I think most people who live in Quebec have no real conception of what the Lower North Shore actually is. Even as someone who grew up closer to there than many, I perhaps only had a vague inkling that there were communities way past Sept-îles.
The area has already benefitted from an immense signal boost in the form of Jean-François Pouliot’s La grande séduction, which remains one of the biggest box office hits in Quebec history. That film was set in Sainte-Marie-La-Mauderne, a fictional town played in the film by the coastal town of Harrington Harbour. The Lower North Shore and the changing realities of its inhabitants are at the centre of Aude Leroux-Lévesque and Sébastien Rist’s A Place of Time and Tide.
The film focuses on Ethan, a teenager who has spent his entire life in Saint Paul’s River on what is colloquially known as the Coast. There are few if any job prospects for teenagers approaching graduation. In many cases, their parents work jobs that take them hundreds of miles away unless they’ve managed to snag one of the few local gigs, which are mainly in fishing or teaching. As graduation approaches, Ethan is faced with the prospect of deciding exactly what he’s going to do with his life. Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly going to take him away from his girlfriend Brittney and from the only life he’s ever known. Meanwhile, his uncle Garland, another born-and-bred Coaster who oversees the local museum and continues to scrape a living together, muses on the future of their community.
Through design or happenstance, Rist and Leroux-Lévesque have mainly made movies about teens living in remote locations or in situations that are way off the beaten path. Call Me Salma was about a 13-year-old trans teen in Bangladesh; Living With Giants was about Inuk teen Paulusie Kasudluak, who took his own life during the making of the film. (Rist and Leroux-Lévesque also made a movie about Kelly Fraser, the Inuk singer-songwriter who also took her own life in late 2019.) A Place of Time and Tide is similarly concerned with youth, though their outlook ultimately becomes wider than the direct future of its protagonists.
Directors Leroux-Lévesque and Rist had their first encounter with the Lower North Shore when they were sent there to teach a filmmaking workshop. “We were doing video workshops for this now-defunct anglo minority organization,” explains Rist. “At first, Aude did some workshops in the Magdalen Islands and Gaspé, and then they told us we were going to the Lower North Shore. I never knew much about it. I’d heard about it, but… when you’re an anglophone from Quebec, you think you know the communities but when you show up there, they’re basically Newfoundlanders! On top of that, it takes a day to get there by plane and two days to get there by car. And you have to go through Cape Breton and Newfoundland.”
Once there, a question arose immediately.
“What do these kids do?!” says Rist. “What are their aspirations? What’s their future? What is there for them? Our last projects had mostly been about young people, so we decided to find that story by looking at a graduating class. Some have decided to move out and come back, some have decided to stay. We wanted to contrast that with the older generation, which saw ‘better days’ when cod was available. We wanted to create a conversation between young and old, but focusing on these intimate stories.”
Both this film and Living With Giants were shot in remote locations that require intense travel and relatively complex living situations. That said, grief coloured the experience of Living With Giants so much that A Place of Time and Tide was a much easier shoot in comparison, according to Rist. “Emotionally, we got really attached to the people and we wanted everything to work out for them, of course,” he says. “We brought our first kid on two of the trips, and we brought a friend to take care of our kid while we shot. It was really fun. We even went back this summer to show the film in the communities where we shot it. That time, we could actually take the time to go fishing and enjoy the area.
“We screened the film in a church basement when we went back,” Rist continues. “It’s always weird to screen your film literally where you shot it. They’re proud that everyone is finally hearing about their part of the world. I think that’s what the subjects like the most about being in it.”
The idea of work permeates A Place of Time and Tide. Work is the most important and stressful aspect of living on the Coast, and most kids are trained to think about the future from a very early age. When you’re from the Lower North Shore, you can’t really fuck around and work at a call centre while you figure out what you really want to do with your life. For most people who have grown up there, work also means going elsewhere. The two teens at the centre of the film, Brittney and Ethan, have grown up with their parents gone most of the time. In one scene, Brittney (who was 16 or 17 at the time) speaks to her parents over the phone. They’ve been gone for months, leaving her alone, but it barely seems to phase her at all.
“We wanted to show that, yeah, this is the Coast, it’s unique, but it could happen anywhere in the world,” says Rist. “People in small towns have to get out to work, so they’re artificially sustained by this migrant working class.”
It’s interesting to see in the film that the Coast seems not so much frozen in time as it does timeless. The clothes aren’t exactly out of date and the kids don’t seem markedly different from your average Montreal teenager, but there’s something that seems frozen in amber about their lifestyle.
“Just last summer, they put up cell phones towers,” says Rist. “That was a big revolution, because people now are just seeing how kids are going to react. These kids were like our generation — they weren’t always on their phones. They had to go over to their friends’ houses to ask them to hang out. That was a huge change for the community. They’ve kind of always been on the precipice of that — whether or not they’ll survive, because they’ve always depended on that monoculture.” ■
A Place of Time and Tide opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 7. The directors and/or special guests will be present for a Q&A at every screening. Watch the trailer here:
See our latest movie reviews and film and TV coverage here.