Winnipeg Film Group Members at TIFF

From Uptown Magazine September 9, 2010

Making quite the showing
Three Winnipeg Film Group members boldly go east to share their work at the Toronto International Film Festival

Winnipeg Film Group members Cam Woykin, Matthew Rankin and Caroline Monnet are premiering their latest short films at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival’s 35th Anniversary, which kicks off today. All three films will be screened as part of the Short Cuts Canada program.

“I hope to not heap shame upon the WFG,” Rankin says. “It’s a sacred institution for me.”

He likely has little to worry about. Rankin’s shorts Où est Maurice? (co-director, 2006) and Cattle Call (co-director, 2008) both played at the festival, with the latter also being an official Sundance selection. Rankin is also an alumnus of TIFF’s 2007 Talent Lab.

In his latest short, Negativipeg, also his first documentary, Rankin recounts the so-called 7-Eleven Incident of 1985, in which The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings was struck in the head with a beer bottle in Winnipeg’s North End.

And it’s told from the point of view of Cummings’s assailant.

“Everyone seemed to know some version of the story,” Rankin says. “I went to the Manitoba Archives and tracked the beer bottle back to one Rory Lepine.”

Finding Lepine wasn’t easy. Rankin was stumped until he tracked his quarry to a Sargent Avenue pawnshop. From there, he cajoled Lepine into participating.

“Rory is a complex person and a great storyteller,” Rankin says. “He’s also got a real belligerent streak. But I really like him. You can’t make a movie about somebody otherwise.

“My hope is this film can have some sort of redemptive effect for everyone, and maybe reconcile Winnipeg’s contradictions a little.”

Woykin’s entry, Open Window, is a stark contrast to Rankin’s affectionate piece of Winnipegana. It’s an affecting drama, told in a single take, about a child’s birthday party that’s brimming with tension. Daddy’s hitting Mommy, you see.

“The best way for people to sense tension is to be a part of the moment,” explains Woykin, who has directed several shorts and music videos, and is completing his MFA in film production at York University.

“By using one long tracking shot, the audience is permitted to stay with the action throughout the film and observe things as they unfold — as we do in life.”

Completing the trio is Caroline Monnet’s black-and-white Warchild, which concerns a young man’s reflections on a troubled past and (possibly) more optimistic future. Monnet, who grew up in Quebec and France, premiered her experimental short IKWÉ at TIFF in 2009.

How do the filmmakers feel about their acceptance into the festival? “There isn’t generally much of an audience for short films, but TIFF always gets big, responsive crowds,” Rankin says. “It really is a great place to show your movie and I’m definitely glad to show Negativipeg there.”

And what, if anything, does all this say about the WFG?

“It either means it’s nurturing good filmmakers, or good filmmakers are attracted to (it),” Woykin says. “Either way, it says something positive.”

– Kenton Smith

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From Toronto Star September 1, 2010

Burton Cummings attacked! And other inspired TIFF shorts

When it comes to finding the stuff of raw human drama, it’s hard to beat the story of a late-night altercation at a Winnipeg 7-Eleven that involves Burton Cummings being assaulted with a beer bottle.

It seems unfair to viewers to make them wait 25 years for this real-life incident to become the basis for a movie. Thankfully, this oversight has now been rectified by Negativipeg, one of the 40 films that comprise Short Cuts Canada, TIFF’s program of new works by Canadian filmmakers who combine artistry with brevity.

Again, the selection runs the gamut from animated shorts and comedic vignettes to pocket-sized dramas and documentaries. Directed by Matthew Rankin, the aforementioned Negativipeg is one of the best of the lot. Rankin’s short combines interviews with assorted Winnipeggers — including the man who threw the bottle and served jail time for doing so — with a dramatic recreation of the event that marked a new low in the Guess Who singer’s often acrimonious relationship with his hometown. The result plays out like an absurd yet cunning parody of an Errol Morris documentary.

Several other mini-docs at Short Cuts Canada play fast and loose with familiar conventions. In the darkly comedic The High Level Bridge, director Trevor Anderson examines how an Edmonton landmark became a favourite departure point for suicidal locals. One of two new NFB animated shorts to be featured in the program, Lipsett Diaries is an impressionistic tribute to the late Canadian animator and filmmaker Arthur Lipsett — Theodore Ushev’s enigmatic short uses beautifully smudgy images and narration by Montreal actor-director Xavier Dolan to convey Lipsett’s turbulent personal history.

The NFB’s other fine short at TIFF is The Trenches by Quebec animator Claude Cloutier. Rendered in a similar style to Cloutier’s 2007 prize-winner Sleeping Betty, the film uses thousands of vivid illustrations in India ink to convey the horrors of trench warfare.

Just as visually distinctive are two more shorts. An animated film by Quebec’s Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, Le Projet Sapporo pays homage to Japanese calligrapher Gazanbou Higuchi by integrating the master’s brushstrokes. A BravoFACT short by Macleans movie critic and sometime filmmaker Brian D. Johnson, Yesno is a lively adaptation of recent verse by poet Dennis Lee; Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje recite Lee’s words over a busy montage that includes clips from The African Queen, surreal animal imagery and the fast hands of magician David Ben.

