Les grandes claques

Les grandes claques by Annie St. Pierre

Quebec women filmmakers shine as masters of short cinema

We spoke to Annie St. Pierre and Marianne Farley about their films Les Grandes Claques and Frimas.

Momentum only seems to be building for Quebec short cinema. Following in the footsteps of films like Marguerite (2017) and Fauve (2018), among others, in recent years the Best Live-Action Short category at the Oscars routinely features homegrown talent. Two radically different Quebec shorts were shortlisted for the Oscars this year, among 15 total contenders: Les Grandes Claques and Frimas.

“Short films are far more than just prep for a feature,” Annie St. Pierre explains. “It’s its own format, really modern, where people have an opportunity to be really creative.” With her film, Les grandes claques, St. Pierre brings us back to Christmas Eve, 1983. A young girl with divorced parents feels torn between childish impulses and a need to protect her parents’ feelings. “All artists, I think, have these little moments or ideas that obsess them. For me, it’s these moments of transition,” St. Pierre says. 

Annie St. Pierre has been working for years in the Quebec cinema as a producer for Denis Côté, and as a director and occasionally an actress. “I’m not a real actress. I only do it for Matthew Rankin,” she laughs. “We’re like spiritual siblings. If he asks me to do it, I will, and I will be completely devoted to his vision.” Even her limited experience, though, informed her work. “It really emphasized to me how vulnerable you need to be to act.” In directing the children, in particular, she emphasized authenticity over memorization. “It’s important,” she says, “when working or writing for children to treat them as they are, not how you imagine them to be.”

Impacted by the pandemic, the natural life of a film like Les grandes claques has been disrupted, but that hasn’t dulled its shine. “Even with the pressures of the pandemic,” St. Pierre explained, “all the festivals, distributors and artists working in short film stepped up.” On the eve of the first anniversary of her short film’s premiere at Sundance, St. Pierre seemed optimistic. Among other things, she credits her distributor, which she believes gives the film the structure “to be discovered across the world.” Her movie has been screened at over 70 festivals. 

A champion of local cinema, St. Pierre emphasizes the importance of local distributors and cheerleaders that have helped Quebec cinema shine internationally. “I never expected to be in this position,” St. Pierre says about her potential Oscar run, “but there are so many people who’ve already laid the groundwork to make it happen.” Along with distributors, she also mentions Danny Lennon and his festival Prends ça court! who travelled the world to really carve out a space for Quebec film. Other filmmakers paved the way as well. “While you’re making your film, you have so much control, but when it’s finished, you lose control over how it’s received. I am extremely lucky to be in this position.”

Frimas by Marianne Farley Quebec short films Frimas cinema filmmakers
Frimas by Marianne Farley

“If I’m going to spend years writing, developing, financing and shooting a movie, I need to have some kind of emotional connection to it,” says Marianne Farley. No stranger to the Oscars, her previous short Marguerite screened in competition years ago. With Frimas, she portrays a not-so-distant future where abortion is illegal, and a woman takes a harrowing ride in the back of a meat truck to have the procedure done. 

“It’s crazy to me that we’re in 2022 and still talking about this,” says Farley. She started writing the film in 2018. There were already rumours that south of the border, Roe v. Wade might be overturned. Due to the delays from the pandemic, the film was only released last year. The release coincided with some of the new, restrictive Texas Abortion Law and Mississippi’s attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade. “A lot of women think their rights are never going to be taken away from them, but the reality is totally different,” she says. Setting the film in a familiar future was part of driving the point home that this doesn’t exist in some distant reality — it’s happening right now. 

“I like my stories local,” Farley says. It was important for Farley that the film be recognizable as Quebec. Frimas opens with a shot of the Canadian Malting Plant along the Lachine Canal and the unmistakable pink house that adorns it. While Farley is quick to emphasize that we aren’t in the same situation as the States in Canada, that doesn’t mean it can’t change. It also doesn’t mean, she clarifies, that many Canadians don’t struggle to have access to abortion, particularly when they’re from rural communities and due to the strain of the pandemic. “I wanted to make a film that was kind of set in the future, but I didn’t want people to go, ‘Maybe that’s down the line,’” she says. “I wanted people to really feel that this could happen tomorrow.”

When Farley went to the Oscars for her short film Marguerite, it helped put things in perspective. “I realized how extremely fortunate we are in Quebec. We have support,” she says. The funding for short films comes with its own set of rules, time constraints and expectations but it beats finding private funding. Farley tries not to look at any predictions. “I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, and to be honest, I watched all 15 films, and they’re incredibly different. I can only believe in the story that I’m telling, and hope that other people will feel moved by it.” ■

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2022 issue of Cult MTL. 

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