We are delighted to be partnering with Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) and working with the Silver Screen Critics as they enjoy this year’s programme. In this article, the critics give their thoughts on Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg.

Claire Cotter:

In Winnipeg, it’s “always winter, always sleepy” according to the deadpan narrator, as a ghostly train puffs through bleak, wintery streets. The stupefied passengers are sleep-chugging their way out of the lap of the city. Unsuccessfully it seems, for the narrator has tried to leave before. This time he will make his way out,  as he travels through the town and everything he’s ever seen and loved… and forgotten. So begins My Winnipeg, a surreal and often hilarious homage to his hometown by filmmaker, Guy Maddin. Vignettes of family life, shaky archive footage of historical – or possibly made up – events, bits of autobiographical truth and some downright daft local happenings are woven into a narrative Maddin calls docu-fantasia.

Shot mainly in blurry monochrome, with a nod to silent movies, things are rarely what they seem. His formidable mother (played by a terrific Ann Savage) is an ominous presence, not only does she see everything, she sees through everything. The endless looping back on the train ride is due in large part to her magnetic force, a force as strong as all the trains in Manitoba, we are told. The landmarks of Maddin’s childhood flash past the train window. Some are more lingeringly and lovingly remembered. “My male parent, everything male in my childhood I picked up here” he says, watching a wrecking ball move towards the old ice hockey stadium. This implies an emotional justice of the old greats in the sport coming back nightly to play in the half demolished building.

One of the funniest scenes is when the narrator, his onscreen mother and a group of actors playing his sister and two brothers stay back the old family home for a few weeks. Surrounded by the original furnishings, the family sit down to watch Ledge Man, the only TV drama ever produced in Winnipeg.  The show features a woman who must talk her son down from a high ledge after he takes umbrage at something said. She succeeds, but the following day the man is back out on the ledge and must be coaxed down again by his passive aggressive mother. The show has run daily for fifty years.

Every town has had its bizarre occurances and there are so many included here, those Flann O’Brien moments. As the film progresses, it matters less and less if events happened as portrayed. Everything comes back to Mother, and the narrator can not escape. If you like David Lynch, maybe early Woody Allen, you’ll enjoy the works of Guy Maddin.

Mutale Kampuni:

This movie is as compelling as it is unusual, taking the viewer on a journey of fantasy, confusion and wonderment. At the start, one is unsure whether it’s based on fact, memory, dream or fiction as the narrator embarks on a documentary style of storytelling. The main character, Guy Maddin, is on a quest to delve into his past and relive experiences which shaped his life and the lives of his compatriots in the bleak landscape of his hometown. He introduces us to the history and founding of the town, stressing the significance of cultural elements; it’s location at the junction of two rivers (the forks) a reference to revered and sacred beliefs handed down by the original inhabitants of the land.

Feelings of nostalgia are evoked every now and again through fond depictions of home life and what constituted the family’s living arrangements and interpersonal relationships, with his mother as their staunch matriarch. There are warm memories of the mother’s beauty salon, and the hub (or focal point) that it was for the community. A sense of sadness is projected in the reporting of department store, which was demolished to pave the way for an unfitting structure.

The portrayal of Winnipeg as a sleepy town with the highest number of sleep-walkers in the world can be seen as one of the more humorous aspects in the film. Similarly, the carrying of keys by the said sleep-walkers borders on the ludicrous. Sleepiness is given as a reason why no one ever leaves even when afforded the chance to do so via a free train ticket. There are tales of scandal and corruption, so much packed into the story that one is almost running to keep up the pace. The cinematography is unusual and striking, though in no way easy on the eye. Images of past events are conjured up so vividly, intertwined with imaginary depictions from the sleep-walkers’ ever evolving dreams, projecting some level of anxiety on the watcher. Bizarre occurrences (such as the drowning of the horses in icy waters, with their frozen remains serving as some sort of monument for people to gaze upon while on their merry day to day activities) are explained away as though common place.

One is left with questions of whether there can be any semblance of ‘normality’ in the lives of the chaotic Winnipeg inhabitants. It also gives an insight into how the desire to escape such a place would be quite overpowering. The concept of Guy re-enacting his life on his parents’ 65th wedding by renting his old home and getting actors to play family members appears to be some sort of self-exorcism. Scenes and discussion of seances, mediums and masons would also point in this direction.

Overall the basis of the move, of Guy filming himself out of Winnipeg is quite a novel and innovative idea, which makes this a film worth seeing. It may be tempting to watch the movie more than once to fully appreciate the many themes and interlocking nuances which bombard the senses. Or then again, one viewing might be enough and an assault on the senses not everyone’s cup of tea.

Carmel Rooney:

My Winnipeg is a 2007 Canadian film directed and written by Guy Maddin with dialogue by George Toles, A docu-drama, shot in black and white, this loosely mirrors the rapid image style of Hollywood silent movies and is narrated by Maddin himself. The film is based around a fictional plot whereby Maddin attempts to escape his hometown, sleepy snowy, Winnipeg. He uses actors to play his siblings and mother and recreates pivotal moments from his childhood.  Initially it appears that the film is a portrait of his childhood and the influence of his fastidious mother, however, it becomes clear that the real protagonist is Winnipeg. The film follows a young Guy Maddin, (played by Darcy Fehr), sleeping on a train, cutting through the snow blanketed landscape.

