Quebec’s film industry is vibrant. For the third year in a row a film from La Belle Province made the list of Academy Award nominees for best foreign language film at the Oscars. Written and directed by Kim Nguyen, the movie War Witch — also known as Rebelle — was shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and tackles the story of a child soldier in an African civil war. Previous Quebec Oscar films include Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar (2011), Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (2010) and, of course, Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions Barbares, which won the best foreign film Oscar in 2003.
Quebecois filmmakers have a unique eye. Their art is deeply rooted in the province’s cultural history. In 1896, Montreal became the birthplace of cinema in North America shortly after it was first invented in France by Louis and Auguste Lumière. This status was reinforced in the 1960s when the Quebecois started expressing their desire for cultural emancipation. Thus, the particularity of Quebec’s film industry takes its roots back to the province’s cultural and linguistic identity in North America.
However, as a result of the changing political and socio-cultural dynamics of Quebec in the last 20 years, phenomena such as globalization and various immigration waves have strongly influenced young Quebecois filmmakers’ outlook. This distinctive vision, open to the diverse cultures which constitute the multicultural mosaic of Quebec’s landscape today, is at the core of Quebec cinema’s international recognition. The province is “very open to films that combine great stories with awe inspiring cinematography and an auteur approach to the art from,” said Korbett Matthews, associate professor in film production at Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.
Bringing together talent, technical and storytelling excellence, Quebecois filmmakers invite their audience to travel with them thanks to the support of funding bodies such as the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles and the arts councils. Not only do the Quebecois filmmakers reach for stories that are usually under-reported, they also provide a unique and mature approach to them.
“The key to such a success is imagination and the rest comes from a different vision of the world,” said Louise Lamarre, independent filmmaker-researcher and associate professor in film production at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.
This refreshing vision of the world illustrates filmmakers’ strong ability to reflect the multicultural reality of Quebec and its consequences on the province’s artistic and social environment. Monsieur Lazhar, Incendies and Rebelle are all culturally diverse. They blur the frontiers existing between dramas and documentaries by acting as witnesses of serious and current social, economic and political realities that must be addressed.
Because their scope is culturally broad, they allow people from Quebec as well as the rest of the world to identify with the stories they cover. Serious topics covered include immigration and integration of Algerians in Quebec in Monsieur Lazhar; relationships between parents and children, grief and the atrocities committed during the Lebanese civil war in Incendies, as well as the issue of child soldiers and the war in Sub-Saharan Africa in Rebelle.
These films encourage the audience to open their eyes and react to the realities of the world which are sometimes far from dream-like.
The art of cinema is entertainment but it can also be the vector of social change, an area in which the Quebecois filmmaking industry has been an expert in the last decade.