Director, scriptwriter. The most prominent of the younger generation of ultra-realist cinephile campers from Winnipeg, Gonick eschewed his elders’ prairie-fed sexual ambiguity for pure queer pride. The scion of leftist activist intellectuals, Gonick’s first short 1919 (1996, 8), queerly repositioned the saga of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike in a homosocial immigrant steambath (Gonick himself plays a rather cute wire-rimmed Jewish Bolshevik). Gonick’s Winnipeg mentor was the subject of his next film, Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight (1998), a spoofy one-hour homage shot among the ostriches on the set of Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, completely re-inventing the “making of” genre.
In 2000 Gonick changed the landscape of Canadian queer cinema, literally, with his long-awaited Cinemascope rave epic Hey Happy! (2000, 75) Ten years in development, Gonick had been forced by funders to change the title from Fuckfest 2000 but the spirit of his Super 8 epic about a guy sleeping with 2000 other guys before the Millennium remained intact despite the 35mm. Happy is a homage to Pasolini’s carnivalesque medieval frescos as well as to his mentors Maddin, LaBruce and Waters’ gospels of provocateur histrionics, hallucinogenic narrative and trash aesthetics. The narrative offers an apocalyptic Rabelaisian container for what is really a very simple triangular love story: two battle-scarred boys named Sabu and Happy fall in love and want to fuck but a jealous vixen named Spanky delays the gratification. Come to think of it, it’s the same story as in a not too dissimilar film by another of Gonick’s mentors, John Greyson ’s Lilies, but this one substitutes upbeat prairie rave euphoria for Quebec martyr melodrama. But Hey Happy! was far from the typical gay romantic comedy of the nineties. Gonick’s vision of the flood-threatened post-industrial outskirts of his hometown, the CPR continuously rumbling past, led to some of the most innovative landscape work in recent Canadian film. Its flora and fauna were also an essential part of the dream, including a statuesque transgender sexworker who turns out to be an intergalactic space goddess presiding over Sabu’s climactic pregnancy (sic). The setpieces alone guaranteed Hey Happy!’s place in the pantheon, from Sabu’s interlude in a dream pool swimming among a dozen naked hotties, the most exciting underwater erotics since The Blue Lagoon (via Zero Patience), to the uninterruptedly teeming, swarming rave scenes (does any other Canadian feature credit fourteen “audio artists”?).