Something wonderful is happening in Quebec cinema. A young generation of risk-taking filmmakers is coming of age, and the world is sitting up and taking notice. For the third year in a row, a Montreal director has made a movie nominated for a best foreign-language film at the Oscars. These three movies – Rebelle, Monsieur Lazhar and Incendies are tough stuff. Acts of brutal violence are central to all three. Often movies premised on such violence repel, but these captivate and engage. Two of the films, Rebelle and Incendies, are set mostly far from Canada, which means big production and financing challenges. They are films of a very high order.
We can only hope the rest of Canada is sitting down to watch and enjoy Quebec movies, and that filmmakers in all parts of the country are drawing inspiration from the success of Kim Nguyen (Rebelle), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) and Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar).
Why is Quebec cinema so successful? “More support to do riskier work, and hence develop stronger talent,” says Daniel Cross, the chairman of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Montreal’s Concordia University.
The province, because of its linguistic uniqueness, has fostered a sense of the importance of culture. Filmmakers receive generous support from government agencies (Quebec makes 30 feature films a year), and aspiring talent can look to development programs such as Jeunes Créateurs. There’s a star system unlike anything in the rest of Canada. There are mentors. There’s confidence. And there’s an audience with high expectations. “We know we’re watching among the best-made movies in the world,” Prof. Cross says.
It’s not a slight against some strong filmmakers in the rest of Canada – including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Sarah Polley, all of whom have reaped nominations at the Oscars – to note that Quebec’s film industry is especially vibrant. “A generation of filmmakers is at their peak right now,” says Luc Déry, the president of micro-scope inc., the Montreal production company that produced Monsieur Lazhar and Incendies.
In their openness to the world and their technical and storytelling excellence, Quebec is creating films that deserve a wide audience.