Arts & Life, Movies

Winnipeg’s thriving underground film scene

For about a year, a group of Winnipeg filmmakers have corralled fans of underground cinema into screening rooms, basements and art galleries for Open City Cinema, a screening series that focuses on local experimental works, as well as underground and forgotten gems (such as Neil Young’s absurd Human Highway). Made up of such filmmakers as Travis Cole, Scott Fitzpatrick and Aaron Zeghers to name a few, Open City’s latest event is a fundraiser for its Winnipeg Underground Film Festival in June.

“It’s an all curated festival,” Zeghers says of the fest. “No open call this year, we just wanted to try to do something manageable for our first year.”

Right now Zeghers has a lot on his plate, so keeping it simple makes sense. Known for his haunting yet playful celluloid experiments, he’s currently writing his first feature script inspired by growing up in rural Manitoba (told in a strange, Gummo-esque way, he assures). He’s also in the middle of an experimental documentary about his father’s last year of farming and putting the finishing touches on a documentary about Harlequin romance novels for MTS on Demand.

“We’re gonna go down to Kansas City for the largest romance novel convention in the world,” he says. “It’s gonna be pretty friggin’ bizarre.”

Before all of that, though, there’s the fundraiser on April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Winnipeg Film Group Studio (third floor) that will also act as the unveiling for Zeghers’ 20 minute found footage-meets-narrative propaganda film, Triumph of a City. Consisting of about 80 per cent found footage, it builds on the Winnipeg love of myth-making by asking “what if the Winnipeg general strike of 1919 was successful in some alternate universe?”

“Myths are something that have always interested Winnipeg artists but specifically filmmakers from Guy Maddin to Matthew Rankin, who are obviously influences on this film and me in general,” Zeghers says. “I feel the issues we’re dealing with in making our myths are issues a lot of cities are dealing with and I think they’re universal issues – isolation, hopelessness, struggling to make changes and having a hard time doing it. So I tried to use Warsaw as a euphemism for Winnipeg in the film. Good luck finding nice graphics from 1943 of Winnipeg, but there’s plenty of Warsaw, right?”

The mostly found footage film includes footage that Zeghers wrote and shot with a cast that includes Darcy Fehr, Darren Felbel and Ali Tataryn. The found footage dictated which shape the film took, and its original story shifted in the editing room.

“Because it was a very long process of making and editing this film the entire story really changed a lot throughout the process,” he says. “If I saw a clip that was amazing why not use it?

“You’re basically piecing together fragments of sentences from completely different films to say what you want to say, you have to create that world. I had certain rules, I didn’t want to just start recording the parts that I didn’t have, I wanted to actually find them.”

This film marks a shift stylistically for Zeghers and is propelling him into the aforementioned narrative-driven films that will still embrace his experimental first years as a filmmaker.

“It’s very different for me,” the filmmaker says. “The films I’ve made are typically pretty personal and they’re based in more traditional experimental forms. I’ve done optical printing and Super 8 photography and this is the first time I’ve made a really narrative film. It feels weird making something different than what people expect from you. It’s something I’ll try to focus on in the future.”

Check out the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival fundraiser on Tuesday, April 23 at the Winnipeg Film Group Studio, third floor of the Artspace building 100 Arthur Street. Five dollars is the suggested donation.

The program for the evening is as follows:

7:00 / doors
7:30 / Triumph of a City by Aaron Zeghers
8:00 / Local Music Videos

The Lytics (by Rhayne Vermette)
KEN Mode (by Ryan Simmons and Gwen Trutnau)
Saffron Myst (by Stéphane Oystryk)
Rob Crooks (by Ryan Simmons)
Vav Jungle (by Damien Ferland)

8:30 / Local Short Films

Damien Ferland’s Shiatsu Massage by Damien Ferland
Bome Gnomeski by Curtis Wiebe
Tenderloins by Ryan Simmons and Aaron Zeghers

Nicholas Friesen is a filmmaker and the Managing Editor of The Uniter. Follow him @Nicholastronaut