These are sad days at MMC! Dave Barber, filmmaker and beloved programmer of Winnipeg’s Cinematheque, passed away earlier this week at the age of 67. Dave was a champion of Canadian and independent cinema and a tireless advocate for his theatre and the films it featured.
I met Dave at a get-together hosted by a mutual friend eight years ago. Attended by professional, semi-professional, and amateur pop culture nerds, we were invited to share lists of our favourite films and Dave’s list expressed his love of music as well as his love of cinema at its biggest and most minute.
- The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (Les Blank, 1968)
- Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival (Murray Lerner, 1995)
- The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
- Vinyl (Alan Zweig, 2000)
- The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves, 1989)
- Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood, 1959)
- Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
- The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
- Crime Wave (John Paizs, 1985)
In the years that followed, we would watch movies together when we ran into each other at a screening, we would text about programming ideas and other movie stuff, and we would share festival discoveries. I would give him rides home when he needed them, he would hook my son up with Godzilla stuff, and my wife would restrain her urge to make him a sandwich. When I discovered he was in the hospital, I sent him a message wishing him well and asking him to reach out once he recovered, hoping he would find the message once he was discharged. Sadly that won’t happen, but I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend with Dave and I wish him the best on whatever new project he’s now moved on to.
In celebration of Dave, MMC! offers this brief tribute to the man on screen and there’s no better place to start than Dave’s 2014 short film Will the Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up?, a hilarious account of Dave being awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.
Next up is Matthew Rankin’s Barber Gull Rub (2008), a short film commissioned by the Winnipeg Film Group’s Cinematheque for its 25th anniversary. Rankin’s pastiche of Guy Maddin retells Dave’s participation in the filming of Maddin’s Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) and is a lovely tribute to the programmer’s generosity. Few people appreciated the challenge of making a film and struggle of getting it seen like Dave did.
Out in the wild, Dave channeled a curmudgeon-ish vibe with his Gimli Fish Market beanie and lack of eye contact, but his distinctive air made him both a mascot and a foundation to the Cinematheque. Mugs and T-shirts emblazoned with his scruffy face were standard merchandise for the theatre and I happily own a “Dave” shirt of my own. Another 25th anniversary commission, Jaimz Asmundson’s The Phantom of the Cinematheque (2008) celebrates Dave as a devoted programmer, a wacky artist, and an emblem of the theatre. In a wonderful case of art anticipating real life, Winnipeg’s Cinematheque will be renamed “The Dave Barber Cinematheque.” I can only hope that they kept that “Dave Barber Memorial Cinematheque” sign.
I know Dave was particularly proud of the documentary he made with Kevin Nikkel, Tales From the Winnipeg Film Group (2017), however Dave’s most prominent film work of late likely came as the face of Cinematheque’s promotional videos. Here, Dave turned it up to “11” and really did himself justice. And so, let’s end here, with Dave extolling the virtues (and bargains) of the theatre and films to which he committed his life.