There's Snow Business Like Show Business In Canada

The National Screen Institute's FilmExchange festival of Canadian cinema closed March 6 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a gala screening of Guy Maddin's homegrown The Saddest Music in the World before a full house at the Globe Cinema, a stone's throw from the historic intersection of Portage and Main.

Winnipeg in March may not seem like the ideal place and time for a film festival, but the NSI positively trumpets its wintry setting. Billing itself as "Canada's coolest film festival", the FilmExchange kicked off the previous Tuesday with an outdoor screening (temperature ­16 º C) of National Film Board of Canada animated shorts, projected upon a screen made of--what else?--snow.

Maddin was on hand to introduce his film, as were director Carl Bessai, with his recent Emile, and the film's lead actor, Deborah Kara Unger, all of whom attended postscreening parties that were open to the public. Kids in the Hall alumnus and Saddest Music star Mark McKinney was in town to attend the screening and take part in an on-stage chat about his career. The above, plus dozens of other filmmakers, producers, and distributors, could be found at any given time in the lounge of the Fort Garry Hotel--the event's home base--chatting, drinking, and planning future ventures.

Attendees were treated to the sight of federal Liberal cabinet minister Bill Graham hoisting a cocktail with Winnipeg's mayor, Glen Murray (the former trying to convince the latter to run in the next election as a Liberal, according to their waiter), while a table away, young filmmakers were noisily getting a head start on the night's merrymaking.

The main quality of the FilmExchange is its intimacy. There is little formality to most events, and the festival is small enough--13 features, 44 shorts, daily workshops and receptions--to allow attendees to catch everything and still have time to partake of the impromptu meetings that serve as the real engines of any film festival.

Under the four-year stewardship of former Vancouverite Bill Evans, the fest has carved out a unique position on the Canadian festival scene over the past six years: its exclusively Canadian focus brings together veterans and up-and-comers from all parts of the country, then gives them the chance to get together and form potentially creative friendships and partnerships.

Despite the metre of snow piled up outside, the most frequent words used by participants to convey the feeling of the festival were cozy, friendly, and warm. Not bad for Winnipeg in March.