Ed is the most unique personality that I've ever met.
—John Paskievich, filmmaker
Winnipeg producer Merit Jensen Carr's trip to the Hot Docs festival in Toronto is already paying off.
She won the Don Haig Award, a prize worth $10,000, that honours an independent producer's body of work provided a feature-length film is also entered in the event. The nod came the day the film she produced, Special Ed, premiered at the festival.
Filmmaker John Paskievich describes the subject of his film, Ed Ackerman, as a dreamer. "Ed is the most unique personality that I've ever met. He has a very obstinate, contrarian nature. Nothing stops Ed. He's interested in everything. He looks at the world like a buffet. He always says he has a large plate and he always samples everything."
Paskievich first met Ackerman 25 years ago when they were working at the National Film Board. During his time there, Ackerman wanted to create teaching tools for teachers and students and began working on an animation project about the alphabet.
Paskievich learned that Ackerman had always had trouble spelling, which gave him an idea for his own film project. "He was wanting to help kids spell because nobody helped him. And I thought this would make a nice sweet film."
When Ackerman lost his job with the National Film Board, he decided to raise funds himself to continue the animation project. But Paskievich's documentary took a turn when his main subject suddenly directed his energies into another project.
Over the next three years cameras followed Ackerman as he purchased three derelict houses and attempted to renovate them with no money or experience. He battled police and city officials who wanted the houses torn down and even decorated one of the houses with larger-than-life letters of the alphabet.
Ackerman pickets to keep his Alphabet House standing (John Paskievich)
Does Paskievich think Ackerman will ever finish the animation project that was the original focus of the documentary? "I reserve comment," he says.
"As in all things it's important to have a sense of balance. Ed's gone over to one side. He's almost possessed with finishing the animation project. As a result, various other things in his life suffered: his relationship with his  wives, his kids, his economic well-being absolutely, and his friendships."
After its debut in Toronto, Special Ed
will have a showing in Winnipeg. "I'll invite the mayor and the chief of police," Paskievich laughs.
Special Ed premieres at Hot Docs in Toronto on April 29 and was co-produced by Merit Motion Pictures.