Louise Archambault: the force behind Familia

'For me, directing is the payoff,' says Montreal filmmaker Louise Archambault,whose debut feature Familia is set to open the Canada First! program at TIFF. (The showcase, now in its second year, spotlights movies from first-time Canadian feature filmmakers, as well as those making their first appearance at TIFF.)

‘For me, directing is the payoff,’ says Montreal filmmaker Louise Archambault,whose debut feature Familia is set to open the Canada First! program at TIFF. (The showcase, now in its second year, spotlights movies from first-time Canadian feature filmmakers, as well as those making their first appearance at TIFF.)

Produced by Montreal’s micro_scope in association with Telefilm Canada, Familia, budgeted at $1.8 million, explores the intricate and often tumultuous relationship between mothers and daughters. The French-language drama stars Sylvie Moreau and Mylène Saint-Sauveur as childhood friends – and mothers of teenage daughters – who begin living together when one’s personal life is drastically altered.

Archambault says she finds the writing process to be the most challenging, and, in many ways, most rewarding aspect of filmmaking.

‘If someone proposed to me a script that I think I could do something wonderful with, I would be pleased. But when writing it yourself goes well, it’s very satisfying to create your own world,’ says the director, who recently returned from Switzerland, where Familia screened at the Locarno International Film Festival.

The 35-year-old has been a cinematic Jill-of-all-trades, having performed duties as line producer, assistant director, writer, cinematographer, on-set photographer and costume designer during her 10 years in the biz. She studied film production at Montreal’s Concordia University, where she also completed a master’s degree in fine arts, but got a gig before that as a sound trainee on the popular 1980s Quebec TV series Lance et compte (He Shoots, He Scores).

‘I would do things like operate the boom mike or hide the wires,’ she says. ‘I was lucky, because I worked with a great crew and just learned a lot about how a show is made and what every department does.’

Before focusing on her own film projects, Archambault worked as an assistant director on various feature films, TV series and commercials.

The 1994 Quebec political TV series René Lévesque, about the life of the French-Canadian nationalist, marked Archambault’s first ‘official’ industry gig – as third assistant director.

‘While I prefer making my own films, I took it a day at a time because I had to make money,’ she says.

Her first solo directing job was the 1999 short film Atomic Sake, which won the Jutra Award in 2000 for best Quebec short and also picked up a prize at the Delle Donne International Film Festival in Turin, Italy.

Archambault has also been performing somewhat of a juggling act for the past three-and-half years, since the birth of her daughter.

‘I think it’s easier for men to separate work and family. When they are in their creative world, they’re in it 100 percent,’ she notes.

‘But when you’re a mother, the creative process is often set aside.

In Familia, the director delves into generation gaps and the relationship between parents and children. ‘It’s about how to break away from the teachings of parents and how to form your own identity,’ she says.

Archambault knew what she wanted to avoid in Familia. ‘While the dramatic situations are written in the script, I didn’t want too much heavy melodrama in the film,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to add some sparkle – some vibrancy – to it so that the situations are dark but the film is not.’

Learning that Familia would open Canada First! was an unexpected surprise for the filmmaker. ‘When you make a film you don’t think about that. You just hope to link with the audience and touch some people,’ she says. ‘But I’m honored and proud. I think it’s a great festival.’

While Familia will open in Quebec on Sept. 16, Archambault and distributor Christal Films are hoping for an English-Canadian pickup after TIFF.

Meanwhile, the director says she’s already started writing a new script about three women, happiness and freedom of speech.

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