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Choice cuts: Former Winnipegger lands gig as editor of latest Denis Villeneuve feature

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If you need a handy genre to describe the movie Enemy, opening at Polo Park on March 14, call it a metaphysical mystery. A history professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) rents a movie and discovers a background player who looks exactly like him. His investigation yields a bit actor who is so identical they have the same scar on their abdomen. Who is this guy?

Another mystery arises when you read the end credits. How did 32-year-old former Winnipegger Matthew Hannam get the plum job of editing this film for ace Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, whose films include the recent Hollywood thriller Prisoners, and the provocative Quebec movies Polytechnique and Incendies?

Hannam, who lives in Toronto, came up through the Winnipeg ranks, working as an assistant editor for Sean Garrity (Lucid), Gary Yates (Niagara Motel) and Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg).

During his initial exploration of the filmmaking world, the former Kelvin High student says Garrity took him aside and asked him what he wanted to do.

"I said: 'I think I want to be an editor.' And he said: 'You should be my assistant editor.' So I ended up working on his stuff and Guy's stuff and Gary's."

Hannam learned his craft more extensively at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto and by the time he was working on the Winnipeg-lensed series Less Than Kind, it was as a Toronto editor, not a Winnipeg one.

He essentially took it to the next level when he was hired to edit Brandon Cronenberg's 2012 feature debut Antiviral. Call it chemistry.

"I met Brandon and we got along," he says. "Brandon and I are the same age and we had a lot of the same references with films that we love. So I cut that movie and I stuck around as a post-supervisor and when they went to Cannes, they were nice enough to take me along."

Producer Niv Fichman was one of the producers instrumental in introducing Hannam to Villeneuve as a potential editor for Enemy. Hannam, a fan of Villeneuve since his 2000 film Maelstrom, was over the moon.

"They knew that I loved him, and they didn't want me to get too excited about it, because I didn't have the credits to cut this movie, so they secretly sent him my films when the tax credits got shuffled around and they needed an Ontario editor," he says.

"He watched Antiviral and he thought the editing was good, but he really loved the way I cut the soundtrack. We got along and, God bless him, he said he wanted to work with me. It was really an amazing moment for me."

While Villeneuve is a filmmaker with his own vision, it is difficult to watch the Toronto-set Enemy without thinking of David Cronenberg, given fractious identical twins, buggy hallucinations and a kinky secret society, respectively reminiscent of Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch and Crash.

Hannam acknowledges some parallels: "I grew up on Cronenberg films. I remember secretly watching Scanners on my friend's dad's Beta," he laughs.

"Those films have always been near and dear to me, but I don't know. Denis's reference was... he looked at me and said, 'I want to make an Antonioni movie on crack.'"

A few film editors have made the transition to the director's chair, including Robert Wise, Hal Ashby and David Lean, but Hannam isn't leaning that way just now.

"I've made a few little shorts but editing suits my disposition," he says. "I don't see it as a defined thing. I love editing and I think it's really an amazing part of the filmmaking process.

"Every director I work with, I love helping bring their vision to life and adding what I can to it. With Denis, it was a journey."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 C3

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