Kingston Canadian Film Festival: Unpacking ‘The Paper Man’

Director Tanya Lapointe talks KCFF Doc

Claude Lafortune’s paper sculptures are more than meets the eye.
Still from ‘The Paper Man’

When Tanya Lapointe set out to make a documentary on Claude Lafortune, Quebec’s Mr. Rogers, she had no idea her film would become the swansong for The Paper Man, who passed away in April 2020.

Lapointe grew up watching Lafortune’s popular children’s programming, where he made complex sculptures entirely of paper. But as the story of Lafortune’s life and career unfolded in the process of filming The Paper Man, Lapointe realized that like his art, the TV icon was more complex than he appeared. 

“What surprised me was the layers there were to Claude Lafortune,” Lapointe told The Journal.  

“He was in his eighties. Maybe I have preconceived ideas about what life is like when you’re in your eighties, but he broke all those ideas and preconceptions.”

Lapointe first met Lafortune in 2005 when she was in her twenties and working as a reporter for CBC Montreal.

“He cut a paper penguin for me and I had him sign it. I still have that paper penguin. That first time when I met him, I felt […] I was right back in my living room when I was a kid, in awe of what he was doing because it was magic,” she said.

“If it’s magic, I want to know how it works.”

It’s what originally drew Lapointe to chronicling the work of Claude Lafortune, but his depth and humour turned him from an interview subject into a friend. His tragic passing from COVID-related complications makes the film bittersweet.

Her original plan was to conclude the documentary with Lafortune’s end-of-year school workshop as a tribute to the joy and creativity he brought into the lives of Quebecois children. While The Paper Man conveys that theme, Lafortune’s passing gave the film the added task of providing a final farewell.

“I started shooting in April of 2018 and Claude passed away exactly two years later, which was not, obviously, what was expected,” she said.

Lapointe reflected on what made Lafortune’s art so appealing.

“Regardless of your age or where you’re from in the world, you’ve had paper, scissors and glue, and you’ve tried to put things together with more or less success. There’s something very tactile about the material and surprisingly moving […] It just feels so relatable that paper can be made into something so complex, so beautiful.”

During a moment of serendipity in post-production, Lapointe stumbled across a clip of Lafortune explaining how the eyes are the trickiest part of his sculptures.

She chose a close-up shot of a Lafortune self-portrait as the poster for her doc because it encapsulates the spirit of his art—simple on its face but much more detailed upon a closer look.

“The eyes aren’t drawn in. They’re just tiny bits of paper,” she said. “I was like, Claude, really? You’re still surprising me now. [I’m] still discovering the intricacies of his work.”

The Paper Man is a labour of love. It was shot and edited all while Lapointe was flying back and forth between Budapest, Jordan, and Montreal for her role as a producer on Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune.

The final story of Claude Lafortune’s life, The Paper Man, can be found on Cinema du Parc’s website. 

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