Born-and-raised Winnipegger up for Oscar

“The Shape of Water” editor Sidney Wolinsky nominated for Academy Award

The 90th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and this year, one nominee for the coveted prize once called Winnipeg home.

Sidney Wolinsky, a film editor, has been nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Shape of Water, a fantasy romance film that has generated a lot of buzz since its festival release in August and wider release in December.

Wolinsky, who lived in Winnipeg until he was 12, has been showered with accolades since the film’s release, including a BAFTA nomination and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award nomination, both for best editing.

“It feels amazing. It feels kind of unreal, really,” Wolinsky said.

“Like I’ve won the lottery. It’s an incredible thing and it’s been quite a ride.”

The Shape of Water is the darling of this year’s award season. Outside of editing, the film had the largest number of nominations at the BAFTAs with 12, and now leads the Academy Awards in nominations with 13, including for best picture and best director.

Director Guillermo Del Toro has an extensive filmography, including writing and producing credits. The Shape of Water is only the second of his films that has received Academy nominations, the first being Pan’s Labyrinth in 2007.

Wolinsky said Del Toro’s editing techniques were particularly unusual in terms of scheduling. He explained that Del Toro had a particularly hands-on approach to the editing process.

“In this case, Guillermo likes to come in on a daily basis and work with the editor on the cut as it’s being done – while he’s shooting,” he said.

“Which is pretty, I’d think, unusual. So, in essence, he starts his director’s cut from the first day of shooting – or the second day of shooting, as there’s nothing to cut on the first day of shooting – and works with the editor throughout the shooting process and then continues working afterwards.”

Wolinsky worked with Del Toro before on the pilot of his television series The Strain, and spoke to Del Toro’s devotion to quality.

“It’s always a privilege to be working with somebody who’s working at such a high level,” Wolinsky said. “Such a high caliber of skills.”

When asked about other Oscar-nominated films he would recommend, Wolinsky noted Phantom Thread (nominated for six Academy Awards) and Baby Driver (nominated for three, including film editing) as particular favourites.


The art of the edit

Wolinsky is no stranger to awards. His work on the pilot of Boardwalk Empire won him an Emmy in 2011 for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series. He was nominated for an Emmy three times between 2000 and 2004 for his work on The Sopranos.

The Sopranos, which holds a place in the canon of pop culture as a masterpiece of dramatic television, was an editing job Wolinsky particularly enjoyed.

“I’ve had some luck to get on some really good projects,” he said.

The Sopranos was a great show. I loved the show, I loved the material. I think the performances were fabulous. [Whenever] we got a new script, I’d read it greedily to see what happened. The writing was so good, which was one of the key things. It just crackled.”

While Wolinsky works primarily within the realm of television, he has worked on some feature films, including romantic films such as Terms of Endearment and the Disney holiday special One Magic Christmas. While his work spans genres, Wolinsky said his work is more about understanding the story presented within the film, rather than pulling from any particular influences.

“I don’t really think of other films or other editors, I just work with what I have and that kind of dictates how I cut it,” he said.

“That, and what the object of the scene is and also, how the scene fits in to the whole story of the film.”


Memories of Winnipeg

Wolinsky spent his childhood in Winnipeg and his family has artistic roots in the city. His mother, famed local sculptor Eva Stubbs, immigrated to Winnipeg as a refugee with her family when she was 19. She, along with Wolinsky, moved to Montreal in 1959, where she taught high school. She passed away in December 2017 at 92.

“She’d smuggle me into these French New Wave films, things like that,” Wolinsky said.

When thinking back on Winnipeg, Wolinsky said one of the first things that came to his mind was what many people think of when they think of Winnipeg – the weather.

“It was really cold,” he said.

“I did a lot of ice skating. We never missed school because of snow.”

He also mused on his childhood spent with friends exploring the city, including visiting the displays at the Hudson’s Bay Company, and – of course – going to movies.

“I had [a friend] who loved horror films, and he’d take me to see these [horror] films, and then I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I’d have nightmares,” he said.

Frankenstein, that kind of stuff. So I remember the rich childhood there with a lot of friends.”

While Wolinsky’s past was filled with snowy days and childhood languor, his future looks bright and busy. After the Oscars, Wolinsky will be going straight back to work.

“It’s a little bit unreal, and then it’ll all come to an end on Sunday,” he said.

“The coach will turn back into a pumpkin, and the horse will turn back into mice, and I’ll just be an ordinary film editor.”