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Natalie and Ron Pollock's cable-access show was archived as part of Winnipeg Babysitter.Handout

From 1971 to 1997, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandated cable companies to provide community-access television – meaning the general public could create content that would be aired – as a condition of their licence. One city that saw this as an opportunity to let its freak flag fly in front of the cameras was Winnipeg.

When Calgary’s Shaw bought Winnipeg’s local cable station, VPW, all of the archived tapes were recorded over or tossed. But more than a decade ago, local artist Daniel Barrow set out to collect and preserve what he could find, usually courtesy of Beta and VHS tapes provided by the makers of the shows themselves. The project became Winnipeg Babysitter, a touring “expanded cinema” program. Using transparencies and an overhead projector, Barrow superimposes information about the performers and shows over excerpts he has curated from the tapes.

Thanks to his efforts, audiences at La Maison Rouge in Paris, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Light Industry in Brooklyn, N.Y., were treated to clips from Survival, a satirical survival-prep talk show in which host Trevor Winthrop Baines (Greg Klymkiw) and guests like Concerned Citizen Stan (Guy Maddin) wear balaclavas and fret about “the inevitable social economic collapse and/or nuclear holocaust;” The Metal Inquisition, which featured house band Steel Toast, composed of two sock puppets and a doll; It’s Cosmopolitan Time!, with two women, Marion Clemens on drums and Louise Wynberg on keyboards, touring retirement homes; and the Pollock and Pollock Gossip Show, an anything-goes variety show hosted by siblings Natalie and Ron Pollock.

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Survival was a satirical survival-prep talk show from host Trevor Winthrop Baines (Greg Klymkiw), with guests including Concerned Citizen Stan (Guy Maddin).Handout

Last fall, Barrow revived Winnipeg Babysitter for a screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival, followed by a screening at the Cinematheque in Winnipeg. He recently released a limited-edition Blu-ray edition of the project.

What kind of reactions did you get when you toured the project the first time around?

I had curated the program primarily as an archival initiative, so I had only intended to screen it in Winnipeg. It didn’t occur to me anyone outside of Winnipeg would have any interest. The first time I showed it outside of Winnipeg was at a Milwaukee film festival, and I was surprised that the audience responded to all this material they had never seen, footage that had never screened outside of Winnipeg ever.

Why did you come back to the project? Or did you never leave it?

I’ve kept compiling footage. Every so often someone approaches me with something they’ve found or someone who wants their work to be contextualized in this program. And it was also time to redigitize everything. I only had everything archived on Beta SP.

And my view on the program has changed. I wanted to have a more reverent collection. The original 2006 program was more irreverent and made less of an attempt to recontextualize any of the material as “art” or even an invaluable chapter of media history

Does the Blu-ray include the liner notes style of commentary that you provide via overhead projector during live screenings?

The live presentation still has my overheads. On the new Blu-ray all of my commentary from the slides is included on a subtitle track. I wrote the commentary in 2006 knowing that all of the original producers would be in the room. But since then, many of them have passed. In remembrance and respect for all of them I wanted to keep the same commentary.

How much footage do you have?

Well, I have more hours than I can count. Certain producers have bequeathed me their entire library of tapes. In many cases, I digitized all of it. I am thinking about a sequel. There are so many things I couldn’t include in this one.

Are there entire shows that have been lost?

Definitely. My archive is representative of public-access television in the age of the home consumer-grade VCR. I had to rely on the original producers archiving their own work. And they were only able to do that once they could record it themselves at home. In certain instances, some producers did take three-quarter-inch copies of their program from the actual studio and you’ll see on the program there’s an improved quality of video.

There are holy grails that I’m still searching for. A program that I think is really seminal is The Gooferz, which was a program from Glen Meadmore, who later moved to Los Angeles and became a performance artist. But when he lived in Winnipeg in the late seventies, early eighties he had this program and later it was just called The Glen Meadmore Show. People would tell me that – remember, this is like late seventies television – he would just be popping zits in a macro lens in front of the camera.

Then there are certain episodes of Survival, the Greg Klymkiw and Guy Maddin program that I’ve always been looking for. I only have a select few episodes. But I do have one new lead.

Public-access TV wasn’t unique to Winnipeg. How does this scene compare to what was happening in other parts of the country?

I haven’t heard many people talk or brag about programs from other cities in Canada, strangely. Many American cities, like New York, have really interesting legacies of public-access television.

Are these shows a testament to Winnipeggers’ creativity, how subzero winters can drive people nuts, or both?

I don’t think it can be underestimated how influential these programs were. Many were very influential to the Royal Art Lodge in Winnipeg. Guy Maddin is such an important Winnipeg figure and as far as I know he hadn’t made a film before Survival, so it was the earliest introduction to his work via Greg Klymkiw, who was really the creator of the show.

You’ve been living in Montreal for more than a decade. How does revisiting Winnipeg Babysitter make you feel about your hometown?

This is a really personal project. These were programs that I loved and watched regularly as a kid. I’m really proud of it as an artist curator and archivist. And I became close friends with many of these producers, particularly Marion Clemens of the Cosmopolitans, who’s no longer with us. It’s a very layered and nuanced pride that I have.

Do you have plans to expose Winnipeg Babysitter to more cities?

I am planning a tour, but nothing is confirmed yet. I think it’s inevitable. I have over 11 letters of interest. And I’m putting together a retrospective of Natalie and Ron Pollock’s careers.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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