[EDITOR'S NOTE: Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg" is screening at the 7th Tribeca Film Festival, currently underway. IFC First Take will release the film in theaters beginning in June in the U.S.]
"I was going in the direction that all indie directors go," said filmmaker Guy Maddin, reflecting on his career. "It was fun to do a U-turn and go in the opposite direction. Ironically, if I go to Hollywood, I'd be happier going this way. I'll get there on my own strengths, if I get there at all." Maddin, talking to a moderator Dennis Lim in front of a crowd that gathered at the Apple Store SoHo Sunday night (co-hosted with indieWIRE), is referring to the primitive nature of his recent films, most particularly "My Winnipeg," which is making its U.S. debut at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.
"My Winnipeg," described by Maddin as a "docufantasia," is a portrait of Maddin's hometown. Following a character named Guy Maddin (though played by Darcy Fehr), the film reinvents Maddin's life, with actors hired to play his siblings and mother at the actual apartment he grew up in used as part of the setting. Partly based in reality, partly based in myth, the often hilarious (and surprisingly accessible) film is a unique exploration of self, family, and community through more of a poetic truth than anything else.
"What I tried to do with the film is present facts as facts, then I certainly expressed many opinions because the city's broken my heart so many times," Maddin said. "And then there are many legends about the city that are either held to be true or are popular stories many Winnipegers. It's a mixture of those things. And then it's sort of held together by a grout of feelings that are sort of turned into poetic facts. It's really important that the feelings be spot-on. I mean, whose really keeping track of Winnipeg's statistics."
Maddin believes the film serves to illustrate a point that both Winnipegers and Canadians are really "lousy self-mythologizers." "One of the reasons I was excited about making the movie was a chance to mythologize the city as well as 'every-town,'" he said. "There's just something about living in Canada, next to such a strong cultural force as America... Canadians have always insisted on identifying themselves as 'not American.' Usually that just means that we don't exaggerate when we tell our stories and so we present our historical figures in lifesize, which is a guaranteed way to assure that they'll be forgotten instantly."
One specific exaggeration was the role of his mother. Suggested within the film as being his actual mother (while the siblings are explained as hired actors), who is played in the film by Ann Savage, best known for her role in Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 film "Detour." Maddin regards Savages as his "spirtual mother," calling her "literally the most frightening femme fatale in film history." "Bette Davis was known to run from the theatre, crying and hiding behind a potted palm in the lobby after seeing her performance."
And while the film has hired actors and "American-style exaggeration," Maddin still regards it as a documentary, at least in a logistic sense. "I remember once telling myself I'd never make a documentary because I like a modestly budgeted independent film," he said. "The shooting ratio is like 8:1 or 12:1... But with documentaries the ratio is way higher. 100:1 is common. Since I had an outline written before this and I knew what I had to reenact, I was able to keep it closer to a fictional film ratio, but it was still like 18:1 or 19:1." Maddin also shot a lot of the film on HD. But Maddin realized some of the HD footage would feel better as film, so he projected it on to his fridge and reshot it with a film camera. "Just so it would have some film grain and the right flicker," he said.
This sort of attention to detail says a lot about Maddin's relationship with his films. "I only choose subjects I'm obsessed with to tackle as film subjects," he admits. "Every time, it's been the same result. That favorite thing becomes something I can't bare to think of anymore. It's sort of a form of aversion therapy rather than anything getting resolved. It's just buried in styrofoam peanut packing things. A kind of avalanche of dullness, eventually."
Audiences of "My Winnipeg" are likely to feel the opposite during Tribeca and when the film opens in limited release June 13th in the U.S. via IFC First Take.