Kevin Nikkel sits in his editing studio, thinking deeply about each of his 40 interviews with fellow filmmakers of the Winnipeg Film Group (WFG). One of three projects he has in the works, Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group, being made for Stories from Home for the broadcaster MTS TV will delve into what his fellow filmmakers think about their craft and why they work in Winnipeg. It’s something Nikkel has been thinking about a lot. “Location—where I’m from—matters very much to me,” he says. “If I lived in a bigger centre, I’m confident I wouldn’t have become a filmmaker.”
Seventeen years ago, Nikkel was introduced to the film process and community by a friend who had joined the WFG. While Nikkel began his career as a teacher, he eventually trained with the WFG as well. Today, Nikkel is a writer, producer, and director of his own film company, Five Door Films; a part-time adult educator; and member of DOC’s Winnipeg Chapter. Nikkel is perhaps best known for his 2014 feature documentary, On the Trail of the Far Fur Country, which won the Colin Low Award for Best Canadian Doc at the 2015 DOXA film fest in Vancouver. Four years in the making, the work is internationally recognized as an intimate portrait of Canada and its Aboriginal people, and a chronicle of how life in the North has changed in the last century.
“The smaller Winnipeg centre has been such an asset for me,” he says. “In a small community, you can get to know the people there and keep track of what people are doing—like being aware of premieres and attending events. Those things are very important to me. There are enough opportunities to be working in Winnipeg and the economy is such that you can afford to stay in the game and be working on your own projects.”
Always visually creative, Nikkel began working in five different genres of film: promotional, narrative, animation, documentary and music video. “In the end, I mostly gravitated toward docs,” he muses. “Documentary is story and we’re story creatures. We’re constantly trying to communicate and find affinity with others on an emotional level. It all connects back to teaching—how I approach a project, plan a film, I am aware of what I’m feeling and how I can create an occasion for audiences to meet me there.”
The significance of community relations and First Nations and Indigenous peoples stands out in many of Nikkel’s projects—strongly informed by his affinity for history, and his urban experience living and teaching in Winnipeg for 15 years, and his reflections on memory, place, and other voices. “I found myself looking for history topics that hadn’t been told yet and what we can learn from the past,” he notes.
FILMS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO AND CONTINUE OTHER CONVERSATIONS
In addition to Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group, Nikkel is working on Under a Cold War Sky, a longer feature documentary exploring the past and present of both sides of the Cold War by looking at the people, land and sky of former radar bases in the Canadian Arctic and the Baltic. His other project, Voices of York Factory, is a one-hour doc for CBC Manitoba about an historic fur trading post, an idea that grew out of On the Trail of the Far Fur Country. It’s slated for release in July or August on Absolutely Manitoba.
Nikkel notes that he ensures “many different voices have a chance to weigh in and make sure they are represented”. He’s clear about his purpose: “I’m not trying to position myself as an activist. I’m trying to create films that contribute to and continue other conversations.”
Back in his studio, Nikkel envisions the 40 filmmakers he has interviewed and how they all “merge and line up one after the other—like individual pages of paper” to make a kind of 3D book. “At the end of the day I want to work with people, get to know interviewees that can teach me things, and enjoy the process,” he says. “That process is far more important to me.”
To learn more about Kevin Nikkel and his work, visit www.fivedoorfilms.com.