Montreal filmmaker Geneviève Dulude-De Celles’ coming-of-age drama A Colony won best picture at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards, has played at international festivals, and will screen in about 20 theatres in Sweden.
But in Canada, its presence outside of its home province has been largely kept to the festival circuit and screenings through special events and tours, including this past weekend’s Quebec On Screen in Toronto.
It’s a pervasive problem for most Québécois films trying to reach English-Canadian audiences, says Dulude-De Celles, who wants to see more focus on distribution and marketing.
“It’s so hard to get our films onscreen because all the theatres already have those screens for American films,” she says.
“When you have the chance to meet the audience, they’re kind of surprised … like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know a Quebecer film could be like that.’ Yes, it can be entertaining. Yes, it’s accessible. But I think we have to do education.”
Toronto-based distribution company Game Theory Films created Quebec On Screen as part of its efforts to shine a light on films from the province. The event screened Dulude-De Celles’ film as well as Maxime Giroux’s allegorical drama The Great Darkened Days and Philippe Lesage’s adolescence-focused Genesis.
Game Theory also set up screenings for A Colony and Great Darkened Days in Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., on Monday, and will release all three films digitally through iTunes on Tuesday. A Colony is also playing in Sudbury, Ont., over five nights spread throughout June and July as part of their Samedi Cinema series.
Such efforts come after a year in which Québécois films dominated the awards circuit and box office in Canada.
At the Canadian Screen Awards in March, the leading film contenders were from Quebec and all of the best-picture nominees were French-language. A Colony, about a 12-year-old girl trying to fit in at school, got three trophies in total, and The Great Darkened Days got five.
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Meanwhile Quebec director Ricardo Trogi’s comedy-drama 1991 won the Golden Screen Award for being the highest-grossing Canadian film at the box office, earning about $3 million between Jan. 1 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019, according to Les Films Seville.
Yet for all their success, many Québécois films aren’t well-known, says Montreal-based Lesage, whose film Genesis made TIFF’s list of top 10 Canadian features of 2018.
“Our films have a short life also in cinema right now because we are always being pushed out by other films coming, so sometimes the good ol’ mouth-to-ear effect doesn’t have the time to happen at all,” Lesage adds.
Lesage says Quebec filmmakers are fortunate that the province has a strong star system and the government provides sufficient funding, allowing independent screen projects to be made with creative freedom and no commercial agenda. It’s the reason many Quebec filmmakers become acclaimed auteurs, says Dulude-De Celles.
But once a film is finished, there often isn’t much left in the budget for promotion, even in Quebec, they say.
“I think there’s a huge problem with distribution of our own films and Canadian films in general, so maybe we should change strategy — maybe put a little more money into marketing of our own films,” says Lesage.
“It’s very ironic to see that we do a film here, and then we screen it outside and we have the impression that it’s touching people all over the world, in different parts of the continent, and then here nobody hears about what you’re doing.”
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Dulude-De Celles says the government can foster a curiosity in Quebec films by screening them as part of the school curriculum, like several countries in Europe do with the CinEd educational cinema program for students aged six to 19.
“In Quebec, kids have to read books from Quebec authors, it’s a part of their education,” Dulude-De Celles says. “So why not give them Quebec cinema or Canadian cinema so they must see it and they will be sensibilized?”
Lesage also wants to see the government be tougher with streaming platforms on “imposing some quotas in terms of Canadian content, so they will be forced to buy films and put them there.”
He and Dulude-De Celles don’t want Québécois cinema to be thought of as “foreign film,” or for movies made within and outside of the province to be thought of as two solitudes.
“It’s not about money, it’s about culture,” says Lesage.
“It’s about the image we are giving to the other countries in the world where we are screening our films about our culture here, about Canada, about Quebec.
“The films become ambassadors of Canadian culture worldwide, and that’s priceless, in my opinion.”