Saturday 20 September 2014
Victoria Works S3
What a cool venue this is! Used for circus skills training and practice and occasional arts/circus-related events, it’s an old Methodist meeting house with a calm and dignified vibe.
It was the perfect setting for our film programme examining cities, space and a sense of place. We started with some old Super 8 footage shot in Sheffield by Mel’s dad in the sixties. Then a Yorkshire Film Archive short New Towns For Old from 1942. Filmed in Sheffield, it was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to boost morale, and scripted by poet Dylan Thomas.
The feature was like an 80-minute dream. An examination of Winnipeg, Manitoba by a native. Its mix of fact and fantasy made it hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t, but it didn’t really matter. Jordan’s film notes below outline the way My Winnipeg explores how place is intertwined with memory.
Jordan’s film notes
“It’s no Eden that you would see
yet it’s home sweet home to me”
In an attempt to remember, to forget, and to escape, Guy Maddin chose to film his way out of snowy Winnipeg.
Nature renews life every year, but cities can never repeat. Only the physical traces of a city’s past, and our memories, remain. So we dreamwalk to recapture the past. Old department stores are raised from the dead, lights turned back on, and events that never happened we swear to be the truth. It’s imperative, now that cities are so important to us, that the course of a city’s future path is planned with care, and its past meanings and memories aren’t erased for good. My Winnipeg can be seen as a (fantastical) essay on this very subject. Who holds the power and who has the final say on the legacy and meanings of the place we call our home?
Guy Maddin (b. 1956) first studied economics, then held several jobs (including house painter) before film classes and a preoccupation with ‘20s silent cinema led to his first short films and future career. Still an underground favourite even today, his ninth feature film My Winnipeg helped introduce him to a wider audience and is arguably his most popular. Not quite a documentary, not fully fiction, it manages to find its own niche. Well-known American film critic Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away recently, placed My Winnipeg in his top 10 films of the decade for the 2000s. When Roger wrote a letter of admiration to Guy in 2008 he ended by recalling his own hometown of Urbana, Illinois:
“The Flatiron Building in downtown Urbana was, I believed, the most immense such Flatiron in the world, until the cold winter night it burned to the ground, and I clung to my father’s hand in the snow and watched it burn, the first fire of my life, and saw for the first time tears in my father’s eyes. I asked him why he was sad. He told me, ‘That’s where the Elks Club is. Where I spent some of the happiest days of my life’.”
My Winnipeg demonstrates how difficult it is to let go of the past, when it can be so intimately connected with a place, and reminds us that it’s best if we remember. Even if the banal might become brilliant in the retelling…