Friday, 21 March 2014

SNAPSHOTS The Epic Story of My Life. Appendix C - Review By Greg Klymkiw - a new short film classic by one of Canada's best filmmakers unveils @ CanadianFilmFest2014 in glorious Royal Cinema of Toronto's Little Italy.

SNAPSHOTS The Epic Story of My Life. Appendix C (2013) Dir. Brian Stockton *****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In 1982, Regina-born-and-bred filmmaker (of the National Treasure variety), got his first camera and it became his primary eye to capture, in still frame, the world around him. For 25 years this camera took hundreds of photographs until it was laid to rest in 2007. Most of the pictures were looked at only once before being filed away in a box.

Growing up in a prairie town
Learning to drive in the snow
- Randy Bachmann, Prairie Town

In 1984, Stockton found himself driving very safely at the modest speed of 100 kilometres per hour during a standard 780 kilometre sojourn from Regina, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta. On a lonely single lane highway at night he did, like so many of us did, fearlessly and confidently continue forward through a massive snowstorm - at night, 'natch. The less-than-zero visibility was enough for any skilled prairie boy to ascertain that huge drifts were forming on the sides of the road, so he made sure not to go any faster, even though the chances of hitting an R.C.M.P. speed trap was unlikely in such weather since the scarlet lawmen would be sitting in donut shops with their radios off as they'd be in no mood to attend any violent, booze-fuelled domestic disputes which might force them to brave windchill temperatures where exposed flesh would freeze in under thirty seconds.

Alas, even for a prairie boy, there's little one can do when a huge drift appears suddenly, a veritable wall of snow from one end of the highway to another. You don't slam on your brakes. That would be suicide. You drive through the motherfucker and pray as your life flashes before your eyes.

Now, as a prairie boy myself, I can assure you that fishtailing in the middle of the night is a whole lot of fun, especially when accompanied by jars of open liquor, but only in empty mall parking lots or the frozen Red River near the asylum in Selkirk, Manitoba - you know the one, the loony bin that still has a huge water tower from which several inmates each year take deadly dives from. But no, you really don't want to go into a fishtail on a prairie highway at 100 kilometres an hour on a lonely prairie highway during a snowstorm in the middle of the fucking night. And make no mistake, young Mr. Stockton was sober and an event of this kind spells the sort of split-second calamity that can take your life.

Luckily, on the prairies, ditches are designed properly, unlike most places in Canada - especially the idiot province of Ontario. On the prairies, whilst fishtailing on almost any icy highway at night, at 100 KMH, in a storm, after you've ploughed through a massive fucking drift spanning the entire road, sitting there like some misplaced coastal breakwater, chances are good - if you don't flip - that you'll happily skid into a gentle pocket of fluffy snow filling the aforementioned properly designed ditch. (On the prairies, where drinking and driving is illegal, but socially acceptable, a party host will always fill you up with a beaker of booze just as you're leaving and offer you the neighbourly salutation, "Here you go, bud. Have one more for the ditch.")

Well, to make a long story short, one which is already much shorter as related within Mr. Stockton's, uh, short film, the filmmaker's car did indeed gently whoosh into the comfy blanket of snow in the prairie ditch where he could sit safely with candles from his survival pack, nibbling on tasty semi-sweet chocolate (from said survival pack) and keeping himself all toasty whilst tuning in some crackling radio station and listening to scratchy music for old invalids drifting over the air waves and then, wait patiently for an R.C.M.P. car to eventually come by so the officers, not leaving the comfort of their vehicle, as they clutch their warm travel mugs of Tim Horton's coffee, bravely call dispatch for a tow truck to come and pull you out so you can continue your journey.

Yes, this is one of two stories Stockton relates in his moving, funny, haunting and important short film. Both stories entail near brushes with death - the kind that cause images of your life to flash before your eyes. As Stockton relates the tales in a delightful deadpan, the aforementioned 25-years worth of photographs from that box, so long-ago shelved and only recently opened, flash profoundly before our eyes.

