Born in Hamburg, Germany, Winkler underwent a bricklaying apprenticeship before migrating to Australia in 1959. His self-education in film and film history began in 1962, when he produced his first films in 8mm on Bell & Howell and Canon cameras. In 1967, he switched to 16mm and a Bolex camera which he has used ever since.
Winkler characterises his films as "a synthesis of intellect and emotion, filtered through the plastic material of film". "I try to let 'imagines' flow freely to the surface".The ideas which he terms ‘imagines’ may reflect Australian icons like Bondi Beach, Ayers Rock/Uluru and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or textures, as in Bark/Rind, Green Canopy, and the bush.
In 1973, Winkler's film Dark identified with the Aboriginal land rights movement, acquiring a spirituality which was also manifested in Chants and Red Church. Later films take contemporary society for their subject, as in Rotation, Time out for Sport and Long Shadows. His early apprenticeship is recalled in Brickwall, Backyard and Brick and Tile.
In 1995, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Sydney Intermedia Network mounted a retrospective screening of 30 of his films. The following year, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, USA screened 30 films in a three-day retrospective.
“Filmmaking has always been a journey into the unknown for me. Each new film demands its own trajectory. I might start with a particuliar idea and than after the first 100 feet of exposed film comes back, the imagines tell me which way to go or not to go.
There is always a kind of pull between me and the material photographed, something opens up. If everything works out fine and the imagines connect to me and i can almost hear the sound they want, it is one hell of elation running through jour body and mind, unbelievable. To sum up:my approach to filmmaking is primarily an organic one. The films are a synthesis of the intellect and emotion all filtered through the plastic material of film. I try to let imagines flow freely to the surface.” - Paul Winkler