Adventures in Stalking: The Strange But True Tale

Back in August 2001, the weekend Aaliyah died and a few weeks before 9/11, my friend Andy Smetanka and I became the ultimate superfans.

Andy lived in Missoula, Montana, where I spent most of the 1990s getting my college degree. We had become friends as fellow writers on staff at the Missoula Independent. We both loved movies and had a deep appreciation for humor that was both bone dry and exceedingly weird. Andy stumbled upon the work of Canadian film director Guy Maddin (“The Saddest Music in the World”) and obtained a video copy of his movie “Careful” from the local arthouse movie theater, and an obsession was born.

We must have watched that movie 100 times. Here’s how Trekkian our obsession became: We’d play hangman using quotes from the movie, and sometimes Andy would guess correctly based on a single letter. Andy eventually sent Maddin a somewhat fawning e-mail to which Maddin—to our surprise—responded warmly. He and Andy began communicating occasionally via e-mail, I moved back to Michigan in 1999, and Andy went on to host a wildly successful screening of “Careful” at the previously mentioned arthouse theater that even made the newspaper in Winnipeg, Maddin’s hometown.

The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. Somehow, Andy arranged to visit George Toles, a writer and university professor who often collaborated with Maddin. So Andy flew from Montana to Minnesota, where his parents lived, and I met him there. We hopped in his mom’s Subaru and headed north to Winnipeg to meet Toles and, hopefully, Maddin.

Now, of course, this whole idea was a little creepy, and it had only a scant amount of planning behind it. Andy was an absolute wreck as he prepared to make contact with his idol, so I functioned mainly as an agent of humorous moral support. We arrived in Winnipeg and Toles and his wife graciously put us up in their daughter’s room. We toured the city, took a water taxi to a Badlanders concert, and eventually ended up at the warehouse where Maddin was shooting “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” for the CBC.

Maddin showed us around the set and then we drove him to his apartment, where I remember being dazzled by his amazing collection of glass eyes. We went out to dinner and drinks, and talked film and all kinds of other associated nerdy topics until the wee hours. It was a great trip. We left, drove back to Duluth, and I flew home.

When people ask me for a “fun fact” about my life, a version of this story is usually what I tell them. Andy went on to become a filmmaker himself, not only collaborating with Maddin on a number of projects, but also detailing our stalking success story in a chapter of Maddin’s book, “My Winnipeg.” (You can also read an article about our trip and Andy’s work with Maddin here.) Andy sent me a copy of the book soon after it was published, and I get it down off the shelf from time to time to laugh about our adventure.

We decided we’d also ask some of Southeast Michigan’s innovation leaders for their wacky own tales, in a slideshow titled “Who Knew? Fun Facts About Southeast Michigan’s Innovators.” Click here to read it. 

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