Cats of the Avant-Garde and other works

The Winnipeg Underground Film Fest is back

A word like “underground” can mean a lot of different things to different people. But for the wizards behind the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival (WUFF), now in its second year, it means inclusion.

“We did an open call for films this year,” festival co-founder Scott Fitzpatrick explains to me over a pear-and-walnut-salad at the Yellow Dog Tavern. “In that we asked for moving-image works that deviate from traditional cinematic forms. Basically, something different from what you’re used to seeing.”

His partners, filmmakers Aaron Zeghers and Rhayne Vermette nod in agreement. “It’s not going to be just one type of experimental,” Zeghers explains. “It’s not all going to be 16mm black and white, it’s not all one thing. What does define it is that they’re films produced by independently driven artists. There’s no studio, no producer, no costume or makeup department. It’s all DIY stuff that doesn’t normally get the recognition or respect it deserves.”

“Experimental is just a mode,” Fitzpatrick adds. “We’re focused on the community aspect of it. It’s a bunch of people in a dialogue.”

Last year’s inaugural festival was self-curated, but this year the three opened the fest to any and all filmmakers. “I was so excited to do the open call,” Fitzpatrick says. “It was funny watching how it came in. We opened the call in November, and it closed at the end of March. And around January or February, I was like, ‘Oh no, we barely have a hundred movies. We’re not gonna have enough.’”

“And then we got 800,” Vermette says with a sigh.

It’s a hell of a workload, but it’s bringing some unique and hilarious cinema to our city, with three nights of shorts programs and performances planned.

“One program we’re doing is called Cats of the Avant-Garde,” Vermette notes, barely hiding her excitement over what may be the fest’s weirdest content. “It’s honing in on this whole YouTube cat craze. The spirit animal of the Internet. So these are an experimental take on cutesy cat videos.”

“It ranges from 1940s early avant-garde cinema to modern stuff that’s more tongue-in-cheek, to other stuff that might not even be intended as art,” Zeghers continues.

“Cats morphing into croissants,” Fitzpatrick hints.

Zeghers is also excited for the acclaimed 47-minute German documentary A flea’s skin would be too big for you by Anja Dorienden and Juan David González Monroy. “It’s about The Kingdom of Dwarves, this amusement park in China. All these little people live and work in a theme park. It’s this great documentation of their lives as performers and their downtime living in this weird housing facility.”

It’s the creators’ hope that their fest can bring some fun experiments like these to a broader audience in Winnipeg, a city with a great tradition of experimental cinema.

“I think there’s an idea among people who haven’t experienced it that it’s academic and it’s not fun. But the truth is, especially in Winnipeg, we create some of the most fun experimental films in all the world. We kind of pride ourselves on the idea of fun formalism.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 4, 2014)

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