Rosies of The North, (Kelly Saxberg)
This collection of aviation-themed films was originally scheduled to coincide with the opening of the new James A. Richardson Airport. Well, we might have to wait for that much-delayed ribbon-cutting, but in the meantime we can enjoy this soaring collection of films about flight.
Curator Kevin Nikkel brings together the factual, the fictional and the so-crazy-it-must-be-true in this collection of 15 films spread over four days.
Stories in our Skies includes experimental shorts and straight-up docs, NFB projects and a Hollywood feature film (starring Jimmy Cagney as a bush pilot in northern Manitoba and directed by Michael Curtiz, who went on to helm a little flick called Casablanca). There are works here for film lovers, military buffs and aviation enthusiasts.
Here are a few of the attention-getters:
The Kid Who Couldn't Miss: Mixing excerpts from John Gray's stage play Billy Bishop Goes to War (starring Eric Peterson) with interviews and archival footage, this controversial 1982 film from Scott Cowan raised a ruckus by casting doubts on the record of World War One flying ace Billy Bishop. (The film became the subject of a 1985 government investigation after complaints from veterans' groups.)
Cowan rightly points out that the seemingly clean, clear heroism of the flyboys served to draw attention away from the mess and mud of the trenches, but he also blurs fact and fiction in a way that seems a bit sneaky -- and his refuge in the "docu-drama" designation feels disingenuous. Aviation historian Wayne Ralph will introduce the film, and there might be some verbal dogfighting in the lobby afterwards.
Rosies of the North: This sassy, lively 1999 doc looks at the young women who came from Northwestern Ontario and the Prairies to help manufacture fighter planes at the Fort William Car and Foundry plant in the 1940s. Narrated with swell wartime slang and peppered with funny newsreel footage, this irrepressible film shows us how these women served the war effort, supported their families, and discovered a new sense of themselves and their possibilities.
As director Kelly Saxberg points out, their work "shook up a lot more than the Nazis." They were there to do a job, and if a fella didn't like it, well, they'd weld his lunch pail to a steel beam.
The Defender: This engaging, appealing 1988 documentary follows Bob Diemert of Carman, Manitoba as he attempts to design and build the world's best fighter plane - in his backyard. Determined to give those overpriced C F-18s a run for their money, he works in an old outbuilding, using elbow grease, ingenuity and some low-tech equipment (bathroom scales and an old pickup truck for flight simulations, a homemade wind tunnel). As Diemert builds his plane, filmmaker Stephen Low builds a portrait of a guy who's occasionally irascible - especially when dealing with bureaucrats - but also inventive, unsinkable and always original.
Bob Diemert will be at the Cinematheque to take questions on Saturday night.
Northlander: This 2008 documentary investigates the mysterious myth and history of the 1955 salvage of an American DC-4 plane from the Hudson Bay ice near Churchill, Manitoba. Don't expect a conventional linear doc, though. Co-directors Myles Langlois (onetime member of the Royal Art Lodge collective) and Riel Langlois (who has worked as a comic book artist) offer a slow, strange, dreamy, deeply affectionate meditation on the North and on the intrepid, sometimes eccentric people who make their lives there.
Using interviews, photos and some newly discovered 8mm footage, they point out that while the salvage of the plane was reported as a triumph of technology and military strength, it was in fact undertaken by a small group of Inuit men, who used their bone-deep knowledge of the land, the water and the weather.