Berlin: French-Canadian New Wave Builds on Global Audiences, Hollywood Breakthrough

'Boris Without Beatrice'
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

A generation after Norman Jewison and James Cameron conquered Hollywood, Quebecois directors are looking to follow Jean-Marc Vallée, Denis Villeneuve and Phillipe Falardeau into the global film market.

A new wave of Canadian filmmakers have conquered Hollywood, with Jean-Marc Vallée on a hot streak after The Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve getting ready to tackle the Blade Runner sequel.

But they and fellow Quebecois directors found success in Hollywood by first securing wide audiences abroad, especially in Europe, after their French-language films went virtually unnoticed in English-speaking Canada. "You find your place (in Hollywood) if there's an opportunity. So if it happens, it's really by accident," a coy Denis Cote, director of the Berlin competition title Boris Without Beatrice, told The Hollywood Reporter.

But in a sea of change for Hollywood's go-to Canadian directors, new voices are following studio favorites like David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan in making big-budget movies with possible award season potential: Phillipe Falardeau with the Reese Witherspoon-starrer The Good Lie; Xavier Dolan with It’s Only The End of The World, starring Marion Cotillard; and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, starring Jessica Chastain and Susan Sarandon.

The French-Canadian new wave grew in Berlin this week as Quebecois directors eyed audiences beyond Quebec — a generation after English-Canadian directors like Norman Jewison, Paul Haggis and Ted Kotcheff packed up and moved to Hollywood to pursue their dreams.

Boris Without Beatrice star James Hyndman said Quebec directors head to Hollywood and overseas for access to greater financing and A-list talent, but only after perfecting their craft by shooting intimate dramas back home about their French-speaking culture and society.

"The dream of going to the U.S. is not overwhelming. But that doesn't stop [Quebec] directors from jumping at offers," he said. Chloe Leriche brought her latest film, Before The Streets, to Berlin, to screen in the Generation sidebar. The drama, starring Rykko Bellemare and Jacques Newashish, portrays a young murderer on the run in rural Quebec, and trying to redeem himself using traditional Atikamekw cleansing rituals.

"We're not trying to tell our stories for Hollywood. We're trying to remain true to ourselves and our culture," Leriche explained. "We have to find ways to tell stories with less (financing) and in different ways."

That need to innovate and tell stories outside the Hollywood orbit is fine by Telefilm Canada executive director Carolle Brabant, the country's biggest film financier. She agreed Quebeckers are not trying to make movies like Hollywood. "Cinema is innovation. Each film is a new team. You have to be able to experiment."

It also helps Quebec is culturally close to Europe because of the French language, and a slew of official co-production treaties allow Quebec directors to partner with international producers and talent.

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