Chloé Robichaud is a petite young woman with big black glasses that match her hair, who described herself as a "a bit of a geek" at a Telefilm panel for Canadian filmmakers at Cannes – but there's no mistaking the size of her ambition.
"I'm a girl who knows what she wants," she said at one point, "and how to get it. I'm good at planning."
She promised herself in her teens that she would make a feature film by the age of 25 and has done so, with Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah préfère la course), which screens Tuesday as part of the Un Certain Regard sidebar, the only Canadian feature in the official selection. The film, starring Sophie Desmarais, is about a young competitive runner who enters a marriage of convenience to get a grant to attend a university with a good athletic program. When her husband comes to feel more strongly about the relationship than Sarah does, complications ensue.
There's a brashness and humour about Robichaud. When her fellow Canadian panelists, including Sébastien Pilote, whose second feature, Le Démantèlement (The Dismantling), is in the Critics Week sidebar, and Jeff Moneo, whose short film, Going South, is in competition for a Palme d'Or, discussed the difficulties of financing short film, her answer was swift: "Mastercard." There's also a confidence. In the panel's roundup, someone asked each of the filmmakers to offer one tip to aspiring filmmakers. Robichaud said promptly: "Don't listen to what people say. If people say the script isn't any good, if the actors say they don't want to do it, don't listen."
Robichaud has made four short films, three while she was still a student. Her last one, Leader of the Pack (Chef de Meute), was in competition at Cannes last year for a short-film Palme d'Or. She had already written Sarah Prefers to Run but made the short film, she says, because the granting agencies (Telefilm Canada and Quebec's SODEC) said they wanted her to show she could make a short film outside of film school. When she came back to them looking to finance her feature, she had a committed professional cast lined up and a promise of distribution through Seville Films, which will release the movie in Quebec in June.
When Robichaud was given her $1.2-million budget, she was told she could pick any cinematographer in Quebec to shoot the film. She chose Jessica Lee Gagné, whom she met at 17 when she was in CEGEP (general and vocational college), who shot her first short, "because there was was no one who knows who I am, and who knows my work better, than Jessica."
In an interview, I asked about her confidence. "When it comes to cinema and what I want to do, I'm confident," she says. "In my own life, I have anxieties like anyone else."
Robichaud grew up outside Quebec City, in Cap-Rouge, a town on the St. Lawrence where Jacques Cartier attempted a settlement in 1541, and which is famous for its railway bridge built with the participation of Gustave Eiffel. She returned there to shoot Sarah Prefers to Run because as a child, she says, "I knew I wanted to shoot a film here. It's a place that's never appeared in a movie."
Robichaud's father, an advertising executive, is a cinephile, and as a child she attended commercial shoots and "wanted to have my hands on a camera. It's something I need to do. I don't have a Plan B. I knew I had to be proactive and do films because there was no other choice."
Robichaud is not a runner, though she says the character of Sarah has elements of her.
"The character is trying to leave her difficulties. She's very solitary and wants to be in a bubble, so to be a runner is the best way to escape. I'm not like Sarah but there are some personal connections, similarities. I had to leave my home to study in Montreal and there's a price to pay financially and socially because I had this dream of cinema. I was pretty young and Montreal seemed like such a big city."
She studied at Concordia University's Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, where she graduated in 2010. The producer, artistic director and first assistant director of Sarah Prefers to Run are all fellow graduates. One of her professors, the actress Micheline Lanctôt, plays Sarah's coach. Coincidentally, Lanctôt also co-starred as the French-Canadian girlfriend in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the 39-year-old Ted Kotcheff film showing at this year's Cannes Classics program.
There's a part of Robichaud that looks to the past. Her idols include Ingmar Bergman, Denys Arcand and Woody Allen, and she's excited to be in the same program as Sofia Coppola, because of Coppola's Lost in Translation – another film by a woman director about a young woman.
But she is not one to look back for long. You might say that she prefers to race.
"When I'm writing, I love it, but when I start getting bored I can't wait until I get to shooting the film, and when I'm shooting I'm already thinking about the editing and what I want to do. And when I'm editing, I'm thinking about ideas for my next film."
The next film, she says, "will be more about this generation, who seem to spend more time on buses and airplanes than in any single space. This is a world where borders and frontiers are far less present than in the past."