In a conventional sense, few things are more Canadian than the culturally pure output of the National Film Board but in a less conventional sense, the weird and wonderful work of Winnipeg-based surrealist Guy Maddin (director of The Saddest Music in the World among many, many others) is as well.
And while the thought of marrying these two very different cinematic sensibilities seems pretty abstract, in honour of their 70th anniversary, the powers that be at the NFB have done just that.
The eccentric Maddin is currently helming the short film Night Mayor, a picture that both celebrates the spirit and legacy of the iconic production house while still remaining true to his own unique, nostalgia steeped aesthetic.
“The film is about a guy named Nihad from Bosnia in 1939 who, living in Canada, has invented a primitive form of television.” explains Maddin of his experimental tribute.
“Drawing on the power of the aura borealis, his machine broadcast images of Canadians to Canadians. There’s no script and I don’t know how this will turn out, I’m just trying to hypnotize myself into thinking the people in the film are real subjects and that I’ve just hired myself to make this documentary.”
Using the same vintage 16mm equipment and black and white stock utilized by NFB filmmakers in the ’30s and ’40s, Maddin is hoping his movie will stylistically echo the feel of a real classic Film Board production.
But the question remains: After all these years does the avant garde Maddin really think that the largely ignored NFB still has any real relevance to Canadians?
“It’s doing the work that our mainstream films have not been doing,” says Maddin, who cites Paul Tomkowicz: Street Railway Switchman as his favourite NFB picture. “And that’s mythologizing us as a country. They’re doing the job of pop culture and I think that’s pretty cool.”
• For more information and to watch one of the over 700 classic NFB films online for free, log on to www.nfb.com.
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