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North American cinema

The history of cinema in Quebec started on June 27, 1896 when the French Louis Minier inaugurated the first movie projection in North America in a Montreal theatre room. However, it would have to wait until the 1960s before a genuine Quebec cinema industry would emerge. Approximately 620 feature length films have been produced, or partially produced by the Quebec film industry since 1943.

Due to language and cultural differences between the predominantly francophone population of Quebec and the predominantly anglophone population of the rest of Canada, Quebec's film industry is commonly regarded as a distinct entity from its English Canadian counterpart. In addition to participating in Canada's national Genie Awards, the Quebec film industry also maintains its own awards ceremony, the Jutra Awards. In addition, the popularity of homegrown French language films among Quebec audiences, as opposed to English Canadians' preference for Hollywood films, means that Quebec films are often more successful at the box office than English Canadian films — in fact, the top-grossing Canadian film of the year is often a French language film from Quebec.


Before the Office national du film

From the 1896 to the 1960s, the Catholic clergy tried to control what movies Quebecers could see. Two methods were employed: censorship and prohibition of attendance by children under 16. In 1913, the Bureau de censure de vues animées (Office of censorship for motion pictures) began regulating the projection of movies in Quebec. In 1927, the Laurier-Palace theatre burned down, killing many children. The church then almost succeeded at closing down all projection rooms in the province. However, the Parliament of Quebec passed a law preventing only children under 16 from attending movie projections. This law would be repealed only in 1961.

Nevertheless, some films were produced in Quebec during this period. Those were mostly documentaries, some of which were made by priests. In the 1940s and 1950s, the first commercial attempts at cinema happened. Two production houses were at the origins of all the movies of this period: Renaissance Films and Québec Productions. Le gros Bill and Un homme et son péché were both released in 1949. A popular movie from that era is 1952's La petite Aurore l’enfant martyr by Jean-Yves Bigras, a drama movie based on the story of abused child Aurore Gagnon.

After the Office national du film

The National Film Board of Canada was established by the Parliament of Canada in 1939. Its office moved from Ottawa to Montreal in 1955. In 1957, the new commissioner, Albert Trueman, recommended the creation of a separately funded French production wing. Minister J. W. Pickersgill rejected Trueman's recommendation as Ottawa feared that two separate organizations would develop under the same roof. This decision intensified the campaign of the Quebec French language press for an autonomous French language branch. Guy Roberge was appointed Commissioner in April 1957. The French branch of the National Film Board of Canada was established and the NFB became autonomous in 1959.

Cinema-Vérité ("truth cinema") authors Michel Brault and Pierre Perrault made their debut. For most of the 1960s, Quebec films were about the country. Other important filmmakers of the 60s include Gilles Groulx and Claude Jutra. That decade also saw the beginnings of directors Gilles Carle and Denys Arcand.

The 1970s

Two key changes in the late 1960s paved the way for a new era in Québécois cinema. First, in 1967, Quebec's (religious) censorship bureau was replaced by a film ratings system administered by the province, film distribution was now free of Catholic rigidity. The other phenomenon was the introduction, in 1968, by the federal government, of its Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC, to become Telefilm Canada). This allowed a greater number of films to reach the screen through government subsidy.

Commercial directors such as Denis Héroux became known for his films Valérie and Deux femmes en or, two comedies with erotic overtones showing popular success not seen in Quebec since Jean-Yves Bigras' La Petite Aurore l'enfant martyre (1952).

The seventies also marked a high in national filmmaking seen from an artistic perspective, an assessment supported by opinion polls such as the TIFF List of Canada's Top Ten Films of All Time, which has included several films from that decade every year that the poll was taken. Arcand and Carle had critical (especially at Cannes) and some commercial success with films such as Gina (Arcand) and La vraie nature de Bernadette (Carle). In 1971, director Claude Jutra released one of the most critically praised Quebec film to date, Mon oncle Antoine. However, his next movie, an adaptation of Anne Hébert's Kamouraska, was a commercial and critical failure. It should be mentioned that this film suffered re-editing done to accommodate theater owners. A two-hour-long restored version, seen in 2003, shows more artistic coherence. In 1977, Jean Beaudin's J.A. Martin Photographe was selected at Cannes where Monique Mercure, the female star of the film, won Best Actress (tying with Shelley Duvall for 3 Women).

The 1980s

The victory of the "no" camp in the referendum on sovereignty association was a turning point in Québécois history and culture. Denys Arcand made one of his most acclaimed picture with the NFB, Le confort et l'indifférence, about the result of the referendum. He then proceeded to direct two movies that were nominated for best foreign picture at the Academy Awards: 1986's Le Déclin de l'empire américain and 1989's Jésus de Montréal.

After 1980, a lot of artists felt that the struggle to build a nation that had animated early Quebec cinema was lost. Québécois filmmakers began to make movies that were no longer centred on the Québécois identity. The 1986 success, at home and abroad, of Le déclin... marked another turning point in the movie history of the province. The government-funded movie industry tried to repeat Arcand's success with international co-productions, big budget movies and so-called "mass audience movies".

Meanwhile, director Robert Morin made himself known with personal movies like Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur. Claude Jutra committed suicide in the 1980s after a struggle with Alzheimer's disease, and Gilles Carle became too sick to direct.

The 1990s and beyond

1990-2002 saw the solidification of Quebec's movie industry. Independent films such as Denis Villeneuve's Maelström, Denis Chouinard's L’Ange de goudron, and Un crabe dans la tête caught the media's attention. Séraphin: un homme et son péché, directed by Charles Binamé, was a major success at the box office in 2002. The next year, 2003, was called "the year of Quebec cinema's rebirth" with Denys Arcand winning the foreign film Oscar for Les Invasions barbares, the sequel of Le déclin de l'empire américain, and with Gaz bar blues and Seducing Doctor Lewis gaining both critical and public acclaim. In 2005, C.R.A.Z.Y. was released, grossing a considerable amount in such a small market, and garnering widespread praise from critics.

In 1994, Pierre Falardeau's Octobre told a fictionalized version of the October Crisis from the point of view of the Chenier Cell, the FLQ terrorist cell who in 1970 kidnapped and executed Quebec minister and Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte.

In 2006, the Quebec-made action-comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop took over the title of most popular Canadian film at the Canadian box office. Sales for Bon Cop, Bad Cop have totalled $13 million across the country. The previous Quebec film to hold this honour was Les Boys.

Congorama, Un dimanche a Kigali, La Vie secrète des gens heureux, Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique, Maurice Richard and A Vos Marques...Party! were some of the more recent Quebec success stories. In 2007, Arcand's L'Âge des Ténèbres was selected as the closing film for the Cannes Film Festival.



  • Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women's Cinema. Ed. Kay Armatage. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  • Pallister, Janis L. The Cinema of Québec: Masters in Their Own House. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.


See also

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