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Special Ed documentary to play at Cinematheque

Documentary tells tale of eccentric animator

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From still photos to moving pictures, John Paskievich is an avid documentarian.

His latest project is a video documentary called Special Ed, a feature about his friend, Ed Ackerman.

Paskievich has known Ackerman for 25 years, ever since they both worked at the National Film Board of Canada. Newer to the company, Ackerman frequently visited Paskievich in the editing room for help with spelling words, which Paskievich later learned Ackerman had difficulty with.

As a result, Ackerman had wanted to create an animation project about the letters of the alphabet to help kids improve their spelling, reading, and writing skills.

"I thought this would be an interesting film — that someone with problems with spelling was animating letters to help kids spell," Paskievich said.

Ackerman had wanted to provide his animation project to kids in other countries, such as China and India, to help them learn English.

Paskievich was so inspired by Ackerman’s determination to help kids learn to spell that he wanted to make a documentary about him.

"I was interested in what Ed was doing. I was touched by that, so that’s what I was hoping to make the film about. But then things sort of spiralled out of control. I kind of went off on a tangent, but that’s what the story is, in fact. It’s Ed on a tangent."

In the documentary, Ackerman, an animator in his fifties, wants to build an animation studio in a dilapidated house near Central Park in the downtown area.

During his quest to turn the building into this studio, Ackerman encounters housing inspectors from the City of Winnipeg several times.

"(They said) he wasn’t following the City of Winnipeg building codes," said Paskievich, a Wolseley resident.

Ackerman argued with the inspectors many times, saying people who have very little money should be allowed to build their houses at their own speed.

"(He said) you shouldn’t apply the same laws that are in River Heights or Tuxedo to people who are living on Bannatyne and the downtown core," Paskievich said.

Special Ed took three years to complete — Paskievich said he finished putting it together earlier this spring. During the filming process, Paskievich had no idea where the film was going, but when things took a turn for the worst, he begged Ackerman to pull himself together.

In addition to the decline of Ackerman’s life and building progress, he had also been in court at the time, thinking he would win a big financial settlement. That was when Paskievich told him the movie had to have a happy ending.

Paskievich was mum on the details of where Ed ends up by the conclusion of the film, but one thing is clear — unfortunately, Paskievich doesn’t get his wish.

"It was just getting too depressing," Paskievich said. "I said, ‘who wants to watch a film about someone just spiraling down? We have to have some kind of enlightenment that you and the audience can share somehow.’ It never happened."

Ackerman had said he spent the past few years "acting himself" for the documentary.

"I call him John ‘Take Two’ Paskievich, because I would do something off the cuff and witty, and John would say do it again," Ackerman elaborated.

Ackerman hasn’t seen a single frame of the documentary yet. Regardless, he said he would be at every screening.

Special Ed is showing at Cinematheque (100 Arthur St.) starting Oct. 17. For a list of dates and times, visit http://www.winnipegfilmgroup.com/cinematheque/special_ed.aspx

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