Guy Maddin wants to make movies the same way his daughter drew pictures when she was a child: “Her feelings went straight from her heart to her paper.” The acclaimed Canadian filmmaker is headed to IU Cinema this weekend for a retrospective of his work, which he described in a recent interview with NUVO as “a form of therapy.”
Maddin grieved the loss of his father through his first short film, The Dead Father (1985), and explored his experiences with romantic rivalry in his feature debut, Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988). He then found himself drifting into less personal, more escapist territory, directing a Russian war drama (Archangel); a satire about a suppressive mountain town in which emotions can trigger avalanches (Careful); and a romance fantasy in a land where the sun never sets (Twilight of the Ice Nymphs).
“I kinda lost myself in the late ’90s and couldn’t figure out why to make a movie. I made a few that I didn’t like,” Maddin said. “I finally realized I could just look inwardly and find stuff about my past or the unfinished business in my family or my conflicted feelings about Winnipeg. If I made those things the subjects of my movies, even if I disguised them in various genres, I could get fired up about filmmaking again.”
“My family has a way of describing things so that the decade or two leading up to my birth seems as mythically powerful as the Old Testament or Arabian Nights,” he said.
Maddin’s family helped him realize that he could make the familiar territory of his life also seem fantastic and otherworldly. The films in his “me trilogy” are shot in hazy black-and-white, as if filtered through the dreamlike fog of his memories.
- B-movie star Ann Savage stars as Guy Maddin's mother in his docu-fantasia, My Winnipeg.
“Since I was poking around in my own earliest years, I felt comfortable using the film medium’s earliest flavors to represent them,” he said, noting the influence of German Expressionism and early silent-era cinema.
For the third act of his trilogy, 2007’s My Winnipeg, Maddin rented his childhood home, rearranging rooms to fit his memories and dressing the actors in relics his mother saved.
The film also explores lesser-known facets of Winnipeg’s history, including the demolition of the city’s hockey arena; the myth of frozen horse heads appearing on the rivers every winter; and If Day, a simulated Nazi invasion of the city mounted to promote the sale of war bonds in 1942.
Maddin, who has “never gone to real therapy,” says his close examination of Winnipeg helped him resolve his conflicted feelings about the city and his time there.
“By the time one of these films is all finished, whether it’s any good or not, you gotta tour it around at some film festivals and talk the thing to death. By the time you’re finished with this project, which started out as a labor of love — a labor of obsession, actually — you’re so sick of it that you’re actually cured of your obsession,” Maddin said with a wry laugh.
It’s fitting, then, that the upcoming retrospective at IU is named “The Magnificent Cinematic Obsession of Guy Maddin.”
IU Cinema director Jon Vickers will lead a Q&A session with Maddin after the screening of My Winnipeg on April 9 at 6:30 p.m. David Church, editor of Playing With Memories: Essays on Guy Maddin, will interview the filmmaker on April 10 at 3 p.m.
Maddin is also meeting privately with students studying film preservation and media production. Over the years, he has found several “lost” students who, like him, don’t know why they want to make movies at first.
“It’s really nice when you encounter a student who is actually looking back or looking inward or just looking up close at something and trying to reproduce feelings,” he said.