Directed by Guy Madden
Written by George Toles and Guy Madden
Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg. Where sleepwalkers roam the snow laden streets. Where gender seperation exists in public swimming holes. Where the Winnipeg Jets arena is a shrine to everything that matters. It will be difficult to forget the Winnipeg Guy Madden has envisioned in this documentary for his hometown.
Originally concieved as a simple documentary about his hometown of Winnipeg, My Winnipeg subverts the traditional form of documentaries. Inspired by his producer to create something that would go outside the limits typically imposed on city stories, Maddin uses this opportunity to create a new genre he called “docu-fantasia”. The story is about “Guy Maddin” (played here by Darcy Fehr) and his attempt to film his way out of Winnipeg. Traveling by train he believes the only way to get out of the frozen wasteland would be to revisit the events of the past.
My Winnipeg uses this unconvential framework to tell a very convential story of the city. Maddin describes the Winnipeg in the simplest way he can noting the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rives as a Y-like junction of a woman’s groin. He continues to say that these secret rives at “the Heart of the Heart” of Canada itself. Another reason that Winnipeggers ever leave Winnipeg is that their sleepiness makes it impossible. They hold keys to their old houses and are allowed to sleep in their old homes by the new owners. The film also mentions giant historical events such as the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and famous landmarks such as the Paddle Wheel restaurant and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Not only does he discuss Winnipeg’s history, but he also takes the opportunity to talk a bit about his life. He cast famed 1940s actress, Ann Savage, to play his mother in a series of recreations of his childhood. Most of these center on how massive a figure his mother was in his life. Mother seemed to know everything that was going on with her children. In one of the most bizarre vignettes, his mother is questioning his sister about some blood on the automobile. His sister states that she has hit an animal, but mother with her all seeing eye, knows there has been something more mischievous going on with her daughter.
What exactly makes My Winnipeg so unconventional? How about the fact that it often times feels like a propaganda video straight from 1984. Scenes are constantly interrupted by words flashing on the screen to subconsciously drill their way into the brain. When most of the facts relayed to the audience is a product of fever dreams from the lead actor, there’s an unmistakable sense of originality. Exactly how much of My Winnipeg is fact and how much of it is a product of Guy Maddin’s mind can be argued forever.
While My Winnipeg subverts expectations and convention, it is still at its heart a documentary about Winnipeg. Frozen horses and idealistic visions for destroyed hockey stadiums aside, the tedium of talking about Winnipeg for so long starts to leak through the seams. Maddin has done his best to create an original format for which to tell this story, but it never is able to escape the subject matter. My Winnipeg is a unique look into one of Canada’s cities, but like the protagonist, it is very difficult to escape the conventions of the past.