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This article was published 26/9/2009 (4401 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Thursday, MTS Winnipeg on Demand premieres the six-part live concert series Live at the West End and the documentary Call to Arms: The Story of the Royal Albert, a 45-minute feature about the local musical institution.
The two presentations focus on local music, but approach the topics from different angles. Live at the West End features six different 30-minute shows focusing on one artist, combining interview segments and live concert footage. Call to Arms is an in-depth look at the Royal Albert, from its beginnings as a blue-collar hotel in 1913 to its status today as an iconic landmark that has hosted everyone from Green Day to the band you hear practising in your neighbour's basement.
"My idea was to be a non-genre-specific kind of a show, not a folky show or a rock show or a punky show, so we have rock, singer-songwriters, everything," says Live at the West End producer Johnny Marlow. "I wanted to feature the width and breadth of our musical community. Obviously you can't do it in six shows because we have such a wide and vibrant community, but people who don't get out to the bars can have a small sampling of what is out there musically.
"I hope people walk away being proud of their own musical legacy here in Winnipeg. I hope they rediscover a band they haven't seen in a while, or most importantly, discover a new band."
Live at the West End was shot at the West End Cultural Centre over three nights in June shortly after the venue reopened following a $3-million makeover. Featured subjects of the series include country artist Bryce Pallister, singer-songwriters Cat Jahnke, JP Hoe and Daniel Roa, rock band Telepathic Butterflies and blues-rock outfit Dr. Rage & the Uppercuts.
The six-camera shoot was handled by Absurd Machine Studios, directed by James Rewucki and looks as professional as any high-quality concert DVD on the market. Marlow's goal was to make something on par with Austin City Limits.
"I could not have done this without those guys," Marlow says. "They were as enthusiastic as I was. They're musicians too, so they know what the musicians want technically, and being fans they also know what it is audiences want to see, so it was a great marriage."
Call to Arms director, writer and editor Randy Frykas is also a musician and a fan, so when it came time to chronicle the story of the Royal Albert he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve, even if his initial idea was scrapped early into his 13-month shoot.
"I had a treatment written for this, but two weeks in I threw it out," Frykas says. "I was going to let it just happen. It was the type of story I couldn't make a plan for. I went there as much as I could as often as I could and let things happen. I let the people tell the story."
The film features a huge cast of interview subjects including Andrew W.K., Sloan's Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson, Bif Naked, Nomeansno's Tom Holliston, F ed Up's Damian Abraham, Ian Blurton, Charlie Harper of the U.K. Subs and numerous local musicians, including Johnny Sizzle, who acts as the film's unofficial narrator.
The Albert staff share their thoughts and memories of the building, and historian Matthew Komus talks about its background and evolution. The broad overview of the subject is impressive and should ensure its reach extends beyond just music fans, which is what Frykas was hoping to achieve.
"I wanted to learn what the building was before," says the 29-year-old filmmaker, who is making his directorial debut after earning his living as a film editor for the past seven years. "It's not always been a rock 'n' roll venue. I wanted a balance of all the elements from the rock show to when people lived there, its rich history and how it's viewed from a geographical and social standpoint.
"The film could have been straight-up rock 'n' roll, but I wanted to have peaks and valleys to the film. An element I wanted to get across, too, is that Winnipeg theme, how the Albert is viewed as an underdog compared to other buildings in Winnipeg, but Winnipeg is an underdog compared to other cities."
The warts-and-all documentary focuses on all aspects of the building, from its humble beginnings as a working-class hotel constructed just off the Main Street strip, through the hard times when it was a haven for low-income Winnipeggers, the notorious headline-grabbing murder in room 309 where actress Susan Sarandon's stolen jewels were found and its status as one of the best venues in Winnipeg. The film features live footage of numerous bands, including the U.K. Subs, the Unwanted, Electro Quarterstaff, Hot Live Guys, Hide Your Daughters, High Five Drive and American Flamewhip.
Frykas shot more than 60 hours of footage, including 20 bands and over 40 different interviews. He spent two months editing everything for the 45-minute feature that will also be screened at the Royal Albert on Oct. 8.
He and producer Jeff Newman will be shopping the documentary to film festivals and Frykas is continuing to shoot footage for the project, which he sees evolving to include stories from earlier decades and artists like Green Day and Dave Grohl, who played the Albert on their way to achieving global fame. They are also working on a DVD release with extra footage.
Until then, all any Winnipegger needs to do to see the new shows is click the A or VOD buttons on their remote. The service is free.
"We think this music series will be very appealing to our subscribers and I think people will be amazed at the quality of the programming," says Jill Gibson, MTS Allstream spokeswoman. "What these community producers have created is quite remarkable."
MTS Winnipeg on Demand has been running since 2004 and produces locally produced content based on proposals from local filmmakers. Some upcoming features include Willy's Garage, hosted by Winnipeg Free Press auto writer Paul Williamson, and a documentary about local band the Weakerthans.
Marlow hopes the shows prove popular among MTS's 83,000 subscribers to ensure more will be shot.
"I'm hoping with the enthusiastic support of the community it won't be much longer before MTS asks us to do another," he says.
On Thursday, the free service, MTS Winnipeg on Demand, will premiere two new locally shot music series. Here's a brief overview of what to expect:
Live at the West End
Director/Editor: James Rewucki
Producer: Johnny Marlow
Synopsis: A six part series focusing on local talent featuring interviews and concert segments shot at the West End Cultural Centre. Each show ranges in length from 30 to 35 minutes. Country artist Bryce Pallister, singer-songwriters Cat Jahnke, JP Hoe and Daniel Roa, rock band Telepathic Butterflies and blues-rock outfit Dr. Rage & the Uppercuts are profiled.
Call To Arms: The Story of the Royal Albert
Director/Editor/Writer: Randy Frykas
Producer: Jeff Newman
Synopsis: An in-depth 45-minute documentary about the Royal Albert Arms Hotel featuring interviews with musicians and staff, live footage and an historical overview of the legendary live venue.