On Aug. 18, Winnipeg’s university students and film fans alike were greeted by sad news. The Winnipeg Film Group announced that Howard Curle, the retired University of Winnipeg (U of W) film professor and mainstay of the city’s cinema culture, had died at age 74.
Curle had long teaching stints at both the University of Manitoba and the U of W. Many hundreds of students took and enjoyed his classes, which was illustrated in 2017, when Uniter readers voted his Intro to Film class as their favourite U of W course.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Howard well during my time at the U of W, both as a student and while working at The Uniter. After taking multiple classes with him, I had the honour of being asked to work as his TA for his History of Film course. In a few ways, that gig changed the direction of my life. The lessons I learned from Howard gave me the knowledge and confidence to become a volunteer film critic for The Uniter, a gig that eventually led to my current career.
It was a formative experience to spend time working with Howard. It was so rare to find someone in daily life who had the same obsession with movies. Lots of time was spent chatting before lectures or in Howard’s office about topics that would be of absolutely no interest to 90 per cent of people. I remember fondly one conversation, when Howard expressed his dismay that his students didn’t seem to connect with Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
“I don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to be resonating with young people,” he said of the film, regarded as one of the best of all time. As a young person who was lukewarm on the movie, he genuinely wanted to know my perspective on it. We spent an hour comparing Vertigo to pop albums, eventually deciding that showing Vertigo as an introduction to Hitchcock was like using Pet Sounds as an introduction to The Beach Boys. You need to experience the fluffier stuff first before you can appreciate why it’s great. The next time around, students watched The 39 Steps before Vertigo.
I also remember Howard’s unparalleled kindness. As a student, I worked on a group project in one of his classes. One of the students in my group was privately struggling. Me and the other students in the group weren’t sure what with, exactly. But Howard set a true example in his dedication to helping this person stay afloat.
Finally, through his passion for the history of Winnipeg film, Howard taught me so much about the city I loved. When he screened John Paskievich’s film Ted Baryluk’s Grocery, a 1982 documentary about a Ukrainian shopkeeper in the North End, my worldview shifted. It was my first time ever seeing the UkrainianCanadian diaspora depicted on screen. I’d never seen a movie where the people looked and sounded like my grandparents, aunties and uncles.
When I sent the film to my mom, her thoughts immediately went to her own dad, a Ukrainian farmer who sold his potatoes to corner grocery stores throughout the North End. “I would bet my last dollar,” she texted me, “that your grandfather knew Ted Baryluk.”
Howard taught me a lot about film, mentorship and Winnipeg. He also taught me about himself. I will carry his lessons, and his kindness, forever.
Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)