Diaristic documentaries

From Feb. 11-13, the Winnipeg Film Group’s Cinematheque will be hosting Alan Zweig, one of Canada’s greatest documentary filmmakers, with a retrospective of some of his best works. Cinematheque is not alone in highlighting his films this year; both Hot Docs and TVO are organizing retrospectives.

The director, who won a Gemini award last year for his riveting and emotionally intense doc on ex-convicts, A Hard Name, will be screening three films that work together as a trilogy. All three, Vinyl; I, Curmudgeon and Lovable revolve around Zweig diaristically examining his own obsessions by interviewing others who share them.

All of these films have played in the city before, and he’s shot segments of them here as well. “On that level I’m happy,” says Zweig. “All of these films have shown at Cinematheque, or been partly shot in Winnipeg, but I’ve never been there with them.”

“I’m a little worried about the turnout. I first went to Winnipeg in ’95 in the winter, with [producer] Greg Klymkiw. The first night all of his friends came out. The next night he called them and nobody would come out.”

A special feature of the series will be an alternate version of Vinyl, screened for the first time ever. The original films centres around hardcore record collectors, but the film is more interested in the compulsion to obsess over collecting than the actual intricacies of the craft. “It came from when I thought I would release a DVD of the film,” Zweig explains. “My editor and I sat down for a week and cut this together. There was a lot of material that had to be cut, that I kind of missed.” Included in this cut are extended interviews with Atom Egoyan, Bruce McDonald, Harvey Pekar and Guy Maddin, “in a cemetery in Gimli.”

Zweig is also doing a workshop focusing on his brand of diaristic cinema, of which he says, “I’m embarrassed, but I like doing Q&A stuff. I’m glad to do it, but it’s kind of embarrassing. It’s the kind of thing that if a friend was offered the opportunity I would be happy, but pissed that it wasn’t offered to me.”

Making full use of his time in the city, he is also hosting The Road Ended At The Beach: Part 2 on Feb. 12. Zweig was present at the founding of the renowned “Escarpment School” group of filmmakers, although as sort of an ancillary member.

Still, his short film Trip Sheet has made the cut for the retrospective. He claims it was an attempt to fit in at a school, Sheridan College, where students were expected to make experimental films. One of the founding members of the group saw it re-screened in Zweig’s living room in the recent past and “must have thought it was better than he remembered. Somebody made the connection, but mostly I’ll just gossip at the screening.”

If you’re at all interested in seeing a few of the most compelling, charming and unique films Canada has produced in recent memory, you will be at Cinematheque this weekend.

Cinematheque is hosting “Shooting Myself in the Mirror: The Obsessive Cinema of Alan Zweig,” a trilogy of his films from Feb. 11-13. The director will introduce all films.