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Special Ed

“To some he’s a nonconformist and a dreamer, a modern-day Don Quixote, a genuine artist, obsessed with the alphabet, whose masterpiece remains perpetually beyond his reach. And to those who know him really well, Ed Ackerman is a walking catastrophe, lost to his implausible ambitions, a manipulator of the truth or maybe a misguided genius, and definitely a procrastinator.

“When Ed, the one-time protégé of the National Film Board’s vaunted animation studio decides to leave a legacy for his three children, he buys three derelict houses in a rundown corridor on the bad side of Winnipeg and announces grand plans to renovate and redeem them. Trouble is, Ed, 52, is broke, and has next to no experience in house construction, nor the faintest idea about how to begin his massive projects, let alone how to finish them. Finishing, we learn in Special Ed, multi-awardwinning documentary filmmaker John Paskievich’s remarkable study of an artist in the dog days of a 20-year downward spiral, is Ed’s biggest problem.

“Paskievich says he chose the title Special Ed for three reasons. First, Ed Ackerman is truly a special personality, like no other. The title also implies some type of undiagnosed learning disability. While Ed rejects being labeled, he freely admits that his inability to spell caused him enormous anguish in school. “And finally, Ed’s house renovation projects are partially motivated by his dream to establish a studio where he can complete an alphabet animation film that he hopes will serve as a form of special education for teachers to use with kids who have problems with spelling, reading and writing,” explains Paskievich.

“Avoiding sentimentality and the kind of “nostalgia for the mud” trap that quirky character studies often fall into, Paskievich watches dispassionately, over three years, as his subject’s plans unravel and Ed’s increasingly antic behaviour alienates those who might have been willing to help his dreams come true.

“In the end, viewers of this compelling portrait, shot on the streets ofWinnipeg, will have to find their own answers. Infuriating and perverse as Ed is, Paskievich provides a glimpse of something in his subject’s wounded soul and mind that begs our understanding, admiration and compassion.”- HotDocs

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