Winnipeg Eats Its Young: Matthew Rankin

In 2010, Winnipeg became “Canada’s Cultural Capital.” Much has been said about the strength of our local art scene. However, many in the community note that a number of the most talented Winnipeg artists have fled the city due to a lack of options and support. To highlight this, I’m contacting as many ex-pat Winnipeg artists as possible, to discover their reasons for leaving. First up on the block is Matthew Rankin, a vocally patriotic Winnipegger whose films have found acclaim worldwide. His film Cattle Call, co-directed with Mike Maryniuk, played at Sundance and won the award for best experimental short at SXSW — Guy Maddin won the same award this year. He also co-founded the now-disbanded film and video collective l’Atelier-National du Manitoba, which produced the brilliant video-collage Death By Popcorn: the Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets. He now resides in Montreal and I contacted him while working on a project in Paris, France. His latest film Negativipeg, recently debuted at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Ryan Simmons: Why did you leave Winnipeg?

Matthew Rankin: I did leave Winnipeg in 2008 to take a job as a creative producer for TV in Montréal. I left Winnipeg purely out of starvation and that made me sad. I would actually prefer to live in Winnipeg. The problem is that, despite what the various “agencies” would like you to believe, Winnipeg does not have an actual “film industry.” We have put all of our resources and energy into making Winnipeg an excellent service provider for off-shore creatives — and that’s great if you’re a gaffer or a production manager or a set decorator. But if you’re a creative, there are very few interesting opportunities for you to make a living. There’s just not enough work for everybody. Hopefully that will change because Winnipeg is full of creative people. The new MTS television initiative is a great step in the right direction, for example, and a lot of great, creative stuff is already coming out of that. I think that when you’re an artist, you have to try to make a living by using your artistic skills. Being an “art bureaucrat” is just not an option for me. Many of my friends feed themselves by doing arts administration jobs, and they are truly heroic for doing so because the community really needs that support. But for myself I’d rather shovel sawdust.

RS: Winnipeg is celebrated as a city that fosters its artistic community. If that’s true, why did you leave?

MR: I think that is true. In many respects, what forced me out of Winnipeg is also the reason I love it. Because it has no real film industry, filmmakers have an unusual degree of freedom when it comes to making your own, personal films. As long as you’re willing to live in the gutter, you can do whatever you want. I loved living and working in the “Winnipeg art gutter.” All the great masterworks of Winnipeg art have emerged from that grim, sub-earthly, sub-human trench. It is my very favorite place to make my films and my plan is to return there for more famine. I consider my exile in Montréal to be only something of a refueling stop.

RS: In your experience, how do artists, curators etc. view Winnipeg in other cities and countries?

MR: In the world I can only really speak for film festivals, where it is typically seen through the prism of Guy Maddin. In Canada, it is typically seen as a city full of weirdos and an inappropriate place for an ambitious person to live. Though I find that any real artists, real creators, who find themselves caught in the paralyzing death-march of Toronto and Vancouver, look upon Winnipeg and its creative output with longing envy.

RS: This year Winnipeg has been named the country’s Cultural Capital. What’s your opinion on this?

MR: Yes! I’m not sure who decided that, but think it is the best news! I really believe that Winnipeg is the only Anglo-Canadian city with any cultural singularity. I do not say this out of prejudice, but Vancouver and Toronto are bland, de-nutted monuments to mediocrity. To me, they are two of the most uninspiring cities on earth and it shows in the culturally neutered art they produce. Could we speak of a “Vancouver cinema” or a “Toronto cinema” the way we speak of “Winnipeg cinema” or “Québec cinema”? No way!

– Ryan Simmons for The Manitoban

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~ by cineflyer on October 9, 2010.

One Response to “Winnipeg Eats Its Young: Matthew Rankin”

  1. What a honest, candid interview.

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