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A Winnipeg-shot movie starring... Winnipeg!

CTV film's director loves look, feel of Exchange District

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PRODUCER Paul Brown says the CTV movie Zaida and the Hitman is not just being filmed in Winnipeg, it's set here, too.

Co-produced by Toronto's Miracle Pictures and Winnipeg's Frantic Films, the made-for-CTV movie, reportedly budgeted at more than $3 million, stars Judd Hirsch as a devoted grandfather who hires a hitman (Danny Aiello) to kill his son-in-law (Gil Bellows).

The legal wording, Brown says, is that it's "inspired by a true story."

"The real story is an abusive-type story and we just didn't go that way," he says. "We took the comedic approach to the dilemma."

Yesterday, while filming on location at the Ken Hong Restaurant on Albert Street, Brown elaborated on the plot. "Our son-in-law is kind of like John Turturro in Quiz Show; he's kind of like a game show addict. He's wants to succeed to make a quick buck on a millionaire-type show."

Director Melanie Mayron, perhaps best known for her role as Melissa on thirtysomething, has put a few classic cars on the street outside the window, an aesthetic decision that, she says, reflects the classic feel of the Exchange District.

"I love the look of Winnipeg," she says. "I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia but Winnipeg feels a lot like Philadelphia to me. I kind of feel like I'm home. I love the Exchange District.

"I'm trying to do a timeless thing," she says. "And when I saw the Exchange, I got so excited.

"We're certainly getting a look like the old signs painted on the walls and the old buildings, and it's just so rich, the texture here, I just think the location in the older parts of this city is just stunning.

"So yes, the story takes place in present day, but I just love the look and feel that it could be any time," she says. "So instead of just having modern cars, we'll have one or two vintage cars and the clothes are pretty much classic... sort of East Coast Preppie Classic.

"You know when you're a kid and you had the cigar box filled with all your favourite stuff in it? The look is like that. That's been the motif."

Winnipeg is one city that star Judd Hirsch feels like he's seeing for the first time.

Hirsch, remember, came to Winnipeg in January 1997 to play Willie Loman in the Manitoba Theatre Centre production of Death of a Salesman. He is surprised by how different the city was then and is now.

"It's like a buried city that came to life," he says. "I would never imagine.

"During the run of the play, I was making my way through the streets of ice trying not to get killed, trying not get into an accident, so I never noticed anything," he says. "Now I see everything. Now I see the mosquitoes," Hirsch says, lifting his arm to show a well-bitten forearm. "And they see me. It's going to be like my badge of courage going home."

Hirsch's co-star Danny Aiello could commiserate.

"My first couple of days here I got sick... heatstroke. They rushed me to the hospital, gave me two blood tests, two EKGs, I thought I was going to die in Winnipeg with no one here," he says.

"Fortunately they brought me through."

Like Hirsch, Aiello is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. Ask him what he likes about Winnipeg and traffic comes to mind.

"Your traffic jams are non-existent," says the former bus dispatcher. "At least, I didn't experience that. I come from New York. You can go through an entire goddamn area here for miles and miles. One block in New York City at rush hour, you're dead. In the time it takes you to go one street in New York, you can go through all of Winnipeg," he says.

"People are very hospitable, very nice, doesn't surprise me," he says. "Because Vancouver's the same way."

Because of his medical problem, he says, "I saw some of Winnipeg... not near as much as I would want to, if I had more time.

"I went out to Gimli and saw some of your beautiful farmland on the way out and back, and your cattle... I just adored it.

"There's a lot to see here," he says, adding in a puzzled way: "But I saw very few people on the street."

*     *     *

Producer Paul Brown says he would like to bring actor Freddie Prinze Jr. to Winnipeg to work on a planned production titled Art Lover. It, too, is a reality-based story.

"It's based on a true story about someone who steals millions and millions of dollars worth of art over a number of years and keeps the art in his mother's room," he says." The legislature would be the art gallery. But it's not financed yet."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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