'Tales of the Winnipeg Film Group' Review
Dave Barber and Kevin Nikkel dive deep into the intertwining stories of the formation and continuation of Canada’s most respected film co-operative, the Winnipeg Film Group. The documentary covers behind the scenes footage of the filmmaking processes, comical interviews from members, and a closer look at the legendary filmmakers which were born within the experimental, rebellious group of artistic mavericks.
Tales From the Winnipeg Film Group is an informative and charming documentary, tracing its steps all the way back to the beginning of 1974 where the group was formed from like-minded individuals with a new eye for filmmaking. The documentary plunges into the work created by the group that is still celebrated in Canada today, to the rejection from the Toronto Film Festival which illuminated the cult status and celebration of the Winnipeg Film Group’s unorthodoxy. There is a particular focus on Guy Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, My Winnipeg) and John Paizs’ (The Obsession of Billy Botski, Crime Wave) cultural success. Maddin’s inspiration residing with films of the 1920s, and Paizs’ influence of Walt Disney, but with no markets seeking those new wave methodologies, they achieved cult status and success through the institution that welcomed them all.
Barber and Nikkel managed, not only, to cover a great deal of the history surrounding the organisation, but they also illuminated the personality of the group. The documentary manages to project a very collective ethos of the Winnipeg Film Group’s members, while equally resonating the individual spirits that keep the group alive today. The analogy of the Winnipeg Film Group being like a ladder helps to understand the dynamic of this filmmaking collective: there are those who want to climb to the top and push their work towards festivals, there are those who simply make films for themselves with no interest in marketing them further, and others who join to learn how to create their own films. It is the story of a family that has been brought together from their isolation from the arts world, with the heart and urgency to create by any means.
Unlike institutions that are driven by money, there is no concrete agreement on what films need to be, there is instead, the space for creators to grow as individuals and make their own art. Jeff Erbach (Soft Like Me, The Nature of Nicholas) is a prime example of someone following their own accord, with the desire to make transgressive films that were uncommon in the Canadian art-house world. While boards who threatened to abolish the movement were swiftly swept away, the unity in the group was stronger than ever, but funding was sparse. Despite meandering through peaks and pitfalls in simultaneous successions, Barber and Nikkel never shy away from stripping the Winnipeg Film Group down to the bone and showing the reality behind the mystery - a company that funded their own art, made their own materials and edited their own creations, without any supervision but their own. There would be no way to question the authenticity of the art produced by the Winnipeg Film Group - it was work crafted by auteurs, free-spirited bohemians and those with a deep love of film.
While there are the issues of the Winnipeg Film Group being predominantly a boys club, with minorities and women making up the less of the membership - there also seems to be a collective agreement within the group that there needs to be social evolution within the institution. A reminder that the group is open, particularly to outsiders like themselves. The Winnipeg Film Group, after all, is more than just a band of filmmakers. They are artists, and the voices of a place that was almost forgotten, but has instead become a cultural hub.
Tales of the Winnipeg Film Group is a must see documentary for those interested in the history of Canadian filmmaking, as well as the experimental corners of the film world as a whole. It is a documentary that invites us to understand more about the history of low budget film. It is a look inside the culture of filmmakers that want to revolutionise the way we watch film, and to understand the multi-layered avenues of the Winnipeg Film Group from 1974 to the present. The Winnipeg Film Group has done so much more than change the history of Canadian filmmaking, they have also preserved the history of Winnipeg; through their films, archives and spirit.
‘Steph’s Words on Cinema’ is a newsletter which focuses on reviewing independent, experimental and art-house films. It is free so please do subscribe and share. I also write for Take One Cinema, Eye For Film and my twitter handle is @stephpbrown_