If consuming movies is an addiction, Kenneth George Godwin would readily admit he has a problem.
The year 1973 may have constituted his days of wine and roses, when the English-born film aficionado moved from Newfoundland to Manitoba. He first made the jump to Neepawa, where he lived for a few months with his sister. But Winnipeg beckoned with a siren song to which Godwin was enthusiastically attuned. The city had lots of movie theatres.
"When I lived in Neepawa and came into Winnipeg, I'd see five movies in a day," Godwin says over coffee at the Free Press News Cafe. "I'd start at 11 in the morning, park the car at Eaton Place parking lot, go from theatre to theatre to theatre and then drive back to Neepawa.
"I'd try to see everything I could because you didn't know if you'd get the chance again."
The movie-mad Godwin was inevitably sucked into the orbit of the Winnipeg Film Group in the 1980s, where he first directed short films and edited for the likes of Guy Maddin and Jeff Erbach. For the past 20 years, he has worked as a film editor on projects as diverse as the recent Milla Jovovich thriller Faces in the Crowd and the John Paskievich documentary Unspeakable.
Now 58, Godwin returned to directing with his new feature-length doc Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres, which he shot for broadcast on MTS Stories From Home. It also screens today and Sunday at Cinematheque.
Call the film a coping mechanism for the loss of a more vibrant movie-going culture.
Back in 1973, the city was home to many stand-alone theatres and small cineplexes centred downtown, including the Odeon (now the Burton Cummings Theatre), the Metropolitan, the Garrick, the Northstar, and the Capitol. Throughout the '80s and '90s, those cinemas and the last of the neighbourhood cinemas (the Kings, the Hyland and the Park) serially met their ignominious ends with the disheartening inevitably of teen victims succumbing to Jason Voorhees' machete in a Friday the 13th movie.
The cinemas were effectively replaced by a handful of decentralized multiplexes where Godwin finds little of the old joy these days.
"People used to go to movies to see the movie," he says. "It wasn't on TV. It wasn't on disc. You used to go in and there would be buzz and people chatting and then the lights would go down and it was quiet and people were focused on the screen."
"But now, you can sort of feel the lack of focus in an audience," he says. "Now, it's just part of all this stuff that people are taking in. They're eating their nachos. There are still people playing with their (bleeping) cellphones. They're texting. They're not there to immerse themselves in a movie.
"It didn't matter in the old days if it was a cheesy popcorn movie or a serious drama or, for pretentious people like me, a foreign film. It didn't matter," he says. "People actually went to the theatre to see the movie and you just don't get that feeling anymore. They're there because it's just part of this endless entertainment process that everybody is totally immersed in now."
Godwin acknowledges it wasn't necessarily about the movie back in the '50s and '60s. One chapter of the film is devoted to remembrances of the chaotic kiddie matinees with a few of Godwin's middle-aged-to-elderly interview subjects recalling spitting off the balcony or engaging in other kinds of raucous horseplay for which the movies on the screen were generally just a colourful backdrop.
"I tried to get people from different parts of the city, different age groups, different decades, so I was trying to balance all those stories," he says.
The film also pays tribute to some of the grander old movie houses, such as the Uptown on Academy Road with its exotic architecture and its twinkling starlight ceiling. Contemporary patrons of the Uptown Bowling Lanes stand to be shocked at that structure's astonishing past.
If Going ultimately registers as an exercise in shameless nostalgia, Godwin offers no apologies.
"I was feeling kind of bitter that all those theatres were gone, because the big boxes are just pretty horrible," he says. "So the film might have become something negative. But with all the people I talked to, it turned into this warm and fuzzy nostalgia trip."
Following the Sunday afternoon screening of Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres, Godwin will participate in a panel discussion on local movie exhibition with film professors Howard Curle and Brenda Austin Smith, as well as Tricia Wasney, manager of the Winnipeg Arts Council's Public Art Program.