The Cinema of Québec
This entry presents an overview of Québec cinema, from its beginnings in the silent film era to the burgeoning of a distinctly Québec cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, from the explosion that followed Denys Arcand’s Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986) to the setback that followed 10 years later and the new wave of filmmaking emerging at the beginning of the 21st century.
This entry presents an overview of Québec cinema, from its beginnings in the silent film era to the burgeoning of a distinctly Québec cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, from the explosion that followed Denys Arcand’s Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986) to the setback that followed 10 years later and the new wave of filmmaking emerging at the beginning of the 21st century. It highlights the most important films, whether in terms of box office success or international acclaim, and covers both narrative features and documentaries. It also draws attention to an aspect of filmmaking that still has difficulty finding its place: women's cinema.
The first public film projection in Canada took place on 28 June 1896 in Montréal. The Lumière operators presented their Cinématographe and created great excitement in Québec and Ontario. Some Québecers decided to show films in different parks and venues. Among them, Léo-Ernest Ouimet occupies an important place. In 1906 he opened Montréal’s first permanent movie theatre, the Ouimetoscope, and soon began shooting local films such as L’Incendie de Trois-Rivières (1908) and Le Congrès eucharistique de Montréal (1910). A director, producer, distributor and exhibitor, Ouimet founded Specialty Film Import and in the late 1920s launched a newsreel series, the British Canadian Pathé News.
Ouimet, like other filmmakers, wanted to set himself apart from foreign productions by focusing on local subjects and national history. This is why in 1912 Frank Beresford, the founder of British American Film Manufacturing, would film The Battle of the Long Sault and would participate in Kenean Buel’s filming of Wolfe; Or, the Conquest of Québec (1914). For his part, Joseph-Arthur Homier directed two works of fiction, Madeleine de Verchères (1922) and La drogue fatale (1924). His production company would be defunct by the mid-1920s due to a lack of production means and access to the facilities controlled by the Americans or the Canadian companies affiliated with them.
Another company would adopt a completely different strategy. With the intent of producing films of national interest that supported its commercial activities, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which had already commissioned the series Living Canada (1902), founded Associated Screen News (ASN) in 1921. With Bernard E. Norrish at the helm, ASN would make itself known through its Canadian Cameo series (1932–53), directed for the most part by this country's first great director, Gordon Sparling, who began working for ASN in 1931. Among his most popular films were Rhapsody in Two Languages (1934), House in Order (1936) and Ballet of the Mermaids (1938). ASN also had studios and laboratories, making production easier and allowing it to offer services to other producers and distributors.
Early Ethnographic Filmmaking
Starting in the 1930s, another type of production saw the light of day. These non-professional filmmakers, often priests, made 16mm films that served educational or promotional purposes. One of the first of these filmmakers was Albert Tessier, whose work is considered a precursor of direct cinema. His goal was to promote the beauty of nature, traditional rural life and nationalism. His name was given to the lifetime achievement award in cinema bestowed by the Québec government since 1980. Maurice Proulx is more famous because he filmed, in the 1930s, the settlement of the Abitibi area (En pays neufs, 1937) and in the Gaspé Peninsula (En pays pittoresque, 1939). Being an agronomy professor, many of his films dealt with agriculture and more generally, rural life. He shot many films for the Service de ciné-photographie of Québec, since he was close to Liberal Premier Joseph-Adélard Godbout and Union nationale Premier Maurice Duplessis.
The third important figure from this period is Herménégilde Lavoie, who began making films such as Les beautés de mon pays (1943) for the provincial Tourism Office. After being fired in 1947, he produced industrial and historic films, and shot many feature length documentaries in the late 1940s and early 1950s depicting the activities of convent communities. The last name worth mentioning is Louis-Roger Lafleur, an Oblate who shot many important ethnographic documentaries on the Algonquin of Northern Québec. He paved the way for all filmmakers who turned their camera towards Aboriginal peoples in Canada from the 1960s until today.
Formation of the NFB
By the time the federal government founded the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1939, Québec films consisted of the work of these few enthusiastic amateurs. Their films, in addition to their undeniable cinematic qualities, contribute valuable ethnographic documentation. The early filmmakers found a natural outlet in the Service de ciné-photographie, founded in 1942 by the Québec government. Its mandate was to meet certain propaganda and educational needs, but it was ill-equipped to do so with a minimum of staff while working only in 16mm. The NFB did not have these constraints, but in the early years it was primarily an anglophone organization.
Dubbed versions of English-language films were made for Québec, and little thought was given to French-language production. Under the circumstances, Vincent Paquette, Jean Palardy and a few others did heroic work. After the war they were joined by Roger Blais, Raymond Garçeau and Bernard Devlin. A francophone team took shape and encouraged the emergence of Québec filmmaking within the NFB, but in its infancy it was not always differentiated from anglophone production, and sometimes it even produced in English. It achieved its best results when reacting to some specific event; Les Reportages was a noteworthy series that began offering biweekly newsreels in French in September 1941.
Feature Film Boom Post-Second World War
After the Second World War there was a period of active feature film production in Québec. The war caused a scarcity of French-language films and sent some French filmmakers into exile in Québec. As a result, feature filmmaking blossomed in 1944 with Le Père Chopin. This film helped create a new, vertically-integrated industry, with international contacts and religious support (both financial and ideological). Other Québecois were eager to produce films, hoping to recoup their expenses on the local market and find distribution abroad. In 1947, Québec-Productions (QP) released Fédor Ozep’s Whispering City/La Forteresse in English and French versions. This psychological thriller did not achieve the commercial success the producers had hoped for. The US film industry at the time was in poor shape, and QP had to modify its aspirations and be content with local markets. The company therefore drew on the highly popular subject matter of radio dramas for its next three films (1949–50). Another company, Renaissance, wanted to make Catholic films and finally released Le Gros Bill, directed by René Delacroix and Jean-Yves Bigras in 1949.
Both companies tried to break out of the strictly domestic market by arranging co-productions with French companies, but these efforts failed, and they reverted to Québec themes. Their relative success did inspire several other smaller outfits to produce a total of seven feature films, two of them in English and most of them adapted from theatrical dramas. Paradoxically, two of these became the most famous of the era: La Petite Aurore l'enfant martyre (1951) by Jean-Yves Bigras, the story of a child tortured to death by a stepmother destined to be hanged; and Tit-Coq (1953) by Gratien Gélinas, the drama of an illegitimate orphan, Tit-Coq, whose fiancée is persuaded to marry another man while Tit-Coq is overseas during the war.
In 1954, after 19 films, the feature film industry in Québec collapsed. Television dealt a fatal blow to an industry made vulnerable by its mediocrity. Today, these films have great value as social documents. In the 1940s and 1950s, Québec transformed from a traditional, agricultural society to an urban one. Its films seem to defend the traditional social order, especially the role of the clergy, but a closer look reveals the contrary. The characters and themes of these films, despite the negative impressions of Québec society that they evoke, depict a society in transition, a society in which the traditional Catholic values were being questioned, and thus contradict the surface message of the plot.
NFB French Unit and the Quiet Revolution
Throughout the next decade, feature films and private production were virtually nonexistent, although a few semi-professionals produced work for the Québec government. Thus, the only place where Québec film survived was within the NFB. A number of brilliant filmmakers joined the NFB during the 1950s: Louis Portugais, Michel Brault, Gilles Groulx, Claude Jutra and others. They and the NFB "old-timers" finally had opportunities worthy of their talents.
This explosion was the result of three developments. First, the NFB moved from Ottawa to Montréal in 1956, which meant that Québec filmmakers could live and work in Québec. Second, in 1957, public attention focused on francophone filmmakers who were not being given the same opportunities as their anglophone colleagues. The result was that French and English productions were separated administratively and financially, leading ultimately to the creation of a distinct francophone studio. Third, TV demanded large amounts of material, which meant that both popular entertainment and artistic innovation received as much support as films for government departments and educational institutions (e.g., 39 films in the Passe-Partout series, 1955–57; 26 dramatic episodes of Panoramique, 1957–59, a landmark for Québec fictional cinema; and the Temps present series of the late 1950s and early 1960s).
Filmmakers were also pushing the technological limitations, trying to improve their equipment and its capacity to capture natural sound and images while on location. In 1958, Brault and Groulx produced Les Raquetteurs, which was important socially as a statement of Québec's awakening and technologically as a key step in the development of direct cinema. A documentary genre that merged technological achievements (e.g., lightweight cameras and sync sound) with ideological and social aspects, direct cinema was spearheaded by Québec filmmakers such as Brault, and concurrently by the NFB’s Candid Eye series.
This period was one of profound social change. Duplessis died in 1959; the Liberals came to power in 1960 and the Quiet Revolution began. French Canadians became Québecois, and film helped to express that change. Les Raquetteurs went beyond picturesque scenes to stress membership in a national community. The early 1960s accelerated the development of Québec cinema, both within and outside the NFB. People such as Brault, Pierre Perrault, Jutra, Pierre Patry and Fernand Dansereau were eager to try new directions.
In 1963, a new era began inside and outside the NFB with two categories (documentary and fiction) and two films: Pour la suite du monde (1963), by Perrault and Brault; and À tout prendre (1963), by Jutra. The former, through its technique and the importance it gave to the spoken word, marked another major step in the development of direct cinema. The latter was an example of films being produced by nationalistic filmmakers throughout the world and was a personal statement by Jutra. Groulx's Le Chat dans le sac (1964) was one of the best films to that time about petit-bourgeois youth. The prolific Jean Pierre Lefebvre directed Le Révolutionnaire (1965), a fable/commentary on society. Gilles Carle, who had been with the NFB since 1961, was working on his first feature, a comedy, La Vie heureuse de Léopold Z (1965).
Coopératio, a private company, tried to get the industry moving again. Its director, Pierre Patry, made Trouble-fête in 1964 and then, in the space of just over a year, three more films. Others also tried feature films, working privately or for the NFB, or the Québec government (e.g., Arthur Lamothe, Denys Arcand, Richard Lavoie, Anne Claire Poirier, Jacques Godbout, Bernard Gosselin, Georges Dufaux, Clément Perron, Jean-Claude Labrecque and others). Ferment and change were occurring in all aspects of the arts, and film forms evolved to meet the needs of the filmmakers. Direct cinema in all its variations, auteur films (documentary or docudrama) and every genre of commercial film were attempted.
Perrault dominated direct filmmaking of this period with his saga of the people of Île-aux-Coudres. With his cameramen, Brault and Gosselin, he wanted not only to observe and record the awakening of the Québec nation but to also play a part in that awakening. Yet direct cinema was not limited to nationalistic subjects. Some producers wanted to use the techniques for social action films. A number of these efforts took place within the framework of the NFB program Société nouvelle (the francophone equivalent of Challenge for Change), which involved the filming of those in marginalized communities, often with the participation of the subjects themselves. The program made its debut in 1968 with St-Jérôme by Fernand Dansereau and lasted more than a decade. Others at the NFB concentrated on the rights of workers; Denys Arcand’s extraordinary On est au coton (1970) was the victim of political censorship for six years. Others (including Dansereau and, most notably, Lamothe) left the NFB in order to work more freely. Lamothe's Le Mépris n'aura qu'un temps (1970), an account of workers’ exploitation, provided an unprecedented economic, social and political analysis.
Between Perrault's approach and that of the activist films arose many other forms of direct cinema, united only by their technique and their methods. This kind of film moved steadily to the forefront. Another significant figure in the late 1960s and early 1970s was director-cameraman Labrecque, who had a talent for grasping the mood and significance of an event, and to convey the feeling of having been there. This can be seen particularly in La Visite du général de Gaulle au Québec (1967) and La Nuit de la poésie (1970).
During the 1960s, the film community in Québec began to structure itself. The producers created their professional association (Association des producteurs de films du Québec) in 1966, and the technicians their own union (Syndicat national du cinéma) in 1969. The Association professionnelle des cinéastes was formed and a few years later published the radical manifesto Le cinéma: autre visage du Québec colonisé (1971), but then folded in 1972. The following year, the directors founded the Association des réalisateurs de films du Québec. The Québec government modernized its legislation and structures by transforming its censorship bureau into the Bureau de surveillance du cinéma, and its film board into the Office du film du Québec. After the creation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) in 1967 (see Telefilm Canada), the Québec filmmakers lobbied the provincial government to have a law on cinema and a similar film funding corporation. Thus, the Institute québécois du cinéma (IQC) was founded in 1975 and the Loi sur le cinéma was voted by the Liberal government but implemented by the Parti québécois that came into power in 1976.
Documentary and Fiction of the 1970s
The documentary movement began to falter at the beginning of the 1970s, partly because some of its practitioners (Labrecque, Gosselin, and especially Brault and Groulx) were attracted by the possibilities of fiction film. In 1967 Brault made his first solo feature film, Entre la mer et l'eau douce, which showed the marks of his long apprenticeship as a cameraman/producer. With Les Ordres (1974), Brault once again put documentary skills at the service of fiction and, with his reconstruction of Québec under the War Measures Act in 1970, made the perfect synthesis of the flexibility, improvisation and attention to detail of direct cinema with the dramatic progression and structured narrative of fiction. Groulx, on the other hand, went exactly the opposite way in both style and content, offering a clear personal statement for discussion and criticism. Three features illustrate his methodology: Où êtes-vous donc? (1969), Entre tu et vous (1969) and 24 heures ou plus (1972). His films illustrated his mastery at integrating documentary and fiction at the editing stage.
Fiction moved away from direct cinema and won new adherents for a second reason. In 1967 the CFDC was born, and with it avenues of financing. The next year Denis Héroux. releasedValérie, Québec's first erotic film and commercial success. These two factors opened the way for commercial filmmaking and explain the production boom of the 1970s. Québec had its various waves, such as “Maple Syrup porno” (including Claude Fournier's box-office hit Deux femmes en or, 1970), subtle comedies and thrillers. This boom in commercial films soon ran into trouble, made even worse by foreign control of the key sectors of distribution. Some commercial films overcame the problems of quality versus commercial viability. Gilles Carle knew how to lace his films with humour and sex, ideology and social colour, showmanship and stars, making them much more interesting than most of the others in his field. With his fifth feature, La Vraie Nature de Bernadette (1972), Carle won lasting international acclaim.
Others also knew how to combine quality with commercial success. The best known is probably Denys Arcand, whose Réjeanne Padovani (1973) and Gina (1974) blended social observation and colour with perfect artistic harmony; or Claude Jutra, who won acclaim for his NFB film Mon oncle Antoine (1971), one of the finest Québec films ever made. Unfortunately, he did not have the same commercial success with Kamouraska (1973), a period film based on the celebrated novel by Anne Hébert, and an expensive co-production. A number of other NFB producers (Marcel Carrière, Perron, Godbout and others) made films that could scarcely be distinguished from private ones. The trailblazer of this kind was Jean Beaudin's tender and simple period film, J.A. Martin, photographe (1976).
Jean Pierre Lefebvre dominated the genre of the personal statement film for 15 years, with 18 very important features to his credit. His work evolved from two fundamental approaches to filmmaking: the first, social, concrete, reflective and critical; the second, abstract, symbolic and intimate. Jacques Leduc, who concentrated on nondramatic moments of daily life and the state of the soul, belonged to that same generation of filmmakers. Leduc's work, marginal yet high-profile, belonged both to the school of direct cinema (On est loin du soleil, 1970) and to fiction (Chronique de la vie quotidienne, 1973–78).
A group of women filmmakers within the NFB produced En tant que femmes (1973–74), a series of films, some documentary and some fictional, about issues that concerned women. Women had very recently found their voice in Québec cinema with the appearance of Anne Claire Poirer’s De mère en fille (1968), the first feature made by a woman in Québec, followed by the first feature privately made by a woman, Mireille Dansereau’s La Vie rêvée (1972).
The NFB series encouraged film production by women. Dansereau now has several films to her credit, as does Poirier (including the famous Mourir à tue-tête, 1979, about the psychological, social and political implications of rape). Filmmakers such as Louise Carré, Paule Baillargeon, Micheline Lanctôt and Léa Pool explored new and unexpected paths in fiction. Direct films began to explore uncharted territory (e.g., sexism, domestic work, the couple, violence, racism) with the work of Luce Guilbeault, Hélène Girard, Diane Létourneau, Tahani Rached and others. The work was much more important than its numerical output would indicate, and was a sign of awakening, renewal and dynamism.
Another kind of dynamism in the 1970s originated with young filmmakers who concentrated more on individual, even marginal, problems than on social ones. Some excelled at films for children (André Melançon); others went happily from fiction to documentary (Jean Chabot and Roger Frappier). Some were more traditional, more narrative, one of the best being Francis Mankiewicz (Les Bons Débarras, 1980). Three names dominated what was then the fringe of this generation: André Forcier (four features, including Bar salon, 1973), Jean-Guy Noël (three features, including Ti-cul Tougas, 1976) and Pierre Harel.
The films of these filmmakers were produced or co-produced by the Association coopérative de productions audio-visuelles, which received funding from the IQC for shorts and first features. This production by young people assures Québec cinema a vitality and creativity that otherwise would be lacking, especially in fiction, which had been dominated for years by large established companies. An exception to this is the astonishing Les Plouffe (1981) by Gilles Carle, in which historical authenticity is matched by emotional accuracy.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, direct cinema films once again became the best part of Québec cinema. This is primarily due to the work of the veterans: Perrault, with his two major film cycles on Abitibi and the Montagnais-Naskapi (including Pays de la terre sans arbre ou le Mouchouânipi, 1980); Gosselin, Brault, André Gladu and a few others with films that mixed ethnology, pop culture and nationalism; Michel Moreau's pedagogic and ideological films; Lamothe's two social and political series about Indigenous life and culture (Carcajou et le péril blanc, 1973–76; Innu asi, 1979–80; Mémoire battante, 1983); and Georges Dufaux, a director-cameraman of sensitivity and humanity whose variety of subjects have included old age, health, education and China.
1980s Slump and Renaissance
As the 1980s began, Québec film was again in crisis. The number of private productions was declining dangerously; even the NFB faced cutbacks. Filmmakers with high hopes for the Québec Film Act of 1975 were disillusioned by the government’s turn towards building an industry and away from nurturing a national culture. In 1983, the Québec Cinema Act was amended and the IQC was replaced by the Société générale du cinéma (SGC, now SODEC), which kept only its consultative and research mandates. The CFDC and the SGC were mainly interested in a profitable, commercial film industry based on international markets, and leaned heavily in this direction with the films of the tax shelter era (see The History of the Canadian Film Industry). However, this is not always compatible with filmmakers' definitions of a national film industry. Direct and documentary filmmaking decreased, even at the NFB.
The film genre that most clearly reflected the conflict between the commercial interests of the industry, and the artistic and political concerns of filmmakers, was the documentary. Some documentarians explored the latest trends, such as combining non-fiction and fiction (Paul Tana, Tahani Rached, Richard Boutet), sliding towards autobiography (Jacques Leduc, Jean Pierre Lefebvre, Marilù Mallet, Jean Chabot, Sylvie Groulx), or taking an experimental approach (Fernand Bélanger). Others, such as Jean-Claude Labrecque, André Gladu, Serge Giguère, Marcel Simard, Jean-Daniel Lafond and Richard Lavoie, to name only a few, took a standard approach to cultural and social topics.
Fewer productions, money problems, higher costs, unemployment for competent producers, technicians and artists, and huge productions with international content were elements of Québec filmmaking in the early 1980s. Just when fiction films were hitting a low, which some associated with the backlash and depression within the cultural milieu after the referendum of 1980 on the sovereignty of Québec and its association with Canada, a few films came out that reversed the trend. The huge success, at home and abroad, of Arcand's Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986) and Jésus de Montréal (1989) are the most striking examples. The emergence of new directors also breathed life into production. To be singled out are Yves Simoneau (Pouvoir intime, 1981; Dans le ventre du dragon, 1989), Léa Pool (Anne Trister, 1986), Jean-Claude Lauzon (Un zoo la nuit, 1987; Léolo, 1992), Jean Beaudry and François Bouvier (Jacques et Novembre, 1984; Les Matins infidèles, 1989), and Pierre Falardeau (Elvis Gratton, 1985; Octobre, 1994).
Inspired by Arcand, older filmmakers caught a second wind. Jacques Leduc reached a new maturity with Trois pommes à côté du sommeil (1988) and La vie fantôme (1992),and André Forcier mixed realism, poetry and magic better than ever (Kalamazoo, 1988; Une histoire inventée, 1990; Le vent du Wyoming, 1994). It should be noted that unlike other retired filmmakers who turned to television or were having great difficulty financing their projects, Forcier persevered, completing, often with budget problems, works that were original and marvelous, imbued with the absurd, fantastical and the imaginary. Je me souviens (2009) and Coteau Rouge (2011) returned to the social fantastical and imaginary realism that were part of his work 30 years ago, confirming that Forcier must be acknowledged as one of the most original and surprising directors in Québec cinema.
This period also saw the emergence of a new genre in Québec cinema, films for children, thanks to the series Contes pour tous, produced by Rock Demers, which involved such notable directors as André Melançon (with his classic La guerre des tuques, 1984), Michael Rubbo and Jean Beaudry. Certain films in this series were co-productions, a method of financing that became increasingly common at the NFB, in private industry, at the IQC, the CFDC and on television. Films for children opened the door for another important director, Roger Cantin, who specialized in fantasy movies (Matusalem, 1993; La forteresse suspendue, 2001).
Since the crisis in Québec film has not been primarily one of creativity or quality but of production, such co-productions may provide the means for continuing growth in the industry. Commercial practices in the 1980s and 1990s went off in all directions. Francophones directed films in English hoping to penetrate the international market, and television became a regular, if not committed, production partner. This explains the production of several telefilms and long feature films that were turned into series, namely Carle’s Les Plouffe (1981), Claude Fournier’s Bonheur d'occasion (1982) and Jean Beaudin’s Le Matou (1985). It became increasingly common to find film directors making popular television series.
The high level of film creation that earned a reputation for Québec cinema for more than 20 years faced challenges but remained a living force in the 1980s and 1990s despite the loss of names from the preceding generation. Animated films maintained their high quality thanks to the work of Frédéric Back, Co Hoedeman, Jacques Drouin, Suzanne Gervais and Pierre Hébert, who made his first feature film, La Plante humaine, in 1997.
The 1990s saw the NFB radically transformed by several developments: the retirement of many of the filmmakers who brought it renown; the role played by Telefilm in granting huge amounts to television production; SODEC's increasing reliance on industry and its preoccupation with distribution abroad; and the means adopted by independent filmmakers who tried to survive in a world where video often seemed the only practical approach. Film practices were changing. Film itself was disappearing and being replaced by digital formats; and the means of consumption were multiplying. Everyone was now talking of new media, as imprecise as that name seems.
This transformation impacted documentaries most of all, now being relegated more and more to television. However, it did not stop the emergence of a new generation of documentary filmmakers who took up the baton from the major names in direct cinema. Many engaged in social or political filmmaking, speaking out against the exploitation of peoples and the planet. Among them were Garry Beitel, who focused on the particularities of Montréal (Bonjour! Shalom!, 1991; The ‘Socalled’ Movie, 2010),anti-globalization advocate Magnus Isacsson (Vue du sommet, 2002; Ma vie réelle, 2012), Hugo Latulippe (Bacon, le film, 2001; République: un abécédaire populaire, 2011) and Sylvain L’Espérance, who was interested in promoting auteur documentaries and artistic research (Le temps qu’il fait, 1997; Un fleuve humain, 2006).
During the 1990s, a new generation arose among male directors who pursue personal and bold formal innovations, encouraged by video and other arts. Consider André Turpin (Zigrail, 1995; Cosmos, 1996; Un crabe dans la tête, 2001), François Girard (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, 1993; The Red Violin, 1998; Silk, 2007), Robert Morin (Requiem pour un beau sans coeur, 1993; Windigo, 1994) and Michel Langlois (Cap Tourmente, 1993). Even the famous dramaturge Robert Lepage added films to his creative range (Le Confessionnal, 1995; Le Polygraphe, 1996; Nô, 1998; La face cachée de la lune, 2003).
Of these, only Morin would pursue a regular filmmaking career, with eight feature films since Windigo. Morin uses pseudo-direct and experimental elements in fiction, producing films that directly address the social and even political concerns of Québec, using an innovative and flexible style. Films such as Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur (1998), Le nèg’ (2002), Journal d’un coopérant (2010) and Les 4 soldats (2013) confirm his status as one of today’s most important directors and certainly the most provocative.
Also of note is Bernard Émond, a trained anthropologist who began making documentaries in the early 1990s (Ceux qui ont le pas léger meurent sans laisser de traces, 1992; L'instant et la patience, 1994; Le Temps et le lieu, 2000) before writing and directing several acclaimed fiction films that examine the existential crisis of values in Western society (La Femme qui boit, 2001; 20h17 rue Darling, 2003; La Neuvaine, 2005; Contre toute espérance, 2007; La Donation, 2005; Tout ce que tu possèdes, 2012). Émond’s style and tone are both austere and dark, but with a tinge of optimism and faith in the redemptive power of individuals.
Apart from his 18 short films, most of which were independently produced, Denis Côté has directed seven features, often prized by foreign festivals for the quality of the cinematography and their formal innovation, including: États nordiques (2005), Elle veut le chaos (2008), Curling (2010) and Vic + Flo ont vu un ours (2013). Côté focuses on narrative experimentation and attempts to destabilize the viewer’s expectations. His style and process follow that of directors such as Rafaël Ouellet (Le cèdre penché, 2007; New Denmark, 2009; Camion, 2012), Simon Lavoie (Laurentie, 2011; Le torrent, 2012), François Delisle (Le bonheur est une chanson triste, 2004; Toi, 2007; Le météore, 2013) and Stéphane Lafleur (Continental – un film sans fusil, 2007; En terrains connus, 2011). Also included in this group are Simon Galiero, Frédérick Pelletier and Maxime Giroux. All these filmmakers work in a poetic, often minimalist cinema that turns its back on realism and the socio-political tradition of Québec cinema.
In the 1990s, many women — Micheline Lanctôt (Deux actrices, 1993), Mireille Dansereau (Le Sourd dans la ville, 1992), Paule Baillargeon (Le Sexe des étoiles, 1993) and Léa Pool (Mouvements du désir, 1994) — occupied an important place between Anne Claire Poirier, who rediscovered her inspiration in the moving Tu as crié: Let Me Go (1997), and what was thought to be a new wave (Marquise Lepage, Catherine Fol, Michka Saäl, Manon Briand, Catherine Martin, Helen Doyle). The destiny of the first group was not the same for everyone. Lanctôt and Pool managed to keep producing on a regular basis, Lanctôt doing so up until 2011, the year she released the well-received Pour l’amour de Dieu. Pool had several quality films to her credit, including, in French, Emporte-moi (1999) and ... Maman est chez le coiffeur (2008), and, in English, The Blue Butterfly (2004) and the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. (2011).
However, Dansereau and Baillargeon did not achieve the same consistency. Dansereau no longer produces full-length features, producing only documentaries which focus on dance (Eva, 2008; Les cerisiers ont envahi les espaces comme incendie, 2010), and on culture and creativity in a more general sense. Baillargeon was also drawn to the documentary world, a field in which she excels, as can be seen in the biographies Claude Jutra, portrait sur film (2002) and Le petit Jean-Pierre, le grand Perreault (2004). She also produced the magnificent self-portrait, Trente tableaux (2011).
As for the other directors mentioned, the situation was not an easy one and changes in the NFB's production policies were partly to blame. Saäl and Fol have been nearly non-existent. More versatile, Lepage has produced documentaries for television. She has shown an interest in young people, socio-historical subjects and biographies (Jacques Parizeau: l’homme derrière le complet trois pièces, 2006; Martha qui vient du froid, 2009). First hired as a videographer by Vidéo-Femmes, Doyle began to show the scope of her creativity starting in the 1990s. She was funny and sensitive in Je t’aime gros, gros, gros (1993) and Petites histoires à se mettre en bouche (1998), and more tragic and socially-oriented in the films she directed in the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, areas stricken by the horrors of civil war. An artist of animated images, Doyle explores in Dans un océan d’images (2013) how the way one sees the world helps one to understand it.
Interested in documentaries, Briand began her career in a promising way, all the more so since she had the support of Roger Frappier, an important producer. With 2 secondes (1998) and La turbulence des fluides (2002) — two works imbued with a personal aesthetic — she was seen as a promising director. However, like many other female filmmakers, she would face many obstacles, so much so that it would be another 10 years before she directed another feature film, Liverpool (2012), which fluctuates between romantic comedy and thriller.
Other female filmmakers would emerge in the 1990s. Catherine Martin is a demanding filmmaker in the formal sense, whether when doing documentaries (Les dames du 9e, 1998; L’esprit des lieux, 2006) or fiction (Mariages, 2001; Trois temps après la mort d’Anna, 2010; Une jeune fille, 2013). Her work is poetic, sensitive, in search of the soul of people and places. Louise Archambault (Familia, 2005; Gabrielle, 2013) offers works that are very sensitive. Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, an excellent documentary and fiction filmmaker (Le ring, 2007; Inch’Allah, 2012), produces works which exude empathy, social involvement and sensitivity to people and the situations they find themselves in.
Lastly, among the new wave of filmmakers looking to make a name for themselves since the early 1990s, are Jeanne Crépeau, a filmmaker focused on urbanity and sexual identity (Revoir Julie, 1998; La fille de Montréal, 2010), Manon Barbeau, who is concerned with culture and marginality (L’armée de l’ombre, 1999; Barbeau libre comme l’art, 2000), Johanne Prégent (Les amoureuses, 1993; Le diable au corps, 2007), Céline Baril (La fourmi et le volcan, 1992; La théorie du tout, 2009), Lucie Lambert (Avant le jour, 1999; Aimer, finir, 2009), Anne Émond (Nuit #1, 2011), Sophie Deraspe (Rechercher Victor Pellerin, 2006; Les signes vitaux, 2009), Caroline Martel (Le fantôme de l’opératrice, 2005; Le chant des ondes, 2013), Marie-Julie Dallaire (Notre père, 2006), Jennifer Alleyn (L’atelier de mon père, 2008), Pascale Ferland (Adagio pour un gars de bicycle, 2008; Ressac, 2013) and Chloé Robichaud (Sarah préfère la course, 2013).
However, it must be acknowledged that, overall, female filmmakers have difficulty occupying an important and stable place in the filmmaking world, particularly in the area of fiction, and that they are often obliged and limited to producing documentaries for television or to opt for independent productions on video. In 2007, many female filmmakers followed the initiative of Marquise Lepage and founded Réalisatrices équitables to lobby for the equal distribution of public funding for female directors in Québec cinema, television and new media.
New Directions and Commercial Success
Other directors engage in auteur filmmaking, but they have taken a completely new direction, opting for narrative clarity, emotionality and a synergistic connection between audience, actors and subject matter. Some are well positioned in the Québec and international scene, and have imbued Québec cinema with an impact and influence it has not had for a long time. Philippe Falardeau stood out in 2000 with La moitié gauche du frigo, with its ironic tone and charming social connotations. After the very imaginative Congorama (2006), Falardeau directed the heartfelt and touching Monsieur Lazhar (2011), a cinematic surprise that focuses on the cultural and human impact of living in contemporary Montréal.
Kim Nguyen has taken a more unique track. Since Le marais (2002), he has been exploring an element uncommon in Québec cinema: the fantastical. Combining this approach with a realistic and violent political backdrop, his talent exploded in Rebelle (2012). There are parallels between Nguyen’s career and that of Denis Villeneuve, who, after completing a dozen short features with an experimental flavour, focused on more formalist cinema (Un 32 août sur terre, 1998; Maelström, 2000) before revealing another facet of his exceptional talent with Polytechnique (2009), a harrowing account of the Montréal Massacre, and Incendies(2010), a political and moral drama focusing on sectarian conflict in the Middle East. Since then, he has pursued a career in the US (Prisoners, 2013). Jean-Marc Vallée made an impressive debut with Liste noire (1995) and broke through with the auspicious coming-of-age story C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), a film about family structured like a musical composition. He then went on to pursue an international career in English and in French (The Young Victoria, 2009; Café de Flore, 2011; Dallas Buyers Club, 2013; Wild, 2014).
In a completely other niche, but also enjoying an international audience, there is Xavier Dolan, who was barely 20 when he debuted with J’ai tué ma mère (2009) and who has been making a name for himself ever since (Les amours imaginaires, 2010; Laurence Anyways, 2012; Tom à la ferme, 2013). Brilliant, funny and touching, his films explore the synergy between actors (often including himself), and the dynamics between family and homosexuality. With his inspired direction and camerawork, Dolan has contributed a great deal to the richness of Québec cinema.
Several other directors are practitioners of original and varied auteur films, ranging from chamber cinema to exuberance, the imaginary to realism, emotion to humour. Briefly, some of these filmmakers include: Guy Édoin (Marécages, 2011), Sébastien Pilote (Le vendeur, 2011), Louis Bélanger (Post Mortem, 1999; Gaz Bar Blues, 2003; Route 132, 2010), Sébastien Rose (Comment ma mère accoucha de moi durant sa ménopause, 2003; Le banquet, 2008), Benoit Pilon (Des nouvelles du nord, 2007; Ce qu’il faut pour vivre, 2008), Ricardo Trogi (Québec-Montréal, 2002; 1981, 2009; 1987, 2014), Robin Aubert (Saint-Martyr-des-damnés, 2005; À l’origine d’un cri, 2010), Jean-Philippe Duval (Matroni et moi, 1999; Dédé à travers les brumes, 2009), Luc Picard (Babine, 2008; Ésimésac, 2012), Robert Favreau (Les muses orphelines, 2000; Un dimanche à Kigali, 2006).
Lastly, it should also be mentioned that from the turn of the 21st century onward, as part of a tradition that goes back to Gilles Carle, commercial cinema has flourished in Québec. Anchored in a narrative form that is easily accessible, these films often utilize genre filmmaking, especially comedies, adapt popular works and cast excellent actors who are beloved by the public. This category of film includes directors who work in both cinema and television.
Some of these directors have completed an array of films that are quite varied both in style and genre as well as language. This is the case with Charles Binamé, whose career began in the 1990s after some 20 years in advertising. He began with a few films that were more personal (Eldorado, 1995; La beauté de Pandore, 2000) before turning to more commercial films (Un homme et son péché, 2002; Maurice Richard, 2005) and television. Érik Canuel is a filmmaker who has directed thrillers (La loi du cochon, 2001; Lac mystère, 2013), comedies (Nez rouge, 2003; Bon Cop Bad Cop, 2006) and historical films (Le survenant, 2005; Barrymore, 2011).
One of the big surprises in comedy was the Les Boys films, about a beer-league hockey team. Directed by Louis Saïa, the first film, released in 1997, was such a success that three sequels followed (1998, 2001, 2005), as well as a TV series that aired for five seasons. In 2013, the producer of the series, Richard Goudreau, directed the nostalgic prequel Il était une fois les boys. Émile Gaudreault is another who does comedies and commercial films (Mambo Italiano, 2001; De père en flic, 2009), as well as Ken Scott (Starbuck, 2011), who has also been an actor and screenwriter for several successful films, such as the two works by Jean-François Pouliot, La grande seduction (2003) and Guide de la petite vengeance (2006). Daniel Roby (Louis Cyr, 2013) also jumps easily from one genre to another. Finally, another director who has been successful in both television and cinema through his virtuosity and sense of the dramatic is Daniel Grou aka Podz (10 ½, 2010; L’affaire Dumont, 2012; Miraculum, 2013).
From the 2000s, Québec cinema has been characterized by exceptional maturity and diversity. Several directors have received international attention at prestigious festivals and won high-profile awards. Denys Arcand became the first Canadian filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Les Invasions barbares (2003). Three Québec films in the next eight years — Villeneuve’s Incendies (2010), Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar (2011) and Nguyen’s Rebelle (2012) — earned Oscar nominations in the same category.
Many Québec filmmakers now reach a broad audience, both through the genres they take on and the actors they work with, to the unfortunate point that certain producers are ready to sacrifice quality in exchange for box office results that often do not materialize. As is the case everywhere, the films are distributed on a variety of platforms. This diversity is problematic for institutions such as Téléfilm and SODEC whose budgets do not keep up with the ambitions of the filmmakers. In 2010, many directors wrote an open letter to SODEC arguing that commercial films were being more heavily favoured than auteur cinema. Within this context, many swear by co-productions, others go abroad, some cannot make do without television, while at the opposite end many swear by independent, auteur and creative films only. In short, it is an artistic and cultural practice in tune with Québec society.
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