Uncle Eddie's Guide to Art Appreciation - Title

Norman Nawrocki playing Uncle Eddie from Infringement performance, 2005
photo: M. Bouhalassa

UNCLE EDDIE'S GUIDE TO ART APPREICATION is a monologue in which an angry Saskatchewan farmer, despite himself, takes up the defence of contemporary art. It is a film about seeing beyond the surface and making connections.

We enter directly into Uncle Eddie's world. We sit with him in his kitchen and out in the garden as he shoots the shit. It's like visiting a relative who we have little in common with. We mostly just listen. Sometimes its uncomfortable, sometimes its fun, sometimes its scary and sometimes it leads us to insights that we would never have had otherwise.

Uncle Eddie is an intruder into the sophistication of our cultivated city life. When we first meet him, drunk and ranting, he confirms our stereotypes of "redneck" Western farmers. But then he sobers up. He tells us about farming, cooking and his understanding of art. We see another side of him. So, when he returns to the bottle again, we can't dismiss him anymore. Instead, we learn what it was like for him growing up the son of Ukrainian peasants in Canada in the 20th century. We enter into his drama and feel the suffering of a tragic life haunted by the shadows of domestic violence, a broken marriage, racism and genocide.

Uncle Eddie comes to art through his affections for his nephew Donnie, who grew up on the farm but moved to the city to become an artist. Donnie dragged Uncle Eddie to art museums over the years; Eddie would go along because Donnie was his favourite nephew. That's also why Eddie has one of Donnie's art works in his kitchen. He let Donnie install it there before he left to pursue his career in London. The work is a LCD screen connected to a computer, which seems to respond with artificial intelligence to Uncle Eddie's changing states of mind. It generates texts and images that sometimes challenge and mock Uncle Eddie, while at others support and comfort him.

This piece becomes Eddie's main companion. It enters into a virtual dialogue with him, but also reinforces a second-level reading in the film, where the ways people embrace or reject art in our society become intertwined with our reactions to Uncle Eddie. Uncle Eddie is art, the artist and art's worst enemy.

Although Uncle Eddie comes from a very specific western-Canadian cultural context, his character is universal. He the archetypal blood relative who is loved for their humour, generosity, hard work, knowledge and charisma but who declined to fulfill their potential and instead became consumed by alcohol or drugs. In Uncle Eddie's case, the inability to fit in originates in his failure to reconcile his cultural origins with the new life offered to him as an ordinary Canadian.

One of the film's goals is to shine a light on this drama that is a dark side to immigrant experiences around the world, especially those from "underprivileged" working-class, first-nations or peasant backgrounds. It draws its inspiration from all those artists who have made their own popular cultures into art, especially the strong tradition among Quebec filmmakers and playwrights such as Michael Tremblay, Claude Lauzon and Robert Morin, as well as Zacharias Kunuk's masterpiece film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).

Uncle Eddie's Guide to Art Appreciation also seeks to contribute an artistic voice to the international peasant movement gaining force in the world today, a political movement that presents the modest lifestyles and vast heritage of the peasant farmer as a viable alternative to international, technological, consumer culture.

Goodes says, "I am now realizing that the fact that my grandmother lived in the house that she built with her hands, fixed holes in her pots with a bolt and a piece of rag, got her water from a well with a bucket, raised her chickens and grew her food is essential to who I am. As essential, as my university training and urban existences."

Uncle Eddie's Guide to Art Appreciation is Goodes' first step in reconciling his peasant roots with the urbanite that he has become, resolving the paradox, and having both work together to create a strong statement.

In June 2005 Uncle Eddie's Guide to Art Appreciation was workshopped and presented to an audience as a dramatic multi-media reading. Veteran Montreal performer Norman Nawrocki put on a powerful and moving performance. The script was shortened for the event and a video was produced (see enclosed DVD). Goodes is now seeking financing for a short feature that would be shot on location in Manitoba or Saskatchewan.