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DOCULA documents a bloody business

DOCULA aims to draw attention to documentary filmmaking before it joins the undead.


Peter Wintonick is troubled by the vampire trend in cinema, and he's not talking about the Twilight series.

Wintonick, the Montreal-based filmmaker behind such acclaimed documentaries as Manufacturing Consent, believes bureaucrats in the private and government sectors are guilty of "sucking the lifeblood" out of documentary filmmaking in Canada. Which is why he happily accepted the role of vampire slayer at "DOCULA: Driving a Stake Through the Heart of Documentary," a symposium for filmmakers hosted at NSCAD this Saturday and Sunday.

The event, a collaborative effort involving NSCAD, the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative and Doc-Atlantic, is an opportunity for filmmakers such as Wintonick to share ideas about documentary aesthetics as well as production and distribution challenges.

Wintonick says those challenges are mounting steadily, with major Canadian broadcasters cutting back their commitment to independent documentary and lobbying for access funds to support their own notions of the format, including reality television.

"The single visions of filmmakers that have really been the strength of Canadian documentary, the films that been getting seen in places like Sundance and create a Canadian identity around the world, are really under threat," Wintonick says.

This threat, he says, applies not only to filmmakers but to audiences seeking out thoughtful documentaries.

"I think it's these unique voices and visions that these audiences want," he says. "They don't want homogenized media."

Wintonick worries that this point of view might reflect his own sense of nostalgia more than current audience demands. His nostalgic side will be on display when Pilgrimage, a documentary he co-directed with his 20-year-old daughter, Mira Burt-Wintonick, screens on Sunday (Bus Stop Theatre, 8pm, free). The film follows the father-daughter team across Europe as they visit historic cinematic landmarks while simultaneously exploring the way new media technologies have broadened the definition of film.

"We're trying to look at the way two generations are either consuming images or making their own," says Wintonick. "It's a kind of co-directed dialogue."

He describes Pilgrimage as the "probably the first and last really personal film I've made." In other words, the kind of independent vision that he and Darrell Varga, DOCULA organizer and a film professor at NSCAD, say that mainstream audiences rarely see in theatrical releases---and could see even less of if funding continues to drain away.

"You'll see the films that have some kind of big tie-in or celebrity," says Varga, "but there are scores of powerful, moving documentary films made in this country and around the world every year."

He believes, just as with Hollywood blockbusters, the best way to see such films is on the big screen. He's excited to give that opportunity to the public with free screenings of both Pilgrimage and Last Train Home, Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan's documentary about migrant factory workers in China (Saturday, 8pm, NSCAD Bell Auditorium, free).

"Last Train Home is the hottest new documentary circulating in the international festival scene right now," Varga says. "So for us to get that into Halifax as a kind of preview is really a great opportunity for the public."

A piece of street theatre will also bring the DOCULA theme to life. Varga is coy about specifics, but says that on Saturday after a public forum at NSCAD's Academy Building (1-5pm), attendees will walk to a "sacred site," where Wintonick will lead a mock ritual marking the death of Canadian documentary filmmaking.

It's a largely tongue-in-cheek exercise, but Varga says the idea is also to make a serious point. "We live in the age of vampire capitalism and the vampires have sucked all the blood out of documentary filmmaking," he says. "We need to drive a stake through the vampire's heart."

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