Special Ed

John Paskievich

BY Scott A. GrayPublished May 1, 2013

No other title could so accurately sum up the subject of filmmaker John Paskievich's suitably impartial glimpse into the life and mind of eccentric Winnipeg resident, Ed Ackerman. Ed is most definitely "special."

Being a responsible documentarian, Paskievich refrains from indicating any personal interpretation of which meaning of the word is intended, instead providing enough intimate evidence of the man's thoughts and actions for viewers to decide for themselves in how many ways the term applies to Mr. Ackerman.

A Genie Award-winning filmmaker accustomed to living off NFB grant money for working on film art projects that recycle his one big metaphor – letters are like people, they don't mean anything outside of groupings – Ed is plucked from the government teat in 2008 and forced to redirect his abundant energy. Driven primarily by a protective sense of nostalgic duty and zealous optimism in his ability to effect change in low-income areas of his community, Ed buys and sets about restoring three houses in various states of repair with the goal of turning them into a film studio.

Paskievich doesn't shy from sharing Ed's unfiltered thoughts on the unsavoury elements in the neighbourhood—during a rant, Ackerman suggests that families reliant on welfare as composed of drug addicts, prostitutes and pimps—nor does he skimp on footage displaying Ed's tenacity, resourcefulness, random practical knowledge, idealistic selflessness, occasional pettiness and frequent senselessness.

Thanks to the documentarian's commitment to balance and his subject's childlike openness, we get a rounded sense of who Ed is and what drives him to crave a simpler version of the world, one where anyone with the passion and the energy can pursue their dreams at their leisure. A man who "could have gone for twelve years of kindergarten," litigates for fun, runs for public office and tries to build housing for the homeless out of the discarded campaign signs of his competitors is the kind of idiosyncratic personality only a random evolutionary experiment could produce.

Without being judgemental or pulling out the kid gloves to handle the quirky artist, John Paskievich has put together a documentary that is equally, and oddly, sad, funny and inspiring.
(Merit Motion)

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