How life in Winnipeg inspired one of the country's most vibrant filmmaking communities

Maybe it's the landscape. Maybe it's the isolation. Maybe it's the cold. But whatever the cause, when it comes to creativity, Winnipeg punches well above its weight.

The Winnipeg Underground Film Festival showcases some of the brilliant work coming out of The Peg

"A Century Plant in Bloom" by Ross Meckfessel. (Winnipeg Underground Film Festival)

Maybe it's the landscape. Maybe it's the isolation. Maybe it's the cold. But whatever the cause, when it comes to creativity, Winnipeg punches well above its weight.

It lacks the commercial art scene of Toronto or the international reputation of Montreal. But Canada's seventh-largest city has developed a name in recent years for top-notch artistic talent. Major players like Marcel Dzama, Kent Monkman, and Daniel Barrow have all emerged from The Peg to go on to international acclaim.

With the exception of Guy Maddin, though, the city is less well known for filmmaking. But that's not because there's nothing happening. A crop of local cinematists are finding their feet with unconventional works created in unexpected ways. Founded in 2013, the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival is critical platform for much of this work. The collectively run four-day program include animations, documentaries and narrative works, alongside exhibitions and performances.

"Oceano" by Renato Duque. (Winnipeg Underground Film Festival)

Alyssa Bornn was raised in the city and spent three years in Montreal before deciding to return. Part of the collective that runs WUFF, she was drawn back to Winnipeg's unique arts and culture partially because of the festival itself. "At the beginning I was going to everything alone, and by the end I felt like I had introduced myself to everyone," Bornn says of her first visit to WUFF. "The community was so open and inviting. I'd been thinking about moving back to Winnipeg, and after I got a taste of the festival I went back to Montreal, packed up and returned a month later."

Bornn works primarily with sculpture and photography. But after a few years on the WUFF team, she got inspired to explore moving images. Her first super 8 film "Meat Spa" — a humourously surreal short about beauty routines involving cold cuts — premiered at the festival in 2016.

"Prizzly" by Evin Collis. (Winnipeg Underground Film Festival)

Evin Collis is another Winnipeg-born artist who returned home after a stint abroad — in his case, several years in Toronto and Chicago. An interdisciplinary creator whose work includes painting, sculpture and animation, he'll make his WUFF debut this year with "Prizzly", an animated puppet short about a depressed hockey player who's haunted by mysterious polar-grizzly hybrid.

If you're here and you're interested in art in general, you're going to find a place to make it...And the fact that it's so cold in the winters really helps you hunker down and get it done!- Alyssa Bornn, Winnipeg Underground Film Festival

Along with extra time to create that comes with Winnipeg's lower cost of living, Collis appreciates the unique diversity of his hometown's art scene. "There's a lot of freedom in terms of what people are making and a really supportive community," he says. "It's the kind of place where if you have an idea, you can just act on it and make it happen, and other people are right there to help you out. We have a real DIY culture here, and that philosophy is advantageous for interesting, innovative work. There's also a level of support that extends across disciplines and people from outside the film world are happy to pitch in and help you with your projects."

"More Dangerous Than a Thousand Rioters" by Kelly Gallagher. (Winnipeg Underground Film Festival)

This cross-disciplinary approach is also reflected in the work itself. Pursuing the festival catalogue, you'll quickly discover numerous films that incorporate other mediums like painting, sculpture or dance, as well as a selection of trans-disciplinary projects that use the medium of film in installation or performance.

"If you're here and you're interested in art in general, you're going to find a place to make it," Bornn says. "There's no need for arbitrary limitations on medium. It's great to be able to create work that involves different facets and people from different communities. That kind of cross-pollination is a huge benefit to living here. And the fact that it's so cold in the winters really helps you hunker down and get it done!"

Winnipeg Underground Fim Festival. June 1-4. Various locations. Winnipeg.


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