Among the more straightforward live-action shorts are efforts by some remarkably well-pedigreed young directors. One of the most exciting local filmmakers yet to make a feature, Kazik Radwanski makes his third appearance in Short Cuts Canada in as many years with Green Crayons, a verité-style drama about the repercussions of a classroom spit-fight between two boys. The maker of six previous shorts including last year’s excellent Naissances, Montreal’s Anne Émond returns with Sophie Lavoie, a spare but effective one-shot film depicting a doctor’s personally intrusive interview with a young female patient.

An actress familiar from her roles in such Toronto indies as The Five Senses and Monkey Warfare, Nadia Litz shifts behind the camera for How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You. Litz’s directorial debut stars Sarah Allen and Joe Cobden as lovers who smooth over the bumps in their relationship in an increasingly surreal and gruesome manner.

Similarly strange is The Camera and Christopher Merk, the second short by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon. Viewers eager to draw a connection between the two directors’ sensibilities might see this satirical story about an apartment building with a very voyeuristic set of inhabitants as a less horrific variant on the elder Cronenberg’s early shocker Shivers.

Though Short Cuts Canada includes many strong new dramatic works — including Cam Woykin’s gripping Open Window, in which a couple’s history of domestic abuse adds an air of tension to their son’s birthday party, and Sophie Goyette’s vivid Manèges, about a young woman who kills time at an arcade in order to distract herself from a major decision — other selections indicate that the country’s newest film talents often prefer to keep it weird. A slice of Spike Jonze-like absurdism by the B.C. team of Liz Van Allen Cairns and Joe LoBianco, Sad Bear is about a man who refuses the services of the title character, an enormous creature that collects and carts off people’s saddest mementoes. The cadaverous features of the great Toronto character actor Julian Richings are put to good use in Animal Control, a black comedy about a taxidermist by local filmmaker Kire Paputts.

Nuttiest of all may be a short that actually screens outside of Short Cuts Canada’s six separate programs. Presented on the opening night of Midnight Madness ahead of the world premiere of FUBAR 2, The Legend of Beaver Dam is the enjoyably deranged handiwork of Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion, the Montreal duo who become fringe-fest faves for their Bible-busting stage show Job: The Hip-Hop Musical.

In their debut short, a camping trip — led by a hilariously acerbic counselor played by Sean Cullen — takes a horrific turn with the appearance of a legendary killer named Stumpy Sam. It’s up to the troop’s dorkiest member to save the day using his skills as both a fighter and a singer. If George A. Romero and Meat Loaf made a musical horror comedy in Algonquin Park, it would probably look and sound a lot like this. Consider it a future cult classic.

– Jason Anderson

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From Winnipeg Free Press September 10, 2010

It must be TIFF

In its 35th year, the Toronto International Film Festival resumed its tradition of officially opening last night with a Canadian film. In fact, one might call Score: A Hockey Musical an ostentatiously Canadian film, jamming our national sport with the musical-comedy genre in the hopes of nailing that movie-going demographic who loves both hockey and musicals.

Why, there must be dozens.

But while TIFF continues to attract a who’s who of international filmmakers and stars (this year including Clint Eastwood, Danny Boyle, Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Helen Mirren, and Bill Murray), it can also serve more subtle forms of Canadiana. In fact, the fest’s Manitoba-produced content alone covers turf that is as specific as Winnipeg’s North End and as global as the concept of “micro-nations.”

This year’s TIFF-Manitoba film slate includes:

Negativipeg
The title of Matthew Rankin’s 15-minute short film is what Burton Cummings termed Winnipeg after having a beer bottle broken over his head in a fracas in a North End 7-Eleven one late night in 1985.

As a member of the film collective l’Atelier-National du Manitoba, Rankin’s past collaborations with Atelier members Walter Forsberg and Mike Maryniuk included Death by Popcorn, a sardonic 2005 mock-documentary about the demise of the Winnipeg Jets, which featured a comically bogus interview with the fan who threw a box of popcorn on the ice in Game 6 of the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs, allegedly sealing the doom of the Jets’ momentum in their battle against the Edmonton Oilers.

In this film, Rankin has a legit interview with the similarly demonized Rory Lepine, the guy who threw that beer bottle at Cummings after the singer-songwriter intervened in Lepine’s late-night altercation with a 7-Eleven store clerk.

Where the irony was explicit in Death by Popcorn, it’s implicit in Negativipeg. Lepine is a volatile guy, quick to fight, who insists he had no idea the guy he clocked on the head was the city’s most successful recording star. (He subsequently served a four-month jail sentence.)

Like Cummings, he has some bad things to say about Winnipeg, and like Cummings, he left town. But both he and Cummings came back.

When the Cummings project was conceived, Rankin and Forsberg intended a satire along the lines of Death by Popcorn. But Rankin split off to do his own non-satiric take on the incident which examines both Cummings’s subsequent condemnation of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg media’s reaction to that renunciation (including Gordon Sinclair’s Bye-Bye Burton column in the Free Press) and Lepine’s reaction to his subsequent notoriety.

