It Could Only Happen Here film movie FME music festival documentary Stephan Boissoneault

Photo by Stephan Boissonneault

It Could Only Happen Here strives to capture the magic of the FME music festival

An interview with Stephan Boissonneault about his filmmaking debut, premiering this weekend in Montreal.

A Quebec town of roughly 43,000 is the site of a festival that has, over the past two decades, become an annual pilgrimage for music lovers from Montreal, from the ROC, from France and beyond. The Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) fills bars, theatres, a former church and an outdoor main stage in Rouyn-Noranda with talent and lovers of live music, and now it’s the subject of a documentary that strives to capture the magic that keeps the crowds coming back to that old industrial town every Labour Day Weekend.

I spoke with the director of FME documentary It Could Only Happen Here, Stephan Boissonneault (who is also a Cult MTL contributor), ahead of the film’s premiere in Montreal on Sept. 23.

Lorraine Carpenter: Why FME? What struck you so much about this festival that compelled you to make a documentary?

Stephan Boissonneault: When I first moved to Montreal, I started doing what I do, which is music journalism, covering a bunch of different bands with reviews and interviews — including Yoo Doo Right, who start off the film. Live music wasn’t really a reality yet because of the pandemic, but one day out of the blue, I got a message from Philippe Larocque of Mothland. After chatting for a few months about music and Montreal culture — I owe much of my knowledge of Montreal music and lore to him — he eventually invited me to FME 2021. I hadn’t really been able to experience live music for the past two years, so once I arrived in Rouyn-Noranda, I kind of went crazy and saw as much music as possible. I think I saw 25 to 30 acts in the span of three or four days. There was something magical about the whole town shutting down and one aspect I noticed immediately was everyone’s willingness to really go all out. Sleep be damned! Traveling to FME is its own sort of undertaking, so once everyone arrives, they are up for really experiencing the festival, including the organizers, the bands.

Despite the pandemic restrictions and seated indoor shows in 2021, every show was packed. It didn’t matter who was on the bill; big or small, people showed up. Coming from Edmonton, where you practically have to bribe people to come out to see live music, this was a huge eye-opening moment for me. The locals were also some of the nicest people I had ever met. I recall meeting one older couple at the Besnard Lakes show and them inviting me for dinner after we watched the show. I knew I had to go back and that 2022 was going to be bigger because of the lifted restrictions.

Six months before the 2022 edition and I was at Foufounes Electriques with a bunch of people linked to the festival in some way, and we’re talking about how the 20-year anniversary of FME is coming up. I recall somebody saying someone should do “more with video footage or something” to document the moment, and I kind of volunteered saying I would “do a documentary.” I had never attempted something with this much video before, and love a challenge, but little did I know it would take me a year and a half to edit. So long story short, I wanted to give something back to the festival and the people of Rouyn-Noranda while seeing if I could actually do it and finish the thing. 

LC: Aside from the bands, who is the star of the festival? The founders/organizers? The volunteers? The locals? The town itself?

SB: As you bounce between shows, some in alleys, venues, parking lots, garages, parks and rooftops, you really do get to know the nooks and crannies of the town of Rouyn-Noranda but you also see some of the same characters appear at every show. Again, everyone is just so friendly and down to see some great music, so a little community vibe is created during the festival. It’s really cool to see someone who comes alone, not knowing anyone, and then join in with a particular group a few hours later. The 400+ volunteers make sure this thing runs smoothly as well, even into the early hours of the morning, so yeah I guess everyone is a star in their own little way.

LC: What’s your filmmaking background?

SB: I’ve made little mini-films in school and recently started doing some Grassroots Coverage of little protests and things for CUTV, but nothing this big. Making It Could Only Happen Here has definitely sparked my newfound love for filmmaking and I definitely watch films differently now. I think I’ve always had an eye for capturing particular moments when bands are playing because I’ve played in bands myself, but now having made my own documentary, I’m already thinking about the next project. I’m sure it will be related to music somehow. 

LC: What do you hope to achieve with this film?

SB: I guess the goal was to create a little snapshot of the festival and show the immense amount of joy it contributes. So maybe you’ll want to check out the festival after viewing the film. I’m also going to be pitching it to film festivals to really spread the word. I also wanted to shed light on some of the unknown bands, some of which will become household names in the coming years. And again, I wanted to give something back to the people of Rouyn-Noranda, the organizers, and the volunteers, because they let me into their little world — the behind-the-scenes that you never really hear about. ■

It Could Only Happen Here, directed by Stephan Boissonneault

It Could Only Happen Here screens at Cinéma Public on Saturday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m., by donation

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