Focus on Festivals

Hot Docs 2013: Special Ed

Courtesy Hot Docs

In that first split second of locking eyeballs with Ed Ackerman upon our inaugural meeting in my Winnipeg Film Group (WFG) office in late 1987, where I happily toiled as the director of distribution and marketing, several things were immediately apparent:

Ed was a genius.

Ed was passionate.

Ed made super-cool movies.

Ed didn’t take “no” for an answer.

Ed was clearly out of his fucking mind.

This was fine by me. Virtually every filmmaker in Winnipeg was nuts (and frankly, according to reliable sources, so was I). After all, this was Winnipeg. Who in their right mind would make movies here, anyway? Then again, why not make movies? There wasn’t much else to do in those halcyon days.

Let’s fast-forward 25 years. I don’t live anywhere near Winnipeg. In fact, I can barely visit Winnipeg these days without wanting to kill myself. Director John Paskievich reminds me of this unique affliction—Winnipeg Melancholia—just after I have watched his heartbreaking new feature documentary. Entitled Special Ed, and having its world premiere at Hot Docs, the movie is all about my old pal Ed Ackerman, the visionary Winnipeg-born director and animator who studied film at Ryerson, dabbled in commercial work with Sesame Street and, as an early member of the WFG, made groundbreaking experimental animated work like Sarah’s Dream, 5 Cents a Copy and the genuinely triumphant (at home and abroad) Primiti Too Taa, which blended typewriter animation with Dadaist Kurt Schwitter’s sound poetry.

Ed Ackerman was born and raised in the core area of Winnipeg when it was vibrant, exciting, full of life and business shared space with residential housing. Like so many of the city’s artists and filmmakers, he was influenced by a city that was very cool. Ed went away, though—for a long time. After a stay in Toronto, he chose to follow his biggest supporter and angel investor, the late Don Haig, to Montreal.

I saw Ed a few times in la belle province and when he eventually moved back to Winnipeg. Ed had new and exciting plans. Having purchased three ramshackle homes in the core area to build an animation studio and restore as legacies for his children, he was especially thrilled to be finishing a film, Once Upon A Typewriter, at the NFB.

Fast-forward again to Special Ed. One of the opening scenes is Ackerman clearing his stuff out of the NFB Winnipeg headquarters after they’ve given him the boot. Then we watch Ed’s unorthodox efforts to restore his three homes against all odds as the City of Winnipeg makes his life a living hell. What’s really inspiring is seeing Ed, a mad Mike Holmes with a palette, brilliantly seeking unconventional solutions to his renovation challenges. Paskievich indelibly captures Ed’s ideas, which ONLY an artist would conjure—and, even then, some of them are pretty astonishing. Paskievich has made a film that’s appropriately titled. Ed’s an artist whose very life is special—and a work of melancholy art.

Click here for POV’s full list of Hot Docs previews.

Screenings:
Mon, Apr 29 6:00 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Tue, Apr 30 10:30 AM
The ROM Theatre

Sat, May 4 9:15 PM
Innis Town Hall

Greg Klymkiw’s 35 years in the industry includes journalism, screenwriting, script editing, producing and 13 years of service to the Canadian Film Centre as its senior creative consultant and producer-in-residence. In addition to producing iconoclastic work by Guy Maddin, Cynthia Roberts, Bruno Lazaro Pacheco and Alan Zweig, his legendary guerilla campaigns as the Winnipeg Film Group’s director of distribution and marketing placed prairie post-modernist cinema on national and international stages.

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