While Cummings might have come off as a comic figure seen boosting the Winnipeg Jets in Death By Popcorn, Rankin says he’s sympathetic to both Cummings and Lepine in Negativipeg.

“I think Burton reacted to the ‘7-Eleven Incident’ in exactly the same way that any Winnipegger would,” Rankin says. “In renouncing Winnipeg, he really just affirmed his belonging to it. Because that’s what Winnipeggers do!

“It is a city of contradictions and sometimes, when we are affronted by those contradictions, it difficult to love in a coherent way.”

“For Burton, this beer bottle seemed to contain the weight of all of Winnipeg’s negative energy, and all of us can understand that,” he says. “Sometimes, our city feels overly defined by its acts of nihilism. I think it has to be very complicated to be Burton Cummings in Winnipeg because he means so much to us. Unfairly, I think, we expect him to be a 24/7 goodwill ambassador to the rest of the planet.

“But those winters are hard on us all!”
Rankin’s film screens Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 9 p.m. at Bell LightBox 2 and Friday, Sept. 17, at 2:45 p.m. at Jackman Hall in
the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Hauntings
Even when Guy Maddin doesn’t have a film programmed at TIFF, he still remains something of a fixture following his triumphant TIFF showcases such as My Winnipeg and The Saddest Music in the World.
Hauntings is a series of short counterfeit “lost” films Maddin and a few collaborators shot concurrently with his upcoming feature Keyhole only a few weeks ago. A selection of the Hauntings films are being screened as installation art at TIFF’s new Bell Lightbox headquarters, which officially opens Sunday, Sept. 12.

“A film can summon before our eyes, like ghosts invoked from the beyond, performances from the past, performances by actors no longer with us, in settings changed forever,” Maddin writes in his official statement on the films. “Out of concern that the sensational TIFF Bell Lightbox might be too spanking new for the sad ectoplasms that really should be a movie venue’s luminous principal denizens, I have offered to haunt the joint.”

“Noah Cowan, the guy in charge of the new building project, commissioned these things,” Maddin says. “He’s installing a great show involving the consecration of what TIFF honchos consider the ‘Essential 100,’ their filmic canon. My Hauntings are designed to show in the unconsecrated ground in the gallery beside these essentials.”

Maddin says he’ll be at the “official cocktail party bottle-smashing launch” but says he doubts “anyone will even be able to see the projections at this opening.

“The light will be splashed all over visitors instead of screens, but this is typical of all openings – more about the people than anything else, and that’s fine with me.”

How to Start Your Own Country
This documentary on “micro-nations” is the only Manitoba-produced feature film at TIFF by virtue of the fact it was produced by local production company Buffalo Gal Pictures in association with Toronto-based director-producer Jody Shapiro.
One of Guy Maddin’s frequent collaborators as a producer and cinematographer, Shapiro, has nurtured this project since before working on My Winnipeg.

Country was commissioned by the Documentary Channel (which likewise commissioned My Winnipeg), which has now transmogrified into the CBC’s Documentary cable station. Shapiro was diverted from the project to work on My Dad is 100 Years Old and My Winnipeg.

“After My Winnipeg, I told Guy and Isabella I have to stop working with you for a little bit because I need to make my film.”

“It’s definitely got some interesting characters but stylistically, it couldn’t be farther from a Guy Maddin film,” Shapiro says of the movie, which examines how a group of special individuals simply declared their own countries, for reasons that range from the ideological to purely practical.

“I’d never heard of people who wanted to start their own countries,” Shapiro says. “When I asked around, nobody had heard of it but when I researched around, there are a lot of people doing it … everything from a kid in his parents’ basement working on a computer, saying that he’s declared the basement his own land and he’s the king … to Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Principality who has 75 square kilometers of land and claims that he has legally seceded from Australia.”
Screenings are Saturday, Sept. 11, 5:15 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 12 at 2:45 p.m. and Wdnesday, Sept. 15, at 2:30 p.m., AMC theatres.

Warchild
Filmmaker Caroline Monnet goes two for two with this experimental short about a young man on a journey and reflecting on his life between a backdrop of wilderness and desolate cityscapes. Monnet debuted her first short film IKWÉ, at the festival in 2009.
Warchild screens with a selection of other shorts on Sunday Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m and Monday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. at Jackman Hall in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Open Window
Cam Woykin is originally from Calgary and is currently working on a degree in film production at York University in Toronto. But in the interim, he lived in Winnipeg. His dramatic short, distributed by the Winnipeg Film Group, depicts family tensions on the boil during a backyard birthday party, all documented in a single continuous shot.
Open Window screens Tuesday Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday September 15 at 4:30 p.m. at Jackman Hall in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

– Randall King

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~ by cineflyer on September 12, 2010.

One Response to “Winnipeg Film Group Members at TIFF”

  1. […] Cineflyer has a couple reports of Winnipeg Film Group members screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. […]

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