Stories in our Skies Curated by Kevin Nikkel

Stories in our Skies:Canadian Aviation History Curated by Kevin Nikkel
Thursday, May 26, 2011 until Sunday, May 29, 2011
Winnipeg Cinematheque
* Special Full Series Pass: $50 / $35 members *

In 2006, it was announced that the Winnipeg International Airport would be renamed after James Armstrong Richardson, a modern canonization of a pioneer of the early days of flight on the prairies. To mark the occasion this year, a new terminal will be unveiled. What better time to look closer at the history of our skies. As events of the last decade remind us, pilots rise to mythical status as they face moments of crisis and are commemorated for achievements. It is not hard to celebrate with wonder these pilots of the past, regardless of their back-stories–or the discriminating circumstances that existed during their days of triumph. But even the heroes and stories we treasure are worth examining carefully.

What kind of aviation heroes do we make? What kind of heroes are they really? What untold stories are there of heroes of the air and those who remain on the ground? These heroes emerge from the clouds to face a crisis, to face an enemy, and then to face the media. The facts, the stories and the legends eventually become mixed in our memories as they fade into history. This program is a search for our iconic aviators and inventors, ground crews, and rescuers; the stories our skies would tell were they to speak.

Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Michael Curtiz’s Captains of the Clouds
Introduced by Aviation Historian Bill Zuk

From the director of Casablanca, James Cagney stars as an aggressive bush pilot who competes for business on the lakes of Northern Canada, and for the heart of the heroine played by Brenda Marshall. After muscling his way into the northern skies, Cagney and his competitors try and take their unconventional flying techniques to the RCAF to fight in World War II. The film is the first Hollywood feature film shot entirely in Canada.

Friday, May 26, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Paul Cowan’s The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss
with Heidi Phillips’ Skydive

Paul Cowan’s controversial film The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss revisits the famed World War I pilot Billy Bishop and speculates if he was as good as his reputation would suggest. The film tracks the rise of a brash kid from Owen Sound, Ontario to Canada’s most decorated flying ace of the War. Cowan’s use of ‘docu-drama’ and his questioning of the record of the iconic Bishop continues to ruffle feathers. Is this a case of a hero flying too high and too close to the sun, or a filmmaker taking too many liberties?

Saturday, May 27, 2011 at 2:00PM
Between the Home and the Front

Richard Gilbert’s Double Heritage
Sydney Newman’s Flight 6
Cranfield Cook’s Wings Parade
Jeffrey Riddell’s As Close as Brothers

Saturday, May 27, 2011 at 7:00PM
Strange Wings: Aviation Films From The NFB

Stephen Low’s The Defender
Bill Mason’s Blake
Brian Duchscherer’s The Balgonie Birdman

Sunday, May 28, 2011 at 2:00PM
Rivets and Wings

Jane Marsch’s Wings on Her Shoulder
Kelly Saxberg’s Rosies of the North

Sunday, May 28, 2011 at 7:00PM
Our Northern Skies

History In Our Skies (Archival Excerpts)
Norma Bailey & Bob Lower’s Bush Pilot: Reflections on a Canadian Myth
Myles & Riel Langlois’s Northlander


From Uptown Magazine May 26, 2011

Mining the skies for stories
Filmmaker Kevin Nikkel has curated a program of films that explores Canada’s aviation history

In a culture that he feels is far too ADD in nature, filmmaker and educator Kevin Nikkel has tried to tap our country’s rich heritage instead.

“History is the key idea,” says Nikkel of his upcoming curated program, Stories in Our Skies: Canadian Aviation History on Film, a four-day event unfolding May 26 to 29 at Cinematheque.

The slate will feature, among others, classic Hollywood fare such as the 1942 James Cagney vehicle Captain of the Clouds, various National Film Board productions and even archival footage from the 1930s.

“I’m particularly excited about taking that great footage from the Manitoba archives and showing it publically,” Nikkel enthuses.

This isn’t the first time Nikkel has built a program around little-seen historic film; he also curated the well-attended In the Shadow of the Company: Films of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 2010, after discovering amazing footage of the North in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives.

So well-received was the program that Cinematheque received letters of commendation — and just this month, Nikkel won a Manitoba Day Award from the Association for Manitoba Archives.

Immediately after that program, teacher and self-described history buff Nikkel started thinking about other potential themes. “I hoped to coordinate the fest with the opening of the new airport terminal in Winnipeg,” he says.

Unfortunately, delays in construction scuttled those intentions. Nikkel’s selected lineup commands attention nonetheless, boasting stories of such national icons as Billy Bishop — the Second World War flying ace long credited with shooting down dozens of German fighters.

Or did he? One featured film, the 1982 NFB-produced docudrama The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss, argues that Bishop’s story is more propaganda than fact.

Speaking on that topic tomorrow night will be Wayne Ralph, a former pilot-turned-journalist and Canadian aviation historian whose biography, William Barker VC: The Life, Death & Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero, was turned into documentaries on both the History Channel and the Documentary Channel.

“When I first saw the film, I thought its case had been overstated,” Ralph says. He did think director Paul Cowan was on the right track, however — and subsequent books on the subject, such as Brereton Greenhous’ 2002 The Making of Billy Bishop, have only reinforced that impression.

Ralph’s own background echoes the story of Captain of the Clouds, which depicts a small, bush airline not unlike the now-defunct Pacific Western, for which Ralph flew after completing his career with the Canadian military.

“We kind of ignore the life experiences of old people, some of whom may have lived a very adventurous life,” says Ralph, who’s interviewed countless Second World War veterans. “Stories of ordinary people are important to tell, I think.”

It’s a sentiment that dovetails nicely with both Nikkel’s own work — such as his 2007 documentary short A Short History of Four Mennonites in Ukraine — and his feelings about the present program.

“The Cinematheque can act as a kind of public classroom,” he says. And his mind is already soaring with ideas for future lessons.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on May 20, 2011.

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