By combining archival footage and interviews, recreated scenes, historical facts, myths, local rumours, fiction and creative camera work, Maddin presents an intimate and personal portrait of ‘his’ Winnipeg. The film hurtles along in an entertaining rush of words and images, investigating the psychological pull of one’s birth place. An individual is shaped by family, home surrounding’s and immediate community, a city by history and  geographical location – not to mention the weather, which explains the significance of the snow in My Winnipeg. We may leave our home town but we never escape it.

Maria McCormack:

Guy Maddin is a Canadian screenwriter, director and author. He completed his first film in 1985 and is now one of Canada’s most well known film makers. My Winnipeg was written and directed by Guy.

This film is a surrealist documentary take on Winnipeg, Guy’s home town. All the scenes are in black and white with some archival footage. He narrates throughout the film with quite a haunting voice, it draws you in. If you don’t like the unconventional, this is not the film for you. It is challenging and thought provoking. It’s intimate, entertaining, historic and nostalgic. This film is difficult to really pin it down and can be confusing at times. Don’t expect a straightforward story.

There are lots of strange happenings in this narrative. He shows a clip about his mother who acted in a series called Ledge Man which was aired every day on television. The son in the series is a sensitive type and every day he finds something to get upset about. He goes out on the ledge of the window cill several floors up and threatens to jump. Every day his mum pops her head out the window and convinces him to come back in, which he does every time. The series lasted for 50 years. Do you laugh or cry at that? I don’t know.

His mother had a hairdressers-cum-beauty salon when he was young, where he spent a lot of his time. It was a big part of his life as was ice hockey. In order to make sense of his childhood he decided to make a short film. He rents his old home for a month and persuades his mother to play herself in it with two actors playing his brother and sister. He recalls little scenarios that happened on a daily basis like straightening the hall runner. A pointless exercise as the runner never stayed straight for more than a few minutes. It was very important to his mother but frustrated the hell out of them. He notes that the sleepwalking rate in Winnipeg is ten times the rate of any other city. Winnipeg has a hold on him which he can never shake off: “What if I had left decades ago?” he muses.

There is so much to digest in this film that it’s worth a second viewing. What’s a city without its ghosts? He lives there to this day.

Peter Bodie:

My Winnipeg proved a challenging movie for me. I can’t really figure out who the intended audience is supposed to be – possibly the residents of Winnipeg? So why is there a 1000lb. Canadian moose sitting in the corner of my mind, silently staring at me?

I’ve never been to Winnipeg and now I have no inclination to ever go there. The auteur, Guy Maddin portrays it in a very negative light. I don’t recall one glimmer of hope of optimism being expressed. My lasting impression is SNOW, snow and then more snow, some exasperation, sadness and then more snow. On second thoughts, there were some nice home-movie type shots of children sledding down a slope. Even those shots turned into a negative as the commentary explained that the hill was the result of many years of accumulated Winnipeg garbage.

Made in 2007, it is a very personal memoir type movie. No doubt there were all sorts of impressive techniques employed for the era in which it was made. There is a running commentary to accompany the black and white visuals. Where a man seated in a train carriage is drinking heavily and seeking to finally leave Winnipeg behind… for good. Not being Canadian, I know very little about the writer and director Guy Maddin but he must have an impressive profile in Canada to have released this film. I had difficulty in relating to this 80 minute jaunt through his mother-dominated childhood memories. Although I have to say that the mother was portrayed with great veritas by Ann Savage.

Maddin movie buffs or hardcore memoir/experimental movie enthusiasts would find this interesting.  Hold on, the moose just mumbled something. I think she said “Why?”

Eileen Murphy:

This dreamy memoir piece, shot mainly in black and white with grainy blurred effects often brings to mind a home movie. The narrator/author of the film appears on a train, often half asleep, trying to get away from this place in the middle of nowhere. My Winnipeg is not, however, as artless as it pretends. The matriarch of the film, the mother, is shot with luminous focus, elegant and glamorous against the backdrop of greys and black. The strangeness becomes a presence itself throughout the movie, hinted at in one closeup of the mother’s eye – quite scary and maybe even malign. She later reveals her metal in a hilarious confrontation with her daughter, returning from an encounter with road kill. The mother, of course, realising quite well that there were all kinds of carnal shenanigans going on.

There is great humour throughout the movie. There is a contrast between the banality of the conventional, conservative life and the underbelly of this which may lie beneath the surface. The Masonic Lodge and the Rotary volunteers with their Nazi enactments are focused on good citizenship and war donations. The “Golden Boy Pageant” is I am sure, a perfectly innocent celebration of youth. It is just a coincidence that the winners all find employment in local public administration. “Happy Land” is what Winnipeg is all about and of course the homeless people must be kept out of sight.

It was a very chilled experience watching this movie. The humour was gentle, although the social commentary on which the humour rests is powerful enough. The drabness of the images are enlivened by occasional moments of beauty, for example when the mother and Cameron are pictured floating on a cloud. I would recommend this film, the wry humour and the political critique creep up on you when you are at your most relaxed and it is all the stronger for it.

My Winnipeg screens at DIFF on 2nd March. 

Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) is Ireland’s premier film event, dedicated to presenting the best in contemporary and classic world cinema. It brings the world to Ireland and showcases Ireland to the world. With a rich history spanning several decades, DIFF showcases a diverse selection of films, hosts industry events, and fosters a vibrant film culture in Dublin.

Over the past 22 years, it has screened more than 1,600 international films from over 52 countries. The Festival has hosted over 600 high profile guests, including Al Pacino, Angela Lansbury, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Danny DeVito, Ennio Morricone, Joss Whedon, Julie Andrews, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stanley Tucci, and Stellan Skarsgård.

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Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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