Remembering Dave Barber, key figure in Winnipeg film scene

A man many would say was the heart of Winnipeg's film community has died. Dave Barber, filmmaker and key figure behind Cinematheque in the Exchange District, died on Monday.

Loss of Barber leaves 'giant, empty space' at centre of local film community, fellow filmmaker says

Winnipeg filmmaker and longtime senior programmer at Cinematheque died on Monday. (Courtesy of Winnipeg Film Group)

A man many would say was the heart of Winnipeg's film community has died.

Dave Barber, filmmaker and key figure behind Cinematheque in the Exchange District, died on Monday.

He was extremely ill in hospital receiving care at the time, according to a post by family on his Facebook account. Posts of support poured in on his page.

Through his involvement with the Winnipeg Film Group, Barber worked as senior programmer at Cinematheque since 1982.

He was so much more to local producers and filmmakers.

"It's a devastating loss for all of us," said Sean Garrity, a Winnipeg film director who worked closely with Barber for many years. "It leaves such a giant, empty space at really the very centre of Winnipeg's film community."

Barber helped build the city's film scene and every successful filmmaker from Winnipeg has him to thank, said Garrity. 

Barber was respected across the country and he had experience in all sides of filmmaking. He was involved in many short films and marketing campaigns, and he engaged with everyone from world leaders to high school students as equals, said Garrity.

"He made time for everybody and was happy to help filmmakers at every level," Garrity told Up to Speed guest host Marjorie Dowhos on Tuesday.

"A high school student would … say, 'I'm interested in making film, I put something together on my iPhone.' And Dave's response would be, 'Wow, let's have a look, what do you got?' And so many filmmakers in this community talk about that being the beginning for them." 

Garrity was always overjoyed by the fact that in Winnipeg you could see movies outside of the giant blockbusters that dominate the mainstream.

That interest in independent films led him to Cinematheque in 1997 to watch a locally produced film that Barber was helping to promote.

Meeting Barber and the filmmaker set off an epiphany for Garrity: being a filmmaker didn't necessarily mean he'd have to move, he could tell stories in Winnipeg and have an engaged local audience to take them in.

"The space that Dave created and the support that Dave gave was such a key piece of that."

Garrity says the one memory that stands out for him was during the production of his third feature film just over a decade ago.

He had been trying to get a Toronto distributor to pick it up and play it in theatres, when Barber offered to show it at Cinematheque. Barber assured him the success of the film didn't hinge on securing a Toronto producer. 

He connected Garrity to filmmakers and cinemas across Canada and encouraged him to distribute the film himself.

"Like so many times with Dave, it was this light bulb moment of like, 'What, I can do that?' And I have kind of been doing it ever since," said Garrity. "It's just one of the many things, these experiences you have with Dave, it's like he's shining a light on the path forward." 

Garrity thinks Barber's legacy is of someone who cared deeply about others and wanted to see them succeed.

"I don't think he really had a sense of how important he was to all of us," said Garrity.

"There's no way to replace Dave, but you know he left a model for us to try to emulate, so hopefully we do right by him."

With files from Marjorie Dowhos