Kevin Nikkel shares his excitement for independent filmmaking in ode to artist-run centre

Book emerged, fittingly, from a documentary on the Winnipeg Film Group

The Winnipeg Film Group is a diverse group of filmmakers producing experimental and often groundbreaking work. Establishing Shots: An Oral History of the Winnipeg Film Group is a collection of interviews providing an intricate exploration of the Winnipeg Film Group’s almost 50-year history as an artist-run centre, as well as its ongoing impact in Canada and beyond.

Compiled and presented by Kevin Nikkel, himself an independent filmmaker and long-time member of the Winnipeg Film Group, the conversations also offer perspectives on industry issues and the lives of independent artists, and serve as a resource and inspiration to emerging filmmakers.

The book started, appropriately, with a film.

“When I began a documentary on the Winnipeg Film Group – with Cinematheque programmer Dave Barber as my co-director – I knew that we would be sitting down with some legendary filmmakers who had some great stories about the evolution of the independent Winnipeg film community,” Nikkel says.

“The film, Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group, was released in 2017, and the book really emerged as an extension of that project, in an effort to share more of the conversations that I’d captured during production.”

The research and interviews for the book were conducted between 2015 and 2017. Barber’s extensive personal archive from his decades as programmer for the Film Group’s theatre, Cinematheque, was central to Nikkel’s research.

Nikkel says one of the biggest challenges after the release of the documentary was selecting which interviews to put into the book. He and Barber had conducted over 50 interviews, and, “While we could include a short comment from everyone in the film, we couldn’t put each interview into the book the way it is structured as a collection with a separate chapter for each filmmaker,” he explains.

“In the end, 33 filmmaker interviews are included. One way to ease the sting of leaving many out was to resolve to organize a subsequent volume of interviews with more local filmmakers.”

Kevin Nikkel
Kevin Nikkel

Another challenge in the making of the book was far more tragic: the passing of Dave Barber in 2021. “He had been integral to both the documentary and drafts of the book. I was sorry that he missed the chance to see the book in final form. I think he would have liked how it turned out,” Nikkel says.

The book includes interviews with BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and women filmmakers, as well as other sought-after interviews, such as an extended one with Guy Maddin, and one with all three members of l’Atelier National du Manitoba discussing the making of the film Death by Popcorn, an independent cult classic.

“I really want Establishing Shots to contribute to the conversation about Winnipeg film, and for readers to get excited about the possibilities of independent filmmaking, especially filmmaking in smaller centres,” says Nikkel.

“A theme that comes up repeatedly in the interviews is the importance of regional filmmaking and how there is something distinct about the work being done at Winnipeg Film Group. This artist-run centre has consistently been a hub of dynamic and creative work.”