In search of lost time Fifty-year-old footage of Winnipeg finally sees light of day at documentary film festival


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2022 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Festival preview

Gimme Some Truth
● Dave Barber Cinematheque
● Today to Dec. 11
Festival passes: $65, $45 for Winnipeg Film Group members, at
Tickets: $10, $8 for students and seniors, $6 for members

Film footage from 1970s-era Winnipeg that was stored in a closet for five decades will finally get its time in the spotlight.

The Gimme Some Truth documentary film festival, which begins tonight at the Dave Barber Cinematheque, includes Not Forgotten Docs: Winnipeg Documentaries From the 1970s, which includes footage of the Canadian Pacific Railways’ rail yards, a daycare centre in the Exchange District and the 1975 Winnipeg Folk Festival.

The three found films, along with three others that are part of the film group’s archives, will be shown Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cinematheque.

Yardmen and Winnipeg Children’s House come from unfinished movies by Winnipegger Leon Johnson, who had kept the films he shot five decades ago in storage until Kevin Nikkel, another local filmmaker, learned about them while researching the Winnipeg Film Group’s history.

Thanks in part to documentary filmaker Kevin Nikkel, film footage from 1970s-era Winnipeg that was stored in a closet for five decades will finally get its time in the spotlight.</p>


Thanks in part to documentary filmaker Kevin Nikkel, film footage from 1970s-era Winnipeg that was stored in a closet for five decades will finally get its time in the spotlight.

“He and I went down to his basement to start looking for the film reels and film elements,” Nikkel says. “I took the film reels home to digitize and finish off this film called Yardmen that he had begun in the ’70s and just didn’t finish.”

Yardmen provides views of the city before downtown towers were built. Nikkel says there are shots where the Richardson Building dominates the city skyline and others showing how busy the rail yards were.

“It’s a fantastic little time capsule of these old-timers from the 1970s who are working or had been working in the rail yards for 30 years,” Nikkel says. “I drive over the Arlington Street Bridge all the time and love glancing across at this massive yard full of rails but here are these guys who are working there all year round and this is their life. This is a really great portrait.”

Winnipeg Children’s House comes from Johnson’s Super-8 millimetre footage of a daycare centre in the Exchange District, which has since become home to the Children’s House Montessori School.

                                <p>Yardmen includes footage of the Canadian Pacific rail yards shot by Winnipeg documentarian Leon Johnson.</p>


Yardmen includes footage of the Canadian Pacific rail yards shot by Winnipeg documentarian Leon Johnson.

The festival footage, which includes appearances by folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Floyd Westerman, the Dakota Sioux musician, activist and actor, serves as a teaser to a full documentary of the festival’s early days, which Nikkel had been working on with Dave Barber, who was Cinematheque’s programmer, prior to his death in 2021.

“This is something that is a joy to work on because Dave and I spent so much time working on it together, so that’s part of my motivation for continuing it,” says Nikkel who’s aiming to release the film in 2024.

Film schedule

● 7 p.m. — Gimme 10 in 30! documentary filmmaking challenge screening
● 9 p.m. — Ever Deadly
● 5:30 p.m. — Scripting the Unscripted with Alexandre O. Philippe, at Black Lodge, 304-100 Arthur St.
● 7 p.m. — Drop the Needle
● 9:30 p.m. — The Taking
● 7 p.m. — Lynch/Oz
● 9:30 p.m. — Shakedown
● 1 p.m. — Not Forgotten Docs: Winnipeg Documentaries From the 1970s
● 4 p.m. — Black Ice
● 7 p.m. — All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
● 9:15 p.m. — Ask Any Buddy
● 11 p.m. — Sex Demon
● Noon — Stories of Decolonization: (De)Colonial Relations
● 1:15 p.m. — The Rumba Kings
● 3:15 p.m. — Nelly & Nadine
● 5:30 p.m. — Framing Agnes
● 7:30 p.m. — New short docs

Also included in Saturday’s program are Main Street Soldier, a 1972 film by Leonard Yakir that focuses on Ray LeClair, a Second World War veteran who battles alcoholism on Main Street; Havakeen Lunch, a 1979 film by Elise Swerhone that follows the Kihn family’s final day operating the titular café in Eriksdale; and The West Quarter, a short by Joanne Johnson Jackson, who aims her lens at a field of sunflowers.

The local docs also pay tribute to the documentary work by the Winnipeg Film Group, which is presenting Gimme Some Truth in 2022 for the 13th time.

“It helps to reframe our history a little bit because the film group is often known for its dramatic films of John Paisz and Guy Maddin, these quirky dramas that have become so much of the reputation of the film group,” Nikkel says. “One of the reasons for putting this program together was to remind us that documentary is very much a part of our history.”

Swiss director Alexandre O. Philippe, whose films have studied the notorious shower scene in Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock classic, and the fans of the Star Wars franchise, appears at the festival Thursday evening for a in-person workshop and to introduce two new films that will be screened at Gimme Some Truth.

The Taking (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.) casts a critical eye on the westerns, most notably John Ford’s The Searchers, that used Monument Valley, near the Utah-Arizona border, as a shooting location. The valley is a sacred area that’s part of the traditional lands of the Navajo.

The Taking is about how the John Ford films were essentially a form of colonization, because they skewed the history of Monument Valley to be about these western films and it completely erases the history of the area,” says Jaimz Asmundson, Cinematheque’s programming director.

The second Philippe film is Lynch/Oz (Friday, 7 p.m.), which examines the link between director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.

Lynch rarely discusses his films or what influences them, but during a Q&A session on his film Mulholland Dr., Lynch said, “There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of The Wizard of Oz,” which becomes the launching point of the documentary.

“(Philippe) invites a lot of film writers and filmmakers to talk about their experience with the films and how they see that influence in his films,” Asmundson says

Other notable festival screenings include Black Ice (Saturday, 4 p.m.), which studies the history of anti-Black racism in hockey, Ever Deadly (Wednesday, 9 p.m.), which highlights Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq, and Drop the Needle, a look at a family-run record store that creates a community for music lovers, presented in association with Jazz Winnipeg, CKUW, UMFM and Old Gold Vintage Vinyl.

The festival begins tonight at 7 p.m. with world premières of short docs by local filmmakers titled Gimme 10 in 30!, which includes a $500 prize for the Audience Choice Award voted on by viewers after the screening.

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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