The first story had particular resonance for me. In the halcyon days of my youth, I ploughed through many a prairie winter storm in my car and gently drifted - usually after hitting an icy patch or snowdrift in around the Trans-Canada Highway near the Elie-Portage La Prairie Township Line and/or up-a-ways in the fine Rural Municipality of Gimli, Manitoba - cascading with the telltale whoosh-whoosh as my car nestled into one of our beautifully designed rural ditches.

The flashing images Stockton assembles from that seldom-touched box of photos also have resonance. I am a prairie boy, too, you see. They're pictures of Stockton, his friends and family over a 25-year period - on the prairies and beyond. There are few shots that don't resemble those sitting forlornly in my own boxes. It's a piece of time, place and history that Stockton encapsulates - one that paints a glorious, nostalgic and elegiac portrait of Canada.

Filmmaker Matthew Rankin is also a prairie boy. His brilliant short film Negativipeg tells a story similar to the second story Stockton relates in Snapshots. Both stories involve blood spilling, violence and a near-death experience in an all-night prairie convenience store. I too, have had a few of those exact experiences. Prairie boys like to spend inordinate amounts of time in all-night convenience stores. The only difference between Stockton's tale and Rankin's is that the former is Stockton's own personal tale, whilst Rankin's is a strange documentary reconstruction of a similar event in the North End of Winnipeg which involved the famed Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings. Cummings, of course, is a prairie boy too.

Aside from the clear overall artistic merits of Stockton's short film, it is a work of great cultural significance with respect to the Canadian experience. His film was funded, as are so many Canadian films through the generosity and importance of a Canadian government agency called the Canada Council for the Arts. Sadly this organization has been slashed and burned by Canada's Conservative Party. While most countries around the world value the reflection of their unique cultures and provide adequate public assistance - even in these tough times - Canada, especially English Canada, could seem to care less. It's not like important works which are funded by entities like the Canada Council can be financed in the free market. This is not corporate welfare because it's not industry-driven. Ironically, Stockton's film would probably resonate in its own way with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper, you see, is a prairie boy too.

This is a film that speaks to thousands, if not millions of Canadians from this region and probably elsewhere in the country too. Its value is not ephemeral, either. Its cultural significance to living generations of Canadians, future generations of Canadians and the world as a whole should not have a price-tag affixed to it. Even more ironically is that, at least from my experience, cultural support of Canadian artists' endeavours was never stronger than under the most hated administration in the country's history - the Progressive Conservatives under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The new conservatives, like Harper and his cronies (and yes, even factions within the Liberal Party) have less interest in cultural preservation than a conservative who was (and still is) reviled. Funny, that.

Even more ludicrous are the lack of venues to publicly screen such films. Thanks to the Conservative funding cuts to the National Film Board of Canada, local cinemas housed under the umbrellas of the NFB have been shuttered (and in fairness to those who orchestrated said funding cuts, the NFB ultimately fucked-up the true potential of this cross-country circuit of screening venues). Thankfully, organizations like the Canadian Film Fest exist to provide public vehicles to present Canadian work to Canadians. Even more importantly is that this is a venue with few ties to the kind of Status Quo programming in other venues that repress so many works of Canadian film art by kowtowing to the narrow needs of God-Knows-Who-Anymore.

I wonder if Prairie Boy P.M. Stephen Harper is familiar with the work of another Prairie Boy, Randy Bachmann, lead guitarist of The Guess Who and leader of B.T.O.? I leave him and you one important line from Bachmann's song "Prairie Town". It reflects, so simply, why Canada and its artists and the country's indelible regional cultural history are preserved by our art, just as in Brian Stockton's superb Snapshots.

. . . the prairies made me what I am today. - Randy Bachmann, Prairie Town

You can find out more about filmmaker Brian Stockton and even buy his movies by accessing his website HERE.

A similar scene to the one experienced by Jim Jarmusch and others in New York during the 70s and 80s and captured in the documentary BLANK CITY as well as many other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" series was happening in Winnipeg. A very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with was spawned during these halcyon days. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.

A great selection of early Guy Maddin, many of which that I produced and were written by George Toles, can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon:

BLANK CITY and other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" Series can be accessed here: