Berlin Hidden Gem: 'A Colony' Is a Portrait of Bullying in Rural Quebec

Courtesy of Berlinale
Emilie Bierre plays an adolescent girl struggling to adapt to the harsh realities of junior high.

Director Genevieve Dulude-De Celles drew on her own experiences as an awkward teen in small-town Canada for her feature debut.

Genevieve Dulude-De Celles says she had to go back to high school to get over her troubled adolescence. We’re not talking about a high school reunion. The Canadian director instead made A Colony, her feature debut, which follows a nerdy 12-year-old girl who’s bullied and ridiculed while navigating her teenage years in small-town Quebec. The coming-of-age drama has its international premiere in the Berlinale’s Generation section Feb. 10.

The 32-year-old Canadian director tells THR that making A Colony helped her make peace with the young girl she was while growing up in Sorel-Tracy, a small village in rural Quebec. The film’s young protagonist, Mylia, played by rising Quebec star Emilie Bierre, endures some vicious bullying when she enters junior high school, but is taken under the wing of her older cousin and fellow classmate Jacinthe and gets a helping hand from schoolmate Jimmy, who comes from Odanak, a neighboring Abenaki reservation near where Dulude-De Celles attended high school. Mylia, much like Dulude-De Celles, has to overcome some initial prejudices about Jimmy before they bond.

“I grew up in a small village, near to a First Nation community, and that was the first aboriginal community I saw when I was young,” says Dulude-De Celles. “I had some prejudices against this community,” she admits.

Dulude-De Celles says it took five months to assemble her cast of professional and amateur actors. Helping to prepare Bierre for the role of Mylia was the actress’ real-life experience of being bullied while in high school and working with the Montreal-based advocacy group the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation to fight violence and discrimination against schoolchildren.

“For [Bierre], this movie goes beyond playing a character,” Dulude-De Celles says. “It’s her own story, and makes the viewer believe it’s traumatizing to find your place in school at this age.”

The Berlinale screenings for A Colony, which is being shopped in Berlin by Paris-based Indie Sales, mark a return for Dulude-De Celles, who attended the festival three years ago to be part of its Talent Lab. “It’s a festival that I’m in love with,” she says. “Coming back to Berlin is something really special for our team.”

In all, Dulude-De Celles is bringing a 20-strong team to Berlin, including her producing partners at Colonelle Films, her three main leads and their parents. “There’s pressure, but I want to put the movie under the spotlight, rather than myself,” she says. “When you put so much heart and effort into something, you want it to have a good life and meet its public.”

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 10 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.