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Finding the heart of the Exchange

July 6, 2013

My plans for the weekend involve seeing Ghosts in Our Machine at Cinematheque. Whenever I go to this theatre, I get a little sappy…

My love affair with Winnipeg’s Exchange district began a couple years after my high school bubble had broken. I had asked my filmmaking instructor for advice on where to find equipment when the school’s gear was taken out, and she recommended the Winnipeg Film Group (WFG). So, I headed down to the Artspace building and purchased a membership.

It amazes me to think that I was once ignorant of this fantastic area. As a child, I only came here for dance recitals and festivals, and it took me a while to realize that the theatre district is only one part of the Exchange. There is so much more to see here – every nook and cranny seems to contain somebody or something awesome.

Since getting this job, I have been asked a few times to define the boundaries of the district. While I could consult a map and give specific streets and corners as a boundary, I prefer to describe it as a feeling. When you’re in the Exchange, there is a sense of building and progression. The energy of the artists working and living here buzzes in the air, and even businesses outside of any creative sector seem to have a great appreciation for innovation and the arts. It’s when you step off a curb and recognize that feeling dissipating that you know you have left the Exchange.

Exchange - Google map

Google’s definition of the Exchange: http://goo.gl/maps/hGGSV

To me, the heart of this area is the Winnipeg Film Group. Once you enter their offices, you become a part of something bigger – part of the filmmaking and film-loving community at large. WFG’s theatre, the Cinematheque, is a fabulous place to gather with others and take in a thought-provoking documentary or a stunning narrative work. And for those of us who like to make our own films and videos, the Film Group is the start of many of our careers.

I sat down with Mandy Leith yesterday, who had travelled from Victoria to Winnipeg for one week as a part of her Get on the Doc Bus project. Our conversation at the Underground Cafe was brief but energetic (I hardly had time to eat between talking), and I was pleased to hear that Mandy had been impressed by our local film community.

Mandy and bus

Mandy Leith and her bus are traveling from coast to coast to “explore Canada’s documentary legacy”.

When I asked her to describe her experiences here, her usually eloquent way of speaking broke down a bit:

It just feels like it’s got a lot of heart, and uh… yeah, I don’t know whether I’m really able to be that articulate about it, because… I just feel really moved. You know, I’m leaving today, this afternoon, and I was driving down Memorial [Boulevard] up to the train station and I had this lump in my throat, and I can’t account for it. I’m just… utterly taken with Winnipeg, and for me, Winnipeg Film Group is kind of the heart of it.” – Mandy Leith

Mandy told me that in her hometown of Victoria, their equivalent to WFG is a bit removed from the downtown core, so while the community is vibrant, there is a still something of a disconnect. Her focus on documentary film is to use it as a tool for community building. Her OpenCinema initiative brings people together to watch and discuss films in a cafe-style setting, which provides a better forum for interaction.

I agree with her views on community building through film. I have experienced it in my own life. Discussing shared experiences with family and friends has allowed me to understand them more fully. That’s part of what is exciting about this blog project – I can post my thoughts regarding an event, but someone else can comment and talk about things from their own perspective. We can learn from each other.

This is my story of how I became enamoured with the Exchange (and the downtown at large). For some, a pub like the King’s Head is The Place To Go, or Red River College is their home-away-from-home, or Manitoba Theatre Centre brings them back on a regular basis. Regardless, there is something for everyone here, and I think that having such a strong, dynamic area is a thing we should be proud of as Winnipeggers.

Readers: What is your “heart” of the Exchange?