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Art-house filmmaker is just a Guy from Winnipeg

Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

A self-confessed "part-time surrealist," Guy Maddin has made weird little art-house gems that include "Careful" (1992), about townsfolk creeping around on tiptoe, speaking in hushed tones for fear of an impending avalanche, and "The Saddest Music in the World" (2003), a Depression-era tale of a brewery heiress (Isabella Rossellini) and her melancholy song contest.

His latest, "My Winnipeg," is something else again. Maddin calls it a "docu-fantasia." Canada's now-defunct documentary channel asked the director if he would be interested in doing something about his hometown - the midsized, mid-Canadian city - and Maddin said yes.

"I was urged to make it a personal one, not a real travelogue," he explained on the phone from Toronto recently. "I had never had any interest in making documentaries, there's too much work involved - objectivity, scientific detachment, all that - but when I was told to make it personal, I knew I could conduct all my research within my own heart, and so away I went. I just started walking the dog and daydreaming, coming back with some notes, and before I knew it I had enough material for Winnipeg Alexanderplatz. ... I easily could have had 16 hours of stuff."

The version Maddin made for theaters, however, is a mere 80 minutes - 80 minutes of fact and fiction, of '40s B-movie starlet Ann Savage playing Maddin's mom, of haunting images of frozen horses trapped in ice, of homeless people sleeping on skyscraper roofs, of Nazis trooping through downtown, as if Hitler had won the war. It is, like most of Maddin's work, dreamlike and deliriously odd.

"I can never seem to entirely wake up, nor do I want to," Maddin says. "There's just so much truth in everything you dream because your dreams ... come from within you, exclusively, and so they're true expressions of something.

"You can never quite figure out exactly what, but if you sort through them you sometimes find echoes and themes that actually help you make a little bit of sense of what you were dreaming."

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