Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Doc pays tribute to producer who put local films on the map

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DURING the halcyon days of the Winnipeg Film Group in the late '80s and early '90s, the name Greg Klymkiw tended to be overshadowed by the likes of auteur filmmakers Guy Maddin and John Paizs, who commanded attention with their audacious style evident in films such as Springtime in Greenland, Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Crime Wave, Archangel and Careful.

If Klymkiw was a less visible force behind the burgeoning Prairie post-modern movement, he was still a force to be reckoned with in his capacity as actor, distributor, producer and, perhaps in his own way, muse.

Klymkiw, now a freelance writer, blogger and screenwriter in Toronto, gets his due in director Ryan McKenna's hour-long documentary Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story, a film produced for TV -- MTS Stories from Home -- but given a couple of special screenings Wednesday night at Cinematheque, with Klymkiw flying in from Toronto and McKenna flying in from Montreal for the occasion.

If Klymkiw can be an elusive figure, McKenna captures the brash creativity of the man, who insists he was on board early with Maddin's efforts to mythologize Manitoba on film. Indeed, myth-making was Klymkiw's forte. The title of the film was taken from Survival, the bogus mid-'80s survivalist cable access show in which Klymkiw appeared in the guise of masked, post-apocalypse aficionado Trevor Winthrop-Baines.

Survival Lessons likewise recalls Klymkiw's penchant for phoning CJOB's Action Line with Peter Warren using a thickly accented Ukrainian voice.

When it came to promoting the films he produced, Klymkiw was no less creative; he was not above inserting a few bald-faced lies into promotional material to spice things up. And his efforts paid off, to the extent that Maddin's Tales from the Gimli Hospital was included in a few lists of the best films to play at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1989, despite the fact that it didn't actually screen at TIFF. Klymkiw took it to Toronto during the fest and aggressively promoted it as if it had been on the program.

"He was doing guerilla marketing before there was a term for it," testifies former WFG executive director Bruce Duggan in the film.

Guy Maddin likewise pays tribute to Klymkiw, in his fashion. He recalls sharing an apartment with Klymkiw and memorably describes seeing the rotund Klymkiw naked, "like a beautiful seal lying there during clubbing season."

Doc director Ryan McKenna is 30, and came to the project with some credentials of his own as a filmmaker in the off-centre WFG tradition, having helmed the oddball comedy The First Winter, which premiered at Cinematheque earlier this year as an example of a dubious cinematic movement dubbed "Winnipeg Brutalism."

"I think that kind of a marketing ploy was a Greg Klymkiw-esque tactic for sure," he says.

"I first met Greg in 2008 when he came to town when (Cinematheque) screened a remastered Archangel and he was doing a workshop," McKenna says on the phone from Montreal.

"I had worked with Guy Maddin and I thought he was as funny as Guy, a little more raw and crude, like a more uncensored version of Guy," McKenna says. "I was just charmed by him and a lot of my favourite films I had seen from that era had Greg's name on them."

McKenna saw that a documentary on Klymkiw could simultaneously tell the story of "the rise of Guy Maddin in that era but also the Winnipeg Film Group, which was put on the map at that time."

In the Klymkiw spirit, they'll be promoting the screening aggressively.

"Greg and I are on CJOB radio Tuesday, which is kind of hilarious when you think about it," McKenna says.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 C3

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