Maddin himself attributes his embarkation into the film world with his viewing of Luis Buñuel's L’âge d’Or, as told to journalist Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life.
I don’t even know if I would have even known how to begin making movies [had I not seen this film]. [Buñuel] made moviemaking seem necessary to me…It was the urgency of what Buñuel’s L’ âge d’or was about, this passionate affair ending in disaster. That was all I could relate to at that point in my life.
His film education came not with any formal training at a trade school, or his experiences at the University of Winnipeg, but with endless weekends of watching films with close friends John Paizs and Steve Snyder. Soon realizing that Paizs was making and performing in his own post-modern films and Snyder was teaching production at the University of Manitoba, Maddin eventually gave up his day-jobs as a bank-teller and house painter, deciding that he needed to put his own knowledge to work and step behind the camera, in his case the popular Bolex hand-wound 16mm camera.
Maddin's first film was the Winnipeg Film Group assisted 1986 16mm short film The Dead Father. His first 16mm feature film was Tales from the Gimli Hospital.
In 2007, Maddin became the first artist-curator of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. In this position, he performs the programming for their new "Curated by..." series.
As of fall 2007, Maddin will be teaching film at the University of Manitoba. Also in 2007, Maddin's film My Winnipeg won the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival.Maddin's films are often set in his home town of Winnipeg and are usually set in abstract 20th century historical periods. Themes in Maddin's films frequently include unrequited love, murder, Soviet Russia, homoeroticism, incest, dismemberment and the workings of human impulse and subconscious.