A still from "The First Winter" (courtesy Ryan McKenna)
I wanted Winnipeg to look as cold and empty as possible.
—Ryan McKenna, filmmaker
There's an actual blizzard, shots of Winnipeg at night and a dark austerity...with jokes. Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan McKenna's first feature length film, The First Winter, premiered at the Montréal Festival Du Nouveau Cinéma in October.
The plot is described as:"A young man in Portugal impregnates a vacationing Canadian and must face the inhospitable prairie landscape and its hopeless denizens when he emigrates to join her."
SCENE caught up with Ryan McKenna to talk about the movie and find out exactly what his Winnipeg Brutalism manifesto is all about.
What inspired you to make this movie?
I wanted to make a film about the Winnipeg winter, and felt it would be interesting cinematically to contrast it with some place warm and vibrant. The actor I wanted to work with - Rob Vilar - was originally from Portugal, so that's where we went.
Can you explain what Winnipeg Brutalism is and where it came from?
The manifesto I wrote with the film's editor Matthew Rankin after the film had been shot. It's partly tongue-in-cheek, but I did want to communicate that my film was an attempt at a new formal approach to the Winnipeg film.
Inspired by Scandinavian cinema, I set out to make a film with minimal dialogue, deadpan humor, and low-key performances. The manifesto is also a jab at Winnipeg for its nihilistic impulse to close down and board up everything good about the city (see: Wagon Wheel, Kelekis), as well as to bland Canadian cinema (see: Paul Gross) with its misplaced ambitions at Hollywood blockbuster stardom.
Where and when did you shoot the film?
We shot the exteriors in Lisbon, and the Portuguese interiors in Northern Portugal. The lead actor Rob Vilar has two family homes in the province of Minho, which sits on the Spanish border. The winter scenes were filmed in Winnipeg in 2011.