer, do the ten shots in about two minutes, then give him the beer. Then we'd watch a couple of hours of television."

Tales From the Gimli Hospital was released in 1988 and was nominated for best original screenplay at the Genie Awards. According to Maddin, the screenplay consisted of "five Post-It notes with character names on them."
• One of the movie's most durable claims to fame is that it played for a year as the midnight movie at a cinema in New York's Greenwich Village.

• Maddin isn't exactly sure how much Gimli cost to make. Partway through filming Maddin received a grant for $20,000 from the Manitoba Arts Council, and the Winnipeg Film Group gave him another $2,000. "I guess [the cost] could have been as much as $30,000 or as low as $14,000, because some of it was mixed up in my own food and rent," he told author Michael Posner.
Medium: Television
Program: 24 Hours
Broadcast Date: July 30, 1986
Guest(s): Guy Maddin
Reporter: Anne Petrie
Duration: 3:08
Film credit: Extra Large Productions

Last updated: February 17, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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