Double feature pushes limits


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BERLIN -- The intriguing double bill of Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg" and Isabella Rossellini's short series "Green Porno," screening in the Berlinale's Forum sidebar, offers a view back to cinema's origins and a glimpse of a possible future for the medium.

Maddin's documentary features the director's trademark use of silent film techniques -- with scenes shot in black and white and with rear projection and stylized, melodramatic acting.

Rossellini's shorts, produced for the Sundance Channel, were conceived and shot not for the big screen but for mobile phones and Internet viewing.

Maddin describes "Winnipeg" as a "Chinese Whispers" form of documentary, where the facts of the city's -- and the director's own -- history are distorted and refined in the telling.

"It's a bit like the stories in the Old Testament or oral traditions, where the stories are told over and over again until they get focused, hardened, like a diamond," Maddin said.

Maddin's technique of combining archive footage with re-created scenes from his own childhood -- using his mother and actors playing himself and his siblings -- combine to portray Winnipeg in almost mythic terms. A city most cinemagoers couldn't find on a map gets the epic treatment usually reserved for world capitals such as New York, Paris or Berlin.

"Canadians are lousy at self-mythologizing," Maddin said. "I think it has something to do with the humbling echo from the United States. It makes us grow shy."

Rossellini, who has worked with Maddin on several films, including "Brand Upon the Brain!" (2006) and "The Saddest Music in the World" (2003), recalls her first visit to the cold Canadian city.

"I was changing planes in Toronto, and when I told the woman at the gate where I was going, she asked 'Why are you going to Winnipeg?" the actress said. "I thought it was a security question but it was just disbelief."

But IFC at least thinks this history of a small prairie city can have appeal beyond that of eclectic festivalgoers. It snatched up "Winnipeg" in Toronto and is hoping for the same crossover success the company saw with Maddin's "Brand Upon the Brain!"

"Our secret desire was by making the film so specific to Winnipeg -- I don't think any other place is mentioned in the film -- it would make it universal," Maddin said. "That seems to have worked."

For "Porno," Rossellini chose the one subject with guaranteed universal appeal: sex.

"The idea was to have a subject, and a title, that might get some attention, and so I thought it has to be sex," Rossellini said. "I chose the subject of insect sex because it is really strange and really funny what they do."

"Porno" is a series of five- to seven-minute shorts following the same premise: Rossellini imagines herself as a different type of insect and then mates with her opposite pair. Because they were designed for viewing on mobile phone screens, Rossellini and co-director Jody Shapiro (the cinematographer on "Winnipeg") chose simple setups with few camera movements.

"It was almost a classical cinematic look," Rossellini said.

Rossellini describes the short films as the cinematic equivalent to "those little New Yorker cartoons," a short bit of whimsy between the serious stuff of festival feature films.

To accompany "Porno" in Berlin, Rossellini and Shapiro -- together with artists Rick Gilbert and Andy Byers -- have installed three insect terrariums in the Filmhaus at the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz. Inside, visitors can screen all the films in the series and also learn about the real sex lives of insects. It is a cross among installation art, museum exhibit and film screening.

In making movies specifically for mobile devices, Rossellini said she feels like a trailblazer, comparing the experience "to how my father (legendary Italian director Roberto Rossellini) must have felt when he started, as cinema was just making the shift from silent film to sound."