Winter is the central image around which Winnipeg mythology is arranged, yet only a very tiny number of filmmakers have been brave enough to tap its cinematic potential. Conventional wisdom dictates that winter poses too great a challenge to the filmmaker. But Matt Holm has made two winter movies, making him the unrivalled Ernest Shackleton of the Winnipeg Film Group.
His acclaimed first comedy, The Lost Bundefjord Expedition (2000), follows the absurd survivalist exploits of three adventurers as they freeze to death on Lake Winnipeg. Bundefjord is an integral part of a curious lineage of Film Group movies (including Maddin’s Gimli films, Michael Utgaard’s Egil’s Saga, and, for the consistency of his fish fetish alone, Mike Maryniuk’s Spawn of Pickerel Ron and Fish Arms) which obsess over the Nordic strangeness of Manitoba’s Interlake: its fish, its crazed isolation and the odd customs of its Scandinavian inhabitants. In Holm’s follow-up short, Spring Chickens (2002) – a hilarious work of very stylized silliness about an octogenarian baseball player (which includes a cameo by Peter Paul Van Camp, the star of the Film Group’s very first production, Rabbit Pie) – we see once more Holm’s unique comic eye for the hilarity of doom.
With Man of the Northwest, Holm returns to the winter adventure. Man of the Northwest is the most self-consciously regional of all the commissioned films. Reflecting a tendency of Winnipeg filmmaking that Cinema Canada once termed “Prairie Postmodernism,” Man of the Northwest is an ironic reworking of oddball American depictions of Canada, laced with the pop-culture kitsch of Dudley Do-Right, the clownish machismo of Robert Goulet and the gonzo Canadiana to be found in early Hollywood adventure romances like Nomads of the North (1920) and The 49th Parallel (1942). In this respect, Man of the Northwest recalls the work of Film Group pioneer, role model to Guy Maddin and hitherto unsung master of Canadian cinema, John Paizs. As Holm’s bearded fetish actor, Michael Olito, begins sawing on his fiddle with a frozen beaver, we see the absurdist lengths to which Holm takes his disparate influences.