One of Canada’s most revered filmmakers, known for The Red Violin and Silk, François Girard stopped by Deadline’s Toronto Studio to discuss his latest epic project, Hochelaga, Land of Souls, alongside actor Vincent Perez. Spanning 750 years of Montreal’s history, the film pays tribute to the filmmaker’s homeland, which he had somehow shot little of on prior projects.
“I do have a tremendous affection for Montreal. I lived most of my life in Montreal, that’s my hometown, but for some reasons, I ended up never shooting it,” the director explains. “It’s not in my movies, except for the end of Red Violin, but it’s a very short segment. I grew more and more interested in showing where I live, and pay tribute to the ancestors who lived there before us.”
The constraint around which the whole film revolves is one particular plot of land, which Girard observes through the centuries. In the present day, a football stadium sits on that land, until a sinkhole opens up in the middle of a game, leading archaeologists to embark on a new dig. “There’s a very simple idea at the heart of the film, which is that we’re looking at this one lot. It’s spatially extremely limited,” Girard says. “We will find all of the occupants of that particular lot over 750 years, so there’s five different eras that are represented.”
“I think another way of talking about the film is we’re sort of tracing the various waves of immigration. As a way to state who we are today, we’re looking back at who occupied the land, starting with the first nations, because there’s various occupations, from the Iroquians and the Algonquins, and then the Europeans arrive,” he continues. “This is Vincent’s part—Jacques Cartier comes, names the place and takes possession in the name of the King of France, and from then on, you’ve got English immigration, Irish immigration. It’s a way of showing who we are and looking back into our roots.”
While the film encompasses an astounding list of languages—ancient and contemporary—it’s surprising to note that the French director was most challenged in the making of the film by his own mother tongue. In my past, I’ve worked a lot with different languages—I somehow have an interest for that. In this case, it was interesting. Yes, we have French, English, Mohawk, Algonquins, Latin, Arabic and Creole, a little scene in Creole,” the director shares. “Strangely enough, the one language that gave me the most work is French, because in the film, we have French from 1535, we have a whole segment that is 1687, and then 1837, and then contemporary scenes. Throughout the film, there was the ambitious project of showing the evolution of French throughout the piece, so my mother tongue was the hardest to deal with in the end.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with Hochelaga writer/director Francçois Girard and Vincent Perez, click above.
Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii Love, Watford Group, Philosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.