No man could define him

Winnipeg filmmaker Winston Moxam remembered

A prolific filmmaker, the late Winston Moxam’s work stands alongside work by seminal filmmakers such as Guy Maddin and Greg Hanec. Supplied

Winston Washington Moxam was well known and beloved in the Winnipeg film community.

Whether you knew him as the projectionist at the Cinematheque or as a prolific filmmaker of the prairies, Moxam’s work was diverse and fought for social justice.

When he passed away in 2011 at the age of 47, he had a body of work that spanned almost two decades and included features (2001’s Barbara James, 2011’s Billy), shorts (1996’s The Welfare King) and documentaries (1992’s From the Other Side).

“I never knew him personally, I’m sorry to say,” says Scott Birdwise over the phone from his home in Toronto.

The ex-Winnipegger, working on his PhD in Canadian Cinema at York University, is a great choice to curate a retrospective of Moxam’s work at the Cinematheque on Friday, Feb. 1.

With the evening split into two programs (shorts and features) it will be a strong representation of Moxam’s work.

After curating a show that involved the work of Film Group executive director Cecilia Araneda, Birdwise was on her radar to helm the Moxam project.

“She approached me to help curate the project in summer 2011 and I wasn’t really familiar with Winston’s work before then,” Birdwise says.

Working with filmmaker Jaimz Asmundson to put the evening together also made the possibility of a compilation DVD a reality.

“I understand that the Winnipeg Film Group is very good at chronicling and archiving DVD work,” Birdwise says. “It’s a good way to document his work and hopefully it will be available to a wider audience this way.”

Moxam’s films have received accolades from festivals all over the world, with his first feature, Barbara James screening in Italy, Portugal and Toronto and winning the best Canadian Feature Film from the Reel Black Awards in 2002.

The film will also be part of the program on Feb. 1.

“It’s about an early 30-something woman who has to confront some of her own demons and questions in her life,” Birdwise says. “I don’t think that’s been shown in Winnipeg for a while.”

One of Winnipeg’s seminal underground filmmakers, Moxam’s work has always stood alongside that of Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and Danishka Esterhazy in that it pushes boundaries and sits just on the outside of the mainstream, while still representing what it’s like to be a Winnipeg artist.

“I think being a marginal filmmaker, in this case being a black filmmaker from the prairies, it obviously seems that he’s a rarity or exception to Winnipeg filmmaking,” Birdwise says.

“On the other hand, there is a lot of diversity across Canada in Winnipeg as well. His work also stands as the kind of example to filmmakers of various cultural backgrounds that there is an audience for their work that can cross cultural lines, and I’m hoping that this retrospective DVD and booklet can contribute at least in some way to that multicultural dialogue.

“Watching his work in the last year got me to see Winnipeg again. It was both an experience of returning to that city through cinema but it was also seeing it again through a new light in a more inclusive and adult kind of way through his lens, his special attention to questions of race and social representation.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 30, 2013)

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