Contributing to the culture

Independent film programmer Kier-La Janisse shares her love for music documentaries and horror films with Winnipeg audiences

Big Smash! Productions visionary Kier-La Janisse returned to Winnipeg in 2007 after working as a film programmer in Austin, Texas for four years. Cindy Titus

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Kier-La Janisse may be the only Winnipegger who can say that Quentin Tarantino once fought on her behalf.

In 2007, Janisse was applying for a visa to keep her position as head programmer at the the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema movie theatre in Austin, Texas, where she’d worked the past four years.

In order to help prove that Janisse had special skills no one could replace, the Inglourious Basterds auteur wrote a letter to the government praising Janisse’s unique programming.

“I don’t know Quentin personally,” Janisse, 36, said over a beer at Cousins recently, adding she was able to get the letter because Tarantino is a friend of the Alamo’s owner. “But he has done a few favours for me over the years.”

In the end, her application was denied and Janisse moved to Winnipeg after accepting an assistant position at Cinematheque.


You could explain everything from my life based on the fact that I watched Scooby-Doo as a kid.

Kier-La Janisse

She doesn’t mince words about what it was like returning to the city where she was born and attended high school.

“It was a little bit of a blow to become an assistant and come back to Winnipeg, which I hated.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Winnipeg. It’s just that when your main interests include obscure horror and exploitation films, as well as documentaries about under-appreciated musicians, the city doesn’t have much to offer.

“You realize it’s what you make it,” Janisse added about her return to Winnipeg. “And any place can be great if you’re determined to make it great.”

“If I’m not satisfied with the culture where I am, I feel like I have to contribute to it.”

To that end, Janisse has started putting on music-related screenings through her Big Smash! Productions moniker, such as The Queen Sing-Along + Freddie Mercury Birthday Tribute at The Park Theatre this coming Saturday, Sept. 5.

A week later, Janisse will introduce Winnipeggers to her taste in film when she presents Ten Hours of Head Trauma: A Trash Film Marathon at the Ellice Theatre (see sidebar).

“You could explain everything from my life based on the fact that I watched Scooby-Doo as a kid,” Janisse said. “A gang in a van who solved mysteries, Don Knotts, rock ‘n’ roll, horror—it kinda had everything I was interested in.”

Janisse’s love for horror films also comes from growing up in Windsor, Ont., watching the creature features on a Detroit TV station Saturday nights with her father. He would even wake her up so they could watch an additional creature feature the station would air at 3 a.m.
“My dad would get excited about these movies, so I would get excited.”

Janisse got her start in film writing and exhibition in 1997, when she started Cannibal Culture magazine, a quarterly Vancouver-based fanzine devoted to reviews and essays about obscure horror films.

In 1999 she started the CineMuerte International Horror Film Festival in Vancouver because many of the films reviewed in the magazine weren’t easily accessible to Canadian horror films.

She paid for everything out of her own pocket and did everything herself. The festival lasted for seven years, and led to opportunities to curate programs in San Francisco and advise festivals in Montreal.

Janisse, who currently works at Into the Music and Video Pool to pay the bills, has written for a variety of horror magazines, published a book on the subject and is currently working on another. She’s been the subject of a documentary, edited a few herself and met most of her cinematic heroes along the way.

While she misses working in Austin, where it was easy to find people who were just as excited to put on similar events as she was, she praises the opportunities available in Winnipeg.

Although it’s already culturally diverse, there’s still room for more people to do their own thing.

“Anything anyone wants to do, no one’s doing it,” she said. “There’s opportunity for people to get a foothold, carve a niche or start a career doing what they want.

“I feel hopeful. I mean, I wouldn’t be planning all these events if I didn’t.”

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Published in Volume 64, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2009)

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