Recap of music festival documentary It Could Only Happen Here 

Film poster courtesy of Stephan Boissonneault.

Unfolding the core of Quebec’s Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) through the eyes of director Stephan Boissonneault.

A music documentary based in Canada that highlights a local music festival doesn’t come out every month and that’s exactly why I jumped at the opportunity of seeing a screening of Stephan Boissonneault’s debut feature film, It Could Only Happen Here.

The 74-minute music documentary film is all about the Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) and was in the local theatre Cinémathèque québécoise from Jan. 19 until Jan. 24 last week. The underground and DIY flair of the film tells the story of FME’s debut to current festival editions. 

Located in the town of Rouyn-Noranda, this festival saw the light of the day in September 2003 with 22 bands and a budget of $60,000. Various interviews with staff members, programmers, audio technicians, festival organizers, and venue managers depict how the festival ran back then, and how it continues to run in present times. 

In one of the first interviews in It Could Only Happen Here, the FME founders Karine Berthiaume, Jenny Thibault et Sandy Boutin, shared how the initial crafting of the festival was born out of them being tired of always having to go to Montreal when they were craving live band performances. Together in a car in November 2022, they set up a goal to create what we know today as the FME. The founders were asking fellow friends to help out whether it was for cooking duties or production wise. From the very start, FME felt “lowkey and do it yourself” as the founders expressed. 

Dubbed as one of Quebec’s best-kept secrets, FME’s focal point is on emerging Canadian bands, besides a few bigger international headliners. Boissonneault’s documentary includes Interviews with many artists from recent editions of the festival, such as Chad VanGaalen, Bonnie Trash, Tamar Aphek, Julie Doiron, OMBIIGIZI, Gus Englehorn, and Balaklava Blues. 

Director Boissonneault is a freelance music journalist who began his videography career within Concordia University’s CUTV by filming protest events. As for the birth of It Could Only Happen Here, Boissonneault initially went to the 2022 edition and got a lot of video documentation since he was covering the festival for CULT MTL. 

After collecting an extensive amount of footage, many people then asked him if he could do something special since it was FME’s 20th anniversary. Boissonneault thought it would amount to a 15-minute documentary but after accumulating 12 hours of footage, the project got bigger and bigger to the point of releasing It Could Only Happen Here. 

A member from one of the many bands that were interviewed saw “FME as magic” and that the town it’s set in is friendly. Plenty of bands also noted how FME is extra special since the team makes sure to accommodate all artists. Artists also noted how FME excels in encouraging and promoting new artists that people might be hesitant to check out. 

When asked about the creative process of It Could Only Happen Here, director Boissonneault answered that the very first shot was taken in 2021. However, at that time, he was unaware of the fact that he would end up making a documentary out of it. “I attended the festival three years in a row,” Boissonneault shared. During this time, he and his team shot, directed, and released It Could Only Happen Here—all within two years. 
FME is the fruit of so many people’s labour over the past two decades, and Stephan Boissonneault’s full-length documentary It Could Only Happen Here definitely navigates the growth of it all.

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