Successful beginnings from the Winnipeg Film Group

New DVD showcases ten diverse short films made during local institution’s early years

A scene from The Obsession of Billy Botski, which is included on the new Winnipeg Film Group DVD Beginnings 1976 – 1983: The Early Years COURTESY WINNIPEG FILM GROUP
A scene from the new Winnipeg Film Group DVD Beginnings 1976 – 1983: The Early Years. COURTESY WINNIPEG FILM GROUP

In 1974, the idea of a Winnipeg film co-operative served as the spark for the still-running Winnipeg Film Group. Beginnings 1976 – 1983 documents standout short films from the early years of the film group.

The first video on the DVD is Rabbit Pie, a film shot as a comedic 1920s silent film. It is about a poet in a diner trying desperately to write a publishable poem.

After struggling with multiple ideas, he begins writing about bunnies.

“We don’t eat bunnies; they’re too gentle, uncomplaining and sentimental,” he writes, and unknowingly (and unobservantly) abets in the procreation of endless rabbit pies. Voiceovers and absurdity create a complete mockery of the era it pretends to be.

When the Winnipeg Film Group opted to purchase a photocopier rather than film equipment, director Ed Ackerman protested the move with the film 5¢ a Copy. Made with cutouts of printed photocopies, it’s a three-minute-long surreal, black-and-white art film.

Havakeen Lunch is a day in the life of a rural food and gas stop, centered around down-to-earth conversation between the cook and the regulars about real/rural issues, including work on the farm and not trusting the government subsidy cheques. It’s a heartwarming film that makes you realize how fake Corner Gas is.

Argentina is the deep and complicated reflection of a suicide. It’s presented through experimental cinematography with the vocalized thought of a stream-of-consciousness suicide letter, complete with interjecting competing thoughts.

Daydream is a two-and-a-half minute visual art display from 1979 by Alan Pakarnyk. Like 5¢ a Copy, Daydream is a short but head-scratching explosion of imagination.

The final film on the DVD is The Obsession of Billy Botski. Directed by and starring John Paizs, it’s an offbeat comedy in the style of Woody Allen. Botski narrates his own story where, at a party, he meets the woman (the obsession) created in his mind, whom he refers to as “the mythical virgin slut, Connie”.

Coming from respectable beginnings, Beginnings is an old-timey, yet charming collection from the Winnipeg Film Group. Ranging from two-minute visual art pieces to half-hour plot-driven films, each is interesting, engaging and eccentric.

Curator Patrick Lowe and many of the filmmakers will be on hand on Friday, Sept. 3 for a special opening night screening of the DVD, as well as a question-and-answer period and reception. Admission is free for Cinematheque members and $5 for non-members.

Published in Volume 65, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2010)

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