Guy Maddin

Toronto through the eyes of Guy Maddin

Winnipeg-born filmmaker, Guy Maddin, may seem like an odd fit for a column devoted to Torontonians, but few people know that Mr. Maddin has flirted with living in the city for years. Being a true Canadian, however, the self-deprecating Maddin won't lay claim to either city as his own. Like his poetic films, which refuse to commit to one time or place, the internationally acclaimed director hovers between -- or beyond -- municipal boundaries.

Still, Maddin does have a film called My Winnipeg and has yet to make a film here in Toronto. In fact, the only job he ever held in T.O was washing dishes for Atom Egoyan's producer in exchange for room and board. Of late, however, Guy has been spending quite a lot of time here in Hogtown. After talking with him, I can't say definitively that he'll be making Tales from Toronto General anytime soon, but Mr. Maddin surely has two feet on the Gardiner and a heart that will never leave Portage and Main.

This column is laid out for notable Torontonians and most people know you, especially considering your last major release, My Winnipeg, as a hardcore Winnipegger; how tight is Winnipeg's hold on you?

I have an apartment here in Toronto. I live in the Roncesvalles area, with brainiac artist Paul Butler. We're great roomies -- we watch Sex Rehab together. I love the neighbourhood. I'm at Cherry Bomb every morning for a scone and coffee. I do still have an apartment in Winnipeg, mostly a roof over my head, while I teach one semester per year out of the Icelandic department at University of Manitoba -- a fantastic job if I have to have one. I also spend summers at the cottage on Lake Winnipeg, in Gimli. I see the day when I'll commute between Roncy and the lake.

Have you ever lived here in the past? If yes, why did you move back to Winnipeg? I've heard you have a pretty tumultuous relationship with that city...

When my daughter was a teenager she lived in Toronto so I would come live in the city for four months a year, renting a room in the Annex at Atom Egoyan producer Camelia Frieberg's place. I agreed to walk her dog Bessie and be her sous chef in return for lower rent. Turns out she threw a lot of dinner parties and I ended up chopping up greens for half the Toronto film community -- Atom, Arsinee Khanjian, Srinivas Krishna, Jeremy Podeswa, all them sat down regularly at Camelia's groaning board. I would see them whenever the door between kitchen and dining room swung open. I was allowed to sit with them during coffee, but I kept my apron on because I knew there'd be a lot of dishes to wash after. That's about as tumultuous as it got, except for the time I got really drunk and inexplicably kissed Atom on the mouth, real hard, exactly the way Michael Corleone kisses Fredo in the Godfather.

I know you get very homesick for Winnipeg, are you ever homesick for this city?

I am a sucker for the beach and I love the beach near Parkdale. To me it's a miracle that a city like Toronto has a waterfront like this. I love the way the water never freezes in the winter, and the frost makes the syringes look like candy. I love Trinity Bellwoods Park. I love, love, love riding my bike in Toronto. I never ride anywhere else. There are such big hills here compared to Winnipeg.

You seem to think Winnipeg is a kind of diseased city -- is Toronto healthy in your opinion?

Toronto is just as delightfully sickass, but in a different way, and I like the fever its illness produces in the patient -- it's a cool fever, even a cold one, if that makes sense. We're a pallid people, us Torontonians, we look like we've just risen from our sick or deathbeds, but we dress well. Maybe we're gussied up for the funeral parlour, there must be some reason everyone looks so good.

Have you ever made a project here? Do you plan to?

Haven't yet, but I want to. The next feature I make could be done in Ontario. It's just that I have such fiscally wonderful and even friendly support back in Manitoba. I feel loyal to them back there. But I've made the odd foreign film; I even made Brand Upon the Brain in Seattle, so I could certainly see making one here. Perhaps, I need to set my big cottage country melodrama on Toronto Island.

Compare the arts scene here to Winnipeg's? What are your likes and dislikes?

Well, Winnipeg's is really great, especially for its size -- no one quite knows why. But Paul Butler and I have started throwing our collage parties here and I've gotten to meet some of the tremendously sweet and gifted artists around town. Eva Michon, Shari Boyle, Jason MacLean, Nicole Vogelzang, Jenn Murphy, Sarah Cale, Robert Dayton, Ian August, ex-pat Manitoban Kent Monkman, Jason Kennett -- these people are just tremendous!!!! The place is so exciting. I've also gotten to know Toronto-based poets Ken Babstock, Evie Christie and Michael Lista! Knockouts!!! And every now and then I run into Michael Ondaatje, Atom, all my friends at TIFF and Scott Miller Berry, the director of the Images Festival, my fave event here!

Your films are heavily nostalgic almost to the point of stagnancy. Winnipeg seems aligned with this sensibility. Do you hold any keen sense of nostalgia for Toronto?

I've always thought of Queen and John as the major intersection of Toronto, the place I naturally gravitated to. It's central to a lot of other places I love -- the Skydome (You can't make me use its current name.), MuchMusic's M.O.D. tapings and screaming girls, CafĂŠ Crepe across the street and, until recently, Pages Bookstore. I keep going to Pages' address and feeling the same disappointment over its being forced out of business. I know it was a privately owned business, but it was a civic treasure and should have been protected somehow. It's like Toronto had a big chunk of its brain removed when they put the brown paper up in the windows at that amazing store. I don't like to visit there now, all I see is those papered over eyes -- the air of a trepanning hangs over that corner now. So that corner inspires most, but it inspires sadness.

What is Guy Maddin's "My Toronto?" What are your haunts, favorite stores, coffee shops etc?

Now I go to Type, the bookstore further west on Queen. Very nicely curated. I like Jet Fuel, a coffee joint on Parliament. I like Scooter Girl toy store on Roncy -- it's great for plastic jungle animals. Both my granddaughter Ava and I love them.

How does TIFF compare to other festivals you've been to? Will you be featured this year?

I like the SFIFF and the Berlinale a lot, but TIFF is the best there is, and they treat me really nicely. I have some installations going up in TIFF's new Bell Lightbox building this September -- eleven short projections designed to haunt the brand new edifice. It'll be so new when it opens, it'll need haunting badly!


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