Exhibit looks at Winnipeg, other Canadian cities masquerading as international locations in film

The streets of Winnipeg’s Exchange District are on display as part of an exhibit exploring why Canadian cities stand in for other international destinations in so many films at this year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture. 

Imposter Cities, curated by Winnipeg expat, is part of this year's Venice Biennale

Imposter Cities is an exhibit at the Canadian pavillion of the Venice Biennale that looks at why so many films use Canadian locations to double for other international locales. In the image on the left, you can see the Exchange District in Winnipeg in the background of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. (Submitted by Imposter Cities )

The streets of Winnipeg's Exchange District are on display as part of an exhibit exploring why Canadian cities stand in for other international destinations in so many films at this year's Venice Biennale of Architecture. 

Though you may not be able to see it in person in Venice, Italy, this year, the exhibit is accessible online due to the pandemic. 

The exhibit, titled Imposter Cities, is on display at the Canadian pavilion of the prestigious international event, and was curated by a Winnipeg expat, McGill architecture professor David Theodore. 

Imposter Cities features 3,000 clips from films that have used Canadian cities as stand-ins for other cities, including some in Manitoba — such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Capote — that are projected onto huge screens. 

A behind the scenes shot of the Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, being filmed in Toronto. (Submitted by Imposter Cities )

Imposter Cities explores why Canadian cities are so good at "faking it" and what that says about Canada's cultural identity, according to the exhibit's website. 

"It's just about, how come our cities are so often used as other cities when they are on screen?" Theodore told Weekend Morning Show guest host Stephanie Cram. 

LISTEN: David Theodore on curating the Imposter Cities exhibit at the Venice Biennale of Architecture:

Hollywood has often used Winnipeg as a stand in for many American cities in film. Guest host Stephanie Cram heard from a local architect who curated the Canadian exhibit at this year's Venice Biennale of Architecture. The theme for that exhibit was Imposter Cities in Cinema, looking at how Canadian cities and landmarks take the place of American sites in film. 7:45

The clips are projected onto four screens that are each three metres high.

To pull the exhibit together, Theodore and his team members combed through hundreds of films to find clips where Canadian architecture is significantly featured in the film, but the story is set elsewhere. 

David Theodore is a professor of architecture at McGill University who is originally from Winnipeg. Theodore curated the Canadian pavillion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture this year. (Submitted by Imposter Cities )

Theodore said there are many examples where Canada substitutes for the American midwest, such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a Brad Pitt film released in 2007. 

"And that was filmed in the Exchange District. And it's a very beautiful scene of the Exchange District, it just happens to be playing the American West," he said. 

Watch a preview of the exhibit below: 

Imposter Cities also features interviews from various directors such as David Cronenberg and Winnipeg's own Guy Maddin, talking about how they transformed Canadian cities into international destinations. 

In a clip of his interview, Cronenberg says he'd rather think of cities as actors than imposters. 

Cronenberg describes how he once met with Italian actor and director Roberto Benigni when he came to Toronto, and how Benigni had been scared to come to Toronto because of Cronenberg's films. 

"He said, I was terrified to come to Toronto because I only knew Toronto through your movies and I thought it was going to be this dark, dangerous, scary city and it turned out to be the most lovely, warm, friendly, beautiful city," Cronenberg says in the clip. 

"And I took that as a compliment. So there you see in many of my movies I present Toronto as Toronto, but these are very dark disturbing stories and so the city takes on some of the tone of the story itself."

The Venice Biennale was originally founded as a visual arts exhibition in 1895. The event now features festivals in music, theatre, dance and architecture, some of which are held every year while others are every two years. The well-known Venice Film Festival is also a branch of the Venice Biennale. 

Adding to the experience, the exhibit's organizers draped the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Giardini, where the festival is held, with green screens and invite viewers to transform the building into different pieces of Canadian architecture using their cellphones and a QR code. 

The Imposter Cities exhibit has an interactive component, allowing viewers to project different Canadian architecture onto green screens draped over the Canadian pavillion at the Venice Biennale. (Submitted by Imposter Cities )

"So if you're standing there, you see this green wrapped building and if you look through your camera, you actually see buildings from Canada digitally inserted on the pavilion," Theodore said. 

You can purchase tickets to see the exhibit online on the La Biennale di Venezia website.

With files from Stephanie Cram


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