Filmmaking In Quebec

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Canada is officially a bilingual country and recognizes the province of Quebec as a ''distinct society.'' Quebecois cinema faced some of the same obstacles as English-Canadian cinema, but its development was also hindered by the Catholic Church, which through the 1950s was the major cultural force in Quebec culture. Although separated from the rest of Canada by language and culture, Quebec eventually developed its own distinctive cinema as part of a belated embrace of modernity.

In the 1920s and 1930s, ninety percent of the province's movie screens showed American films. In the 1930s, a number of French film companies, most notably France Film, distributed French movies in Quebec. The Catholic Church was strongly opposed to film, identifying Hollywood with immorality and English domination. Strong censorship laws were enacted, movies were condemned as exerting a corrupting influence, and for years movies were not allowed to be shown on Sundays.

By the 1940s, however, the Catholic Church became more conciliatory and was itself involved in Quebec's feature film productions. The first independent feature films produced in Quebec were by priests, Father Maurice Proulx (1902-1988) and Father Albert Tessier. Proulx produced thirty-seven 16mm films about French-Canadian life between 1934 and 1961. These films typically emphasized the importance of the church in daily life and featured a noble priest or nun as the central character.

In 1956, the National Film Board moved its head office from Ottawa, the nation's capital, to Montreal. The NFB's French Unit grew more active and included such filmmakers as Michel Brault (b. 1928), Gilles Carle, Fernand Dansereau (b. 1928), Jacques Godbout (b. 1933), Gilles Groulx (1931-1994), Claude Jutra (1930-1986), and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre (b. 1941), all of whom would emerge as important auteurs during the blossoming of Quebecois cinema in the 1960s. In earlier

Alexis Tremblay 1943

Typical Canadian losers Doug McGrath (left) and Paul Bradley in Goin' Down the Road (Don Shebib, 1970). everett collection. reproduced by permission.

Typical Canadian losers Doug McGrath (left) and Paul Bradley in Goin' Down the Road (Don Shebib, 1970). everett collection. reproduced by permission.

NFB films such as Terre de nois aïeux (Alexis Tremblay, Habitant [1943]), French Canadians were depicted as happy, picturesque farmers working contentedly in pastoral beauty—an image that by the 1960s Quebecois filmmakers would rebel against in favor of more authentic images of themselves. Quebecois filmmakers at the NFB seized upon the accessibility of the new portable equipment to make films about Quebec's distinctive culture. For example, Carle and Brault (who had worked on Jean Rouch's seminal cinéma vérité documentary Chronique d' un été (Chronicle of a Summer [1961]), made Les Raquetteurs (1958), about the annual snowshoe competition in the town of Sherbrooke. The film abandons entirely the traditional Griersonian voice-of-God technique previously characteristic of the NFB and instead focuses on the authentic voices and music of the participants themselves.

The 1960s, the period known as The Quiet Revolution, witnessed the rapid modernization of Quebec, including a growing demand for cultural autonomy and political self-determination that hardened into an intense separatist movement that almost carried a provincial referendum for secession from Canada. French-Canadian identity transformed into the more militant Quebecois. Jutra's Mon Oncle, Antoine (1974), widely regarded as the best Canadian film ever made, uses its coming-of-age story about a small town boy who loses his idealism and innocence as a metaphor for the maturation of Quebec culture. Since then, many Quebecois filmmakers have produced important films that have achieved substantial success not only within Quebec but also across Canada and abroad. Among the most notable are Le Déclin de l' empire américain (Decline of the American Empire [1986]) by Denys Arcand (b. 1941) and Jésus de Montreal (1989), Léolo (1992) by Jean-Claude Lauzon (1953-1997), and Le Confessional (1995) by Robert Lepage (b. 1957). The Red Violin (1998), an international co-production directed by Quebec director François Girard (b. 1963), is the most successful Canadian art film to date.

Over time, Quebec has developed its own film distribution, exhibition, and production systems. The province's cinema has its own star system, and some of the actors—Genevieve Bujold, Lothaire Bluteau, Monique Mercure—have successfully made the transition to Hollywood. In addition to the many distinguished art and auteur films, Quebecois cinema also produces its own popular cinema. Films such as Cruising Bar (1989), Ding and Dong le Film (1990), and Les Boys (1997) are broad and bawdy comedies that have been enormously popular with filmgoers in Quebec.

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