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Why make movies in Winnipeg?

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.

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There's a quiet buzz in the Canadian film industry about the Winnipeg Film Group. Film festival audiences are enthralled by the co-op's output and the group's reputation is growing beyond Portage and Main. Probing the group's "subterranean desires and subversive visions," CBC reporter Paul McGrath has one nagging question: how did this prairie city spawn a film movement? "A lot of good minds have tried to crack that nut," says director John Paizs. "What I wonder is: why not everywhere else?"
• The CBC wasn't the only media outlet to notice the Winnipeg Film Group in the early 1990s. The magazine Cinema Canada called it "the best-kept film secret in Canada." Bronwyn Drainie, an arts columnist with the Globe and Mail, said: "In Toronto, filmmakers have no vision… That may be the backbone of the film industry in this country, but the soul will come from places like Winnipeg."

• CBC Radio also profiled the Winnipeg Film Group in 1991. Geoff Pevere of the program Prime Time interviewed Greg Klymkiw, Guy Maddin and John Paizs.
• In the interview, Pevere asked if it was important that the films were made in Winnipeg. "I don't think the films could have been made anywhere else," said Klymkiw. Paizs added: "Working out of Winnipeg distinguishes you from the rest. It seems interesting to people."

• In the fall of 1990 five of the co-op's shorts, grouped together as Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group, toured 11 U.S. cities. The films, said a New York Post review, were "neither manic nor sharp-edged. Instead, they are warped in a sort of Canadian way. They are subtlety, almost politely weird."
• In 1993 the Centre Georges Pompidou, an art gallery and cinema in Paris, hosted a Canadian retrospective featuring the work of several WFG filmmakers.

• One of the Winnipeg Film Group's better-known films is a five-minute music video, seen briefly in this clip, called We're Talking Vulva (1990). In the film, a woman in a life-size foam-rubber vagina costume performs a rap song about the functions of female genitalia.
• Filmmakers Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan made the video through the Winnipeg Film Group but were funded by the National Film Board for its compilation film Five Feminist Minutes.

• Not all Winnipeg filmmakers are members of the Winnipeg Film Group, but many have made their first films with the group before moving on.
• Aaron Kim Johnston (The Last Winter, For the Moment), John Paskievich (If Only I Were an Indian), Noam Gonick (Hey, Happy! , Stryker) and Sean Garrity (Inertia) are just a few filmmakers who have enjoyed critical or commercial success with films made outside the Winnipeg Film Group.

• More recently, Winnipeg has become popular as a production centre for American TV movies and big-budget studio films. Many of the local crew on these films gained experience as members of the Winnipeg Film Group.
• In the summer of 2003 Miramax's Shall We Dance?, starring Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, was shot in Winnipeg. The city masqueraded as Chicago.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: July 4, 1991
Guest(s): Bruce Duggan, Shereen Jerrett, Guy Maddin, John Paizs, Geoff Pevere
Reporter: Paul McGrath
Duration: 15:35
Film credits: Cinephile, Ordnance Pictures, Winnipeg Film Group, Extra Large Productions

Last updated: February 17, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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