French-Canadian films dominated the nominations at the Canadian Screen Awards.
For those who follow the French-Canadian film scene closely, this was no surprise. But for most Canadians, this is the first they’ve ever heard of most of the films nominated.
Films such as Une colonie, Chien de garde, Genèse, Dans la bume, and La grande noirceur, sound more like your list of high school French vocabulary words than the nominees for Best Film at the Canadian Screen Awards. You can’t blame anglophone ignorance either, as most of these films have barely seen the big screen outside of Quebec.
The reality is most French-Canadian films rarely make it outside francophone communities.
In a recent article for the Globe and Mail, film critic Barry Hertz praised the celebration of these films but was quick to recognize that many of them are massively under-appreciated outside of Quebec—and he was happy to take responsibility for his own complicity.
“The sad truth is that I’ve only seen La grande noirceur, at this past fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, and I’d wager that few other English-language critics, to say nothing of audiences, have been exposed to the works,” Hertz wrote.
The fact so many French-Canadian films are produced with little fanfare in Canada is surprising given they tend to be the most successful films in the country.
Hertz writes that seven of 2018’s top-grossing films in Canada were from Quebec.
Ricardo Trogi’s comedy, 1991, which is the highest grossing Canadian film of the year, having raked in $3.05 million this year, hasn’t been properly screened in Toronto or Vancouver.
This year, Canada’s submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film was Chien de Garde, yet Hertz points out many Canadians would have never recognized it as a Canadian film.
Perhaps the reason these films receive so little attention outside of Ontario is there are so many English alternatives coming out of Hollywood—we’re flooded with American options. For theatres, it makes more financial sense to screen big Hollywood films rather than lesser-known, French-Canadian films.
While these films do well in Quebec as well, dubbed over scripts rarely connect with audiences. In Quebec, there’s more of a market for French language films, as viewers are looking for high-quality films that are accessible to them in their first language.
There are plenty high of quality films coming out of Quebec, but it doesn’t make sense that these films aren’t being screened elsewhere. There should be a greater onus on theatres to offer viewers the opportunity to view French-Canadian films.
Canadian viewers enjoy our culture. If the best content we are producing is in French, it should be distributed to the rest of the country. The linguistic barrier doesn’t seem like a good enough excuse. Films like Incendie and Bon Cop, Bad Cop are quite popular among anglophones and had both critical and popular success .
Evidently, viewers don’t have an aversion to subtitles or unfamiliar languages if the films they’re watching are good. Canadians deserve a chance to decide if these French films are worth it.
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