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My Winnipeg
(Winnipeg mon amour)
Guy MADDIN

Theatrical release: October, the 21st, 2009

SCREENING OF THE MOVIE AT LA MAISON ROUGE FOR THE EXHIBITION "MY WINNIPEG". ART WORKS OF 70 ARTISTS FROM WINNIPEG AND AN INSTALLATION OF GUY MADDIN (HAUNTING) Winding its way though the birthplace of personal mythologies, attempting to understand the nature of memory. Equal parts mystical rumination and personal history, city chronicle and deranged post-Freudian proletarian fantasy, My Winnipeg blends local myth with childhood trauma. All narrated by Maddin’s usual entertaining and inspired energy.

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Interview with Guy Maddin

the following transcript is from Canada’s Top 10 presented by the Toronto
International Film Festival Group. For the full interview please visit
www.topten.ca

What was the genesis of the film?

The genesis was kind of strange. I remember swearing annually on a bible for the
last 20 years that I would never, never make a documentary – I had far too much
respect for the amount of discipline and the amount of research the
documentarian is required-to make something, open minded. All those things
that are an antithesis to everything I do because I have always made these
impassioned crazy romantic things that thrive on my own delirium and
obsessions. I would be the last person that anyone would hire to make a
documentary
But I made this docu fantasia “My father is a 100 years old” with Isabella Rossellini
in commemoration of her father, funded by the Documentary Channel in
Canada. This love letter was a documentary (according to the ever expanding
borders of its definition). And so I heard through the grapevine that the
commissioning editor Michael Burns was interested to see if I was interested in
making a full-length documentary.
I dismissed it for all the reasons that I have already given you and then the great
motivator – poverty - stepped in and nudged me so I asked my producer Jody
Shapiro to ask for Michael’s phone number.
He never did say whether the rumour was true or not, he just said ‘are you
interested?’ so I said yes and he asked ‘what do you wanna make?’ and I said I
don’t know, I prefer assignments I didn’t really have a burning obsession but he
suggested two things, trains and Winnipeg. He had only been to Winnipeg twice
in his life and had been enchanted both times. Once was to escort a 19th
century train back to Alberta for Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven, I guess when
he as a young PA or something…and the second to see the theatre where
Isabella and I shot ‘My Dad is 100 years old’– I guess he just got Isabella’s warm
moist Italian Scandinavian whisperings in his ear in the darkness of the theatre for
an hour and so he was pretty enchanted by that - so he said ‘ please enchant
me with your treatment of ‘My Winnipeg’.
I decided not to do trains. I just thought I would do Winnipeg as it was my
chance to mythologize Winnipeg, something I’ve been trying to do in my fiction
films and the commissioning producer just said don’t please give us the frozen
hellhole we know it is – so he basically hired me make a propagandistic
documentary of Winnipeg which excited me even more as it meant I didn’t
have to be objective, or disinterested or any of those other things. But I still had to
do all those things that a documentary maker has to do and discover my subject
in the editing process, I tried to cheat by scripting it but all that got thrown out of
the window.

Were there any challenges to shooting the film?

There are incredible challenges in making a film about a subject that you are too
close to. I have lived in Winnipeg my entire life. Once word got out that I was
making this film my friends and acquaintances and even total strangers started
coming up to me with interesting stories and I started filling a notebook with
anecdotes and factoids. But I also wanted to keep it quite simple, make it 75
minutes and not outstay my welcome. I wanted to make a film about what
Winnipeg has meant to me but then I realised that I probably had enough stuff
that interested me to make a Winnipeg Alexanderplatz length sort of thing and I
really needed to boil it down, as I knew there would be some Winnipegers who
could sit through 16 hours study of Winnipeg and all its powerful myths and
minutiae but I really wanted it to be pretty tight – having something that felt like
where everything belonged was really hard. Luckily Jody Shapiro, my producer
who shot it has documentary filmmaking experience and my editor is really
smart. We would get together and have these different strategies; but it was
tough as I didn’t know what I was doing.

How did the film develop?

I started scripting it hoping I could make it like a fiction film and keep it pretty
tight and the editing process small. My editor had just finished a documentary
too and had sworn off them. He didn’t feel like committing a year of cutting ever
again so I did script stuff; but then stuff never quite turns out the way you want it
to and for some reason I included stuff from my own childhood, and reenactments
from my own family, sometimes innocuous and sometimes
memorable episodes. I felt compelled to script these for some reason; I guess I
felt if I was doing a portrait of my home town it had to be MY Winnipeg, an
objective study of Winnipeg wouldn’t be that enchanting.
So it had always enchanted me and then its not really a city at that point; its your
home so I realised I had to do my literal home, my house, my childhood home,
and the city and home and house and family by extension all became
intertangled in one big thought & feeling about the place and so I was
instinctively starting to write stories about my bedroom, aunt and grandmother. I
realised I was running the risk of making it incredibly narcissistic so I thought if I
made myself my usual impassioned and unreliable narrator, a kind of
Dostoevskian just living in Winnipeg the thing would stand a chance as being
interesting as a piece of pathology if nothing else.

Casting

The question of casting. A friend of mine, Dennis, had written me to tell me he
has just gotten married and asked me what I was up to. So I told him about the
commission and started talking about it and said if only Ann Savage, my
favourite, femme fatale from the 1945 Edgar Ulmer movie Detour– if only she
were alive to play my mother. Her character Vera is the fiercest femme fatale in
movie history; Bette Davies was known to run and hide, trembling after seeing
the move. I was kind of joking. And Dennis said ‘she is alive, she was just at my
wedding - I have her phone number why don’t you give her a call and asked her
to be in your movie.’ I looked her up on IMDB and saw that she had retired in
1955 after doing a little playhouse theatre thing on TV with Cesar Romero and
hadn’t really done anything since
I asked Dennis to call her and butter her up. Then he gave me they numbers of a
few other people that had been close friends including her manager. So I
worked up the courage to give this fearsome woman a call and she was spitting
tacks when I finally got through to her. She still speaks like a 1940’s film noir dame.
I said to her ‘I understand you might be a little nervous about coming in front of
the cameras again’ and she said ‘that doesn’t cut any ice with me. I’ve never
been away from the movies. I go to the movies every day, I’m in those movies’
She is a fierce woman – she does occupy a fierce space wherever she goes. She
is lovely, we became friends and she has all these anecdotes from Hollywood’s
past; she showed me her gun collection under her bed. It was so much fun
hanging out of her. She plays my mother in the film and most people assume she
is my mother.

Could you talk about the visual design of the film?

It took a while to evolve. We shot a number of re-enactments, a lot of them using
rear screen projection mixing live actors, archival footage sandwiching, editing
those, not hoping to fool anyone but boldly shuffling re-enactments, archive, still
photos and animation. Basically throwing the kitchen sink at them, I guess. It is
the perfect pitch for Winnipeg, which has always been a rags and bones kind
city. Lots of old country people, or their ghosts still wondering round peddling off
their rag carts – the junk man and his horse drawn cart going down back lanes.
One second he’s there, one second he’s gone – never too sure what going on
and the city is really a blizzard of tattered narrative fragments blowing around
from past, present and possibly the future.
A year after shooting I was in a hotel room in LA and I was watching TCM and
there was an old Sherlock Holmes movie on and it was set entirely on a train and
as I was watching it I realised Winnipeg is so much about trains and the
commissioning editor had assigned trains of Winnipeg as one of my subjects. I
decided the movie needed to cohere more and should all be linked together
her by one big long train ride through town, while I’m on my way out of it for
ever.
I just thought trains were pretty dreamy – the dream train – make it a night train
out of town and that it would l also give me a sound-scape/ excuse/strategy –
just fill everything with trains coupling, divorcing, re-coupling, re-divorcing and
those would be the sounds that would set the tenor of my own emotional life, my
producer Jody wasn’t thrilled that I suddenly decided a year after wrapping and
having a grim little wrap party that I wanted to build another set and load up
cameras and hire actors and go back and direct for a few days but I’m really
glad we did it and then I started sneaking in some more pick up shots too.

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