Michel Brault, who will turn 84 this June, is a writer-editor-director-cinematographer. In fact, he is often considered to be Canadas most gifted cinematographer and an innovative, seminal force in Quebec cinema since the 1950s. His early cameraman work with Gilles Groulx, Claude Jutra and Pierre Perrault virtually defines the look of classic Quebec cinema. He became involved with filmmaking while still at university and joined the National Film Board in 1956, working on the celebrated Candid Eye series. From 1961 to 1962 he was in France, where he worked with directors such as Jean Rouch and Mario Ruspoli, and shot the influential Chronique dun été with Raoul Coutard and others. In France he is considered an originator and one of the purist practitioners of cinéma-vérité. Brault returned to Quebec and the NFB, but quit the Board in 1965 when Pierre Juneau, the director of French production, refused to okay his first fiction feature, Entre la mer et leau douce.
Part of a preface to an interview recorded in 1980 with Claude Jutra, the famed Québec director said this of Michel Brault: Michel is a cameraman whose contribution is so important as to be equal to that of a film
auteur. But he's not just that. When he wants to, he can also be a film director. And a script
writer, while we're at It. He makes up a story and puts It down on paper. He works out the stage
direction. He directs the actors. Beginning with La fleur de l'Age and continuing with Entre la
mer et l'eau douce, he reached the apogee of his career with Les ordres. An astounding
undertaking. Never has a dissident position been so clearly enunciated In Quebec cinema or indeed In Canadian cinema.
After leaving the NFB, Brault pursued a very successful freelance career in feature films, documentaries, shorts, and television. His cinematography ranges from the gritty cinéma-vérité style of À tout prendre to the lyricism of Kamouraska, and his directorial work from the terse documentary stylings of La Lutte to smoothly proficient television dramas such as Les Noces du papier. He won Canadian Film Awards for lensing Mon oncle Antoine and Le Temps dune chasse, and Genie Awards for his work on Les Bons Débarras and Threshold. Les Ordres, which he directed, shot and wrote, won him three more CFAs and he shared the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975. The film seamlessly fuses documentary and fiction styles while dramatizing the trauma of innocent people caught up in the October Crisis of 1970. It is still regarded as a masterpiece of Canadian cinema.
In the previously mentioned 1980 interview, Jutra asked Michel Brault,
What Is the role of Quebec cinema, and what are its means, outside of Quebec?
I don't see a
specific role for Québec no more than for Switzerland, or for Belgium. One has a tendency
only to recognize the cliches, and that is because of advertizing, which, I might add, is
always deceiving. When you see the films by young Swiss filmmakers, you discover a
Switzerland completely different from the one you knew: the Switzerland of banks,
mountains, cheese and chocolate. Switzerland takes on a new dimension when you see the
films that Swiss fllmmakers are making with such intensity and interest. I expect the same
thing from Quebec cinema. People abroad imagine that Québec is General De Gaulle's "Vlve le Québec libre" ... I would like them to have another dimension, to be able to see Pour
la suite du monde or Ce temps d'une chasse or Les Bons Débarras and Kamouraska.
The Hot Docs Festival runs from April 26 to May 6, 2012.