Arts & Life, Movies

Film review: Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story

Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story

Directed by Ryan McKenna

Wednesday, May 15, 7pm + 9pm at Winnipeg Cinematheque

4 out of 5 stars

This Winnipeg-made documentary about veteran producer, cable access host, film critic, writer, actor and all around outspoken so-and-so Greg Klymkiw, is a solid effort from Ryan McKenna (The First Winter) for the MTS on Demand series Stories from Home. In just under an hour, McKenna runs his audience through the world of the Winnipeg Film Group of the 1980s and 90s, placing Klymkiw as its key player. The one-time roommate of Guy Maddin would produce the auteur’s first three features (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Archangel and Careful) before skipping town to work in Toronto in the mid 90s.

Klymkiw is introduced as a man who hates everyone and everything (except dogs, maybe, I’m not sure) and barks about his time in the industry like the jaded vet that he is throughout interview bits. Balancing this lovable blowhard’s rantings are interviews with Maddin, Cinematheque’s Dave Barber, screenwriter George Toles, former filmmaker Bruce Duggan, noted narcissist Matthew Rankin and producer Tracy Traeger. Clips of all the classics that Klymkiw worked on are peppered throughout, including the Winnipeg Film Group cult classic Springtime in Greenland.

Klymkiw is cynical and borderline crazy, but he’s not wrong. He’s a hustler, kind of like Winnipeg’s Harvey Weinstein, and without him Maddin’s films wouldn’t be as fleshed out or have been seen by as large an audience. He doesn’t seem to actually like making films, and what part of the creative process he lends to isn’t exactly fleshed out in the film. He’s an old school producer, the type you’d read about in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. It’s tough to get a film made in Canada, let alone seen, so it takes someone like Klymkiw to build the buzz.

Stylistically, McKenna’s film is simple, largely because with a subject like Klymkiw you wouldn’t want to attempt much more. It’s a lot of talking heads with clips over top, and due to this (and its length) it isn’t so much a film as it is a would-be bonus feature on a DVD of Maddin’s first three films. There’s also a few jarring frames of black in the middle of interviews that seem to be recognizing a new topic within the interview, though because they happen so frequently it’s doubtful that these were errors on the part of the filmmaker (who also edited).

In a city in which filmmakers tend to mythologize everything about it, Klymkiw is someone that needs no help in this department – his truth is stranger than most fiction. Survival Lessons is definitely one of the most entertaining flicks I’ve seen about the Winnipeg film scene, possibly ever.


Nicholas Friesen is a filmmaker and the Managing Editor of The Uniter. Follow him @Nicholastronaut