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Too big to read …

Project Update: End of the Journey …

Premiere screening of Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres at the Park Theatre, Dec 1, 2012

If it’s possible to feel exhilarated and anti-climactic at the same time, that’s how I feel this evening. It’s been just over a year since I shot Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres, my documentary about the experience of going to the movies back when there were real theatres instead of multi-screen bunkers, and the process I started then has finally come to an end. We had the premiere this afternoon at the Park Theatre on Osborne Street – the only remaining neighbourhood theatre in Winnipeg (although these days, it’s mostly a venue for live music).

With my ushers, Janine and Karen

Thanks to my friend Janine, it was a livelier event than if I’d organized it by myself. She and our friend Karen came dressed as old-time ushers, handing out the free popcorn and showing people to their seats. She had also organized some door prizes, which – after my rambling introduction – were drawn for by her niece Gabby and two nephews, Zack and Max.

Then, before the actual screening, the members of Baltimore Road went up on stage to perform their song “Saturday Matinee”. This was one of those strange coincidences which seemed to attach themselves to the project: band member Stewart Fay was one of the people I interviewed for the film and not only does the song express the emotions I was trying to get across, it had been written several years ago to mark the reopening of the Park Theatre … everything just falling into place … (Another of those strange coincidences: CanadInns was reopening the renovated/restored Metropolitan Theatre downtown on Donald Street  the same day as my screening; in my opening narration, I mention their plans for reviving the Met as the original inspiration for my project.)

Nervously introducing the film

Seeing your film with a real audience for the first time is a strange experience. By now I know every moment, every detail because I’ve seen it countless times – in fragments as I edited, and complete as I watched each cut to gauge content, overall pace and tone. But once it’s playing on a big screen with a crowd of people (many of whom I’d never met before – everyone I invited brought friends and relatives), it’s a different thing entirely. It’s out of my hands and in the audience’s. My perception of it changed as I experienced their responses.

Drawing for door prizes

This can be really painful – going in, I was acutely aware of all the weaknesses, the technical flaws, the tricks I’d used to hide the fact that sometimes I was forcing things together which perhaps didn’t really work in an objective way. But I was lucky. The audience this afternoon was with me. I hadn’t realized how funny much of the film is until I heard the laughter (after the screening, one of my subjects told me he hadn’t realized I was making a comedy and would have been much funnier in his interview if he’d known). It was also gratifying to realize that many of my viewers found the historical information interesting (I was worried that I’d kept things too sketchy in order not to bog down the pace).

Baltimore Road perform “Saturday Matinee” live

The event also brought into focus just how much things have changed since I started making films almost a quarter of a century ago. My first short premiered on 16mm film; today, I screened my feature from a file on my laptop … if I had more RAM, I could’ve screened the full HD master; but I had to use a compressed SD file, so the image wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked. But that didn’t seem to matter to the people watching – they were focused on the content, on the lively, engaging, funny, sometimes melancholy things the people up there on the screen were saying.

The Park Theatre

So – after more than a year of work, it’s done, out of my hands and out in the world. Feeling the positive response and getting all those post-screening compliments, from the people in the film and also from those who had just come to watch it, was exhilarating … but what’s left this evening is a big “now what?”

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A big thanks to Cam Bennett and Winnipeg-On-Demand for funding this project, and to Kyle Bornais and John Barnard at Farpoint Films for facilitating the production (and handling all the mind-numbing accounting paperwork!).

Also thanks to Erick Casselman and the staff at the Park Theatre.

Photos courtesy Megan Thom and Ken Spicer.

8 thoughts on “Project Update: End of the Journey …

  1. The premiere of “Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres” was a much more enjoyable event than I had anticipated. I guess I’d sat with you over enough coffees and listened to so much of your detailed dissection of the process that I had started to worry! But seeing it on screen, I had a great time, as did my wife. We’re not as old as most of the people interviewed in the film, and my memories are almost entirely from 1969, when I arrived in Winnipeg as a nine-year-old, to the end of the 1980s, when the era covered in your movie ended, but GOING brought back a lot of great memories. I have a strange knack for being able to remember the theater for nearly every movie I saw (as did most of the people in your film, apparently), but in this case, I started remembering movies when your interview subjects started talking about theaters. Ah, those were good times… even if the movies themselves left a little to be desired… Blackula, Count Yorga, Frogs, The Beast Must Die, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and so many more… even some best unremembered soft-core erotica at the Roxy and Starlight on Main Street, where underage teenage boys had no trouble getting in regardless of the film’s rating!

    We mentioned to Val’s mother (85 years old) that we’d seen GOING, and she immediately started reminiscing about her own movie going days (she lived on Beverley Street.) “It only cost 5 cents or 10 cents to get in, and they gave out prizes… even dishes!” She’s really looking forward to seeing the film when it’s available on MTS. Any DVD going to be available in the near future… as in, before Christmas?

    Anyway, congratulations! Great job! I can’t even imagine what you’re going to do next.

    • Thanks, Steve

      It’s been fascinating to see how just mentioning what the film is about has the power to open people up and trigger a lot of really deeply held memories. I guess my own life has been so steeped in watching movies that I often just take it for granted … but it’s obvious from this past year that this quintessential 20th Century entertainment/art form really has burrowed its way deeply into our communal experience.

      Still trying to figure out the whole DVD thing (remember, we did this on a REALLY small budget!), so not before Christmas, I’m afraid … but hopefully we can get something out early next year.

  2. Thank you, George for this beautiful film. It’s a real gift to our city, and a testament to how much our stories matter in creating and keeping alive an urban landscape that has all but passed away. I love that the film doesn’t just fill us with a bunch of facts and detail – it’s this living history, these stories that touch our hearts, that we will remember!

    • There’s certainly a place for basic facts, but there’s no substitute for the voices of people speaking honestly and emotionally about their own personal experiences.

  3. Oh, and George, I loved being an usherette! Thanks for the opportunity, and thanks to my fellow usherette, Karen! What fun, “what a memory!”

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