Genesis of the Winnipeg Film Group
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.
Founder Bob Lower tells CBC reporter Robert Enright its members shared just one thing at the start: a desire to make movies. In the quarter-century since, the group's output has varied from impenetrably experimental to boldly commercial to quietly earnest. There's no single "Winnipeg style," but many members -- among them Guy Maddin, John Paizs and Richard Condie -- have gained widespread acclaim for their work.
• As of 2004 the group's mandate is fourfold: to train members in filmmaking techniques and help with the production, exhibition and distribution of members' films.
• The co-operative offers hands-on workshops for writers, producers, directors and crew. It rents equipment and studio space to members and offers some funding for first-time filmmakers.
• The group has distributed members' films to cinemas and film festivals around the world. Festivals in Europe, South America, India, Southeast Asia and across North America have showcased works by WFG members.
• In Rabbit Pie, the group's first film, a couple goes to a restaurant and orders the signature dish: rabbit pie. Like rabbits themselves, the pies multiply at an alarming rate.
• Winnipeg poet Peter Paul Van Camp is also featured in the film as an eccentric scribe sitting at an adjacent table.
• In 1982 the WFG began programming films several nights a week at a local movie theatre. Four years later it opened the Cinematheque, its own 120-seat theatre. Besides screening the new work of members, it shows independent Canadian and international films and works with local non-profit groups for special screenings.
• As of 2004 the group has about 330 members.
• Members of the film group pay an annual membership fee that entitles them to rent equipment for considerably lower than market rates. The group also offers training and workshops for members.
• Movies made by film group members play at the Cinematheque and at film festivals around the world.
• Most members of the group do not make a living in the film industry.
• Winnipeg is not the only Canadian city where filmmakers congregate to share ideas, learn skills and exhibit their films. Many more such groups were founded in the 1970s and '80s, including the Saskatchewan Filmpool Collective, the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Cooperative, Cineworks in Vancouver, Main Film in Montreal, Edmonton's Film and Video Arts (FAVA) and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto.
• Writing in the Globe and Mail in 1990, film writer Liam Lacey said: "There are things you associate with the WFG film: deadpan humour, a confused male protagonist, extreme obsessive behaviour, an often phantasmagoric environment, and surreal, often sickly effects. Often, the films use voice-overs or surtitles and little dialogue, a stationary camera and natural lighting."
Program: 24 Hours
Broadcast Date: Jan. 12, 2000
Guest(s): Alison Gillmor, Leon Johnson, Bob Lower, Brendon Sawatzky
Reporter: Robert Enright
Film credits: Zeitgeist Films, Winnipeg Film Group
Last updated: March 22, 2012
Page consulted on April 2, 2013
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