Do Jutras have anti-English bias?

Quebec film awards don’t give major prizes to anglophone productions – despite an impressive crop this year

Cinéma québécois et anglobalisation

By Brendan Kelly The Gazette MONTREAL - Why is it that over its 13-year history, the Jutra Awards has almost never given major prizes to English-language Quebec films? Does that reflect a negative bias within the film milieu toward flicks made chez nous in the language of Richler?
The Jutras’ track record isn’t much better in terms of recognizing films that capture Montreal’s multi-cultural reality. But maybe that part is changing. Jutra voters – who are all professionals in the film biz here – had no qualms about throwing their support this year massively behind Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, which swept the Quebec film awards March 13, nabbing nine trophies, including for best film, and direction and screenplay (for Villeneuve).
Incendies, based on the play by Lebanese-born Montreal author Wajdi Mouawad, is indeed a drama about Montrealers who hail from the Middle East.
But the Jutra voters’ open-ness didn’t extend to director Jephté Bastien’s groundbreaking Sortie 67, the first major local feature to explore the world of street gangs in the city’s north end. It is not a perfect film, but it is a mighty powerful one, and you have to wonder how the folks at the Jutras couldn’t figure a way to give at least some smidgen of recognition to the film. At the Genie Awards, they liked it enough to give Bastien the Claude Jutra Award for best first feature.
The Jutra snubs of The Trotsky and Barney’s Version are just as troubling. Montreal filmmaker Jacob Tierney won the Genie for original screenplay for the witty high-school comedy The Trotsky, and it also won for original song at the pan-Canadian Genies (for Mary Milne’s Already Gone). Yet The Trotsky managed to scare up one lone Jutra nomination, for Jay Baruchel as best actor. Baruchel lost and so The Trotsky came away from the Jutras with the big doughnut.
So how come The Trotsky fared so poorly with Jutra voters? I have to think it might’ve been a little payback for Tierney’s much-talked-about comments last summer on Quebec cinema’s sorry history of not including anglos and members of other minority communities. Tierney is a fluently-bilingual Montrealer with a passion for Québécois cinema, a bit of a poster boy for the new more open anglo Montreal. But many – from folks calling the radio open-line shows to people in the film industry – didn’t appreciate his too-candid words.
Barney’s Version also didn’t get much love at the Jutras, winning only two minor crafts awards. Word is that many within the Jutra inner-circle couldn’t even believe this movie was allowed to compete – a knee-jerk reaction spurred, I think, by the fact it was made by a Toronto producer (Robert Lantos) and is based on a book by Mordecai Richler, who is still deeply resented by many francophones because of his acerbic attacks on Quebec nationalism.
On Thursday, filmmaker Philippe Falardeau and I led a discussion in a McGill University Quebec Studies class about the issue of ethnicity and Quebec film. Falardeau is one of the only Québécois filmmakers who has almost always made a point of reflecting our multi-ethnic culture in his films, from Congorama – the story of a Belgian man married to a Congolese woman who comes here to explore his Québécois roots – to the upcoming Bachir Lazhar – a drama about an Algerian refugee in Montreal who becomes a grade-school teacher.
Falardeau said right off the bat that he was in complete agreement with everything Tierney said about how insular Quebec film has been up until now. He said the same thing at the time on franco radio – and received a deluge of hate mail!
Hot alt-rock musician Patrick Watson contributed original songs for Falardeau’s last film, C’est pas moi, je le jure!, and Falardeau noted that everywhere he goes in the world, people are excited that he managed to get Watson for the film. But here at home, Watson’s music wasn’t even nominated at the Jutra Awards.
When he underlined this irony, it was impossible not to think of the case of Arcade Fire. Here’s maybe the most happening band in the world right now, celebrated at the Grammy Awards in the U.S., and yet this Montreal band has never won a single trophy at the ADISQ Gala, the Quebec music awards.
Falardeau and I agreed Thursday that the problem is not La Soirée des Jutra – these snubs simply reflect a deeper malaise within the film milieu here. He suggested that the success of Incendies might well be a game-changer.
“Incendies is a pivotal point and probably a stepping-stone to what’s coming next,” Falardeau said. “Its most extraordinary accomplishment was not its nomination at the Oscars. It was making $3.5 million at the box office here. Because it is a tough movie. It’s about Arabs. It’s about incest, it’s about rape. I think it was a success because Quebecers saw, first, a very well-crafted film that tackled the world and world issues in a very sensitive way. And people wanted to say – ‘That’s our film. It’s a Quebec film although it’s set in the Middle East. And we want to be part of that success.’ “
All I can add is that the success of Incendies is just the latest proof that the public is, as usual, ahead of the industry establishment and more open than they’re given credit for.
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