Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Animator presents My Missoula

Maddin associate shows own work

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It is a curious thing that Montana animator Andy Smetanka would be the one chosen to create the beautiful silhouette animated sequences of Guy Maddin's celebrated docu-fantasia My Winnipeg.

Smetanka, 41, is a native of Missoula, Mont. He has only been to Winnipeg once before, in 2001, at the invitation of Maddin's frequent script collaborator George Toles.

"My perspective on Winnipeg derives almost exclusively from Winnipeg movies, a centennial photo album called Winnipeg 100, and the writings of Guy and Caelum Vatnsdal," Smetanka says from his home in Missoula.

He nevertheless returns this weekend to introduce a program of his own films at Cinematheque, including his first effort, Sexy Astronaut, a 2002 music video for the Missoula pop trio The Volumen, and his latest City in Shadows, a lovely silhouette animation of urban landscapes not of Winnipeg but of his native Missoula.

RK: Are there any Winnipeg points of interest you feel obliged to see that you missed the first time?

AS: "I'm going to scour the WFG (Winnipeg Film Group) archives for the missing pieces in my John Paizs filmography and a couple other obscure Winnipeg artifacts on my wish list. Maybe round off my last night in town with a commemorative streak around St. Mary's Academy for girls. Kidding!"

RK: You would be best known here for your contributions to My Winnipeg. Seeing your short films demonstrates you and Maddin would be simpatico artistically. How did you partner up for that film?

AS: "I don't remember who suggested it. I called him up to say hi and complain about a band I was making a video for, and a few seconds later we were swapping animation ideas for his documentary. He's been a very generous audience for my movies from the very first, and that encouragement meant a lot early on. So getting to actually make a movie with him, well, for me it was a dream collaboration."

RK: Making art in Missoula must be akin to Guy's filmmaking career in Winnipeg. People seem all the more surprised you can do sophisticated work from a place far removed from the so-called cultural centres. But judging from your films, Missoula seems to be a source of great inspiration.

AS: "Maybe both places suffer from a slight inferiority complex: 'We do TOO have culture!' I would never consider moving anywhere simply to be closer to some vague idea of culture. I'm too attached to Missoula. It's a little like Boulder, Colorado, but with way less money: artsy-fartsy, outdoorsy, over-educated and full of wilful eccentrics with wispy beards riding unicycles while playing the ukulele. It's attractive, friendly, and charmingly full of itself. Just like me!

"I have everything and everyone I need right here to make movies and live a very full and interesting life. At the same time, I think Guy would agree that you have to get some outside recognition before people take you seriously as an artist in your hometown."

RK: Your film program includes what could be loosely described as music videos for the likes of The Decemberists and The Volumen. Seeing some of your films makes me think of other artists: Norman McLaren, stop-motion silhouette pioneer Lotte Reiniger, Ray Harryhausen, and in the case of Le Force: Le Wizard, that sci-fi obscurity Krull. What were your influences?

AS: "All the filmmakers you mention are huge influences. Le Force: Le Wizard in particular is testament to an early Harryhausen obsession, with a little Krull mixed in. I admire the sheer scope of Norman McLaren's talent, his amazing versatility, and consider Lotte Reiniger the Mozart of stop-motion animators. There are far poorer standards to try and live up to."

RK: After reading an old article, I am led to believe you have other sources of income apart from your art.

AS: "My bread and butter is teaching non-fiction writing and film criticism at the University of Montana. Until a few weeks ago I also worked at a bakery, not baking but making espresso drinks. That's kind of the classic Missoula story: barista with a master's degree. I sell a few prints and light boxes now and then, but mostly I make stuff and give it away, or I misplace it and quickly forget about it.

"I'm terrible with money, especially at making it, but you can't win them all."

Andy Smetanka will also be introducing a screening of My Winnipeg Saturday at Cinematheque at 7 p.m.

Movie Preview

Andy Smetanka: The Misssoula Sorcerer


Friday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2012 D5

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