Two weeks ago, I reported on the production and release of the film The WinniPagans by Dodie Graham McKay. Shortly after that article was posted, Covenant of the Goddess’ North California Local Council (NCLC) offered to host a screening at PantheaCon. The screening will be held in presidential suite 1054 on Sunday, February 17 at 10am. Dodie will be on hand to field questions and take comments.
Last week I was fortunate enough to receive my very own copy for review. It wasn’t long after my trip to the mailbox that I was comfortably settled into to my seat, popcorn in hand, to watch the film. In anticipation of the U.S. premiere of The WinniPagans, here is my review:
Film Review: The WinniPagans
The twenty-five minute documentary is a gentle examination of Pagan life through the eyes of the WinniPagans. Dodie takes us on a journey into their personal lives, their homes, their workplaces, and their social spaces. On camera, the WinniPagans share stories, reflect on experiences and discuss the unique regional challenges that they face in Winnipeg. The film feels like a sampling or an appetizer, if you will, to something much greater. It gives us a peak behind a curtain into something that seems foreign but, yet, at the same time very familiar.
Two highlights of Dodie’s film are the lyrical pipe music of Glen Hoban and the poetry of Kate Bitney. Hoban’s original pipe music decorates the entire film and fits neatly with the central soundtrack. Because Hoban is member of the WinniPagan community, the use of his music gives the film a fuller authenticity. I also enjoyed seeing Hoban circling the maypole while playing the pipes. The image is suggestive of Pan and lends a festive, lightheartedness to the scene.
Similarly, poet Kate Bitney makes an appearance reading her poem “The Forest Hag” while standing on a snow-covered hill. The composition and the progression of this sequence are quietly beautiful offering a welcomed pause in the film’s narrative. The winter landscape imagery complements Bitney’s poetry creating a deep feeling of stillness. It is like a contemplation, which Dodie enforces by superimposing a Goddess image on the sun. Visually speaking, Bitney, herself, fits perfectly into the sequence with her white beret and her flowing hair. Her her own natural grace glows as she shares her poetry. It’s an entrancing moment.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. I only had two minor concerns. First, there were times when I wanted classic voice-over narration. Dodie uses the progression of interviews to move the narrative along. This is a common documentary device, one that keeps the audience very present in the film. However, there were times that I longed for more detail that could have been provided by a narrator.
Secondly, I was very eager to learn about the WinniPagans’ unique world. Unfortunately, the first third of the film focuses more on personal spiritual journeys. The stories themselves were indeed interesting but I wanted more Winnipeg. When Dodie does finally get to the community, she paints a very satisfying picture.
With that said, both of my complaints are a matter of viewer perspective. The film was not intended for me – an American Pagan. Dodie created a story for general Manitoba audiences. The intended viewers most likely understood many of the visual cues that I missed. They saw things that I didn’t, simply because of their perspective. Narration wasn’t necessary for them.
In the same vein, Dodie had to contextualize the film for her non-Pagan audiences through some basic explanations of Wicca and Witchcraft. As a Pagan, I didn’t need these explanations so I wanted to move on. But, Dodie did what good filmmakers do. She sculpted her story to fit her audience and she did so effectively as proven by the positive viewer responses in Winnipeg.
The WinniPagans ends with Dodie, the crew, and the volunteers celebrating a traditional Winnipeg Beltane. Despite the overcast skies and chill in the air, the festivities go on. The shots vary from interviews, to children, to dancing and to the erecting of the maypole. Surprisingly, Dodie cut in some behind-the-scenes footage of her crew rigging, quite possibly, the first ever “MayPole Cam.”
The Beltane sequence is comprised of a very honest series of moments that juxtapose the structured interviews and landscape photography. This festive ending is a real tribute to the camaraderie and good-natured fun present in this community. Dodie continues the fun well into the credits.
The Beltane ending really brought the film home for me. As the WinniPagans danced a familiar dance and used familiar words, I joined them in celebration. As American viewers, we expect this film to take us on a journey somewhere truly unique. And it does, but at the same time, we find commonalities that allow us to strongly identify with the WinniPagans despite regional differences. “Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.”
The WinniPagans is an insightful and entertaining documentary with well-spoken interviews and beautiful imagery. I urge everyone to see this film whether at PantheaCon, next weekend, or at future screenings. Bravo to Dodie for demonstrating how we can make professional-quality and meaningful indie films about ourselves. Through films like this, we can introduce new visual definitions of words like “Witch” to general film language. We can also use such films in interfaith work and intrafaith education. The possibilities are endless. I hope to see more from Dodie in the future.
For those who missed it, here’s the trailer:
Correction: Dodie just informed me that her crew was not fashioning the “Maypole Cam” to the pole in the Beltane sequence. They were tying the ribbons. However, the video equipment is visible on top so I thought that is what was going on. Ribbons or Camera… it